Review: Rogers on Danley and Speelman, 'The Seven Years' War: Global Views' (x-h-war)

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Mark H. Danley, Patrick J. Speelman, eds.
Greg Rogers

Rogers on Danley and Speelman, 'The Seven Years' War: Global Views'

Mark H. Danley, Patrick J. Speelman, eds. The Seven Years' War: Global Views. Boston: Brill, 2012. lvii + 586 pp. $252.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-90-04-23408-6.

Reviewed by Greg Rogers (University of Maine) Published on H-War (July, 2015) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

The past fifteen years or so have witnessed a growing scholarly interest in the Seven Years’ War. Fred Anderson’s 2001 The Crucible of War, among other works, has brought renewed attention and significance to what is usually dubbed the first truly world war. The historiography of the war has followed wider scholarly trends, producing interpretations that have placed the conflict in the Atlantic world and in broader contexts.[1] The Seven Years’ War: Global Views is a welcome addition to this body of literature. The collection, edited by Mark H. Danley and Patrick J. Speelman, which is the eightieth installment in Brill’s History of Warfare series, offers eighteen very diverse chapters as well as a strong introduction and conclusion. 

The eighteen pieces in the collection cover a variety of locales, a testament to the war’s global nature. Nicholas Tracy provides an assessment of the 1762 British conquest of Manila, examining the expedition in terms of its military actions and geopolitical significance. Gunmar Aselius’s chapter provides a long overdue examination of Sweden’s often neglected failures in Pomerania against the Prussians, while Marian Fussel’s research on Russia’s use of Cossacks and Kalmyks argues for those groups being understood as costly pre-national irregular forces, a “destructive holdover from the past” (p. 261). In addition to these examples, other pieces cast their gaze to West Africa, North America, India, and the West Indies. The inclusion of regions outside western Europe and eastern North America enables the collection to transcend much of the Atlantic treatment the war has received as of late.

This diversity also applies to the methodologies employed by the various authors. While there is no shortage of traditional military analysis, which focuses on strategies and tactics, many of the pieces reexamine the war from the vantage point of other fields. For instance, Armstrong Starkey utilizes intellectual history to look at the war’s impact on the leading philosophes of the period, identifying a variety of reactions ranging from the interest in the ideal of the citizen soldier to the divergent views expressed by the various authors of the Encyclopédie. Julia Osman delves into the conflicting cultures of war between French officers and their colonial Canadian counterparts. She effectively shows that the personal ambition of officers like Montcalm, with their “zeal for serving the king” (p. 192) overshadowed the more utilitarian objectives of colonial administrators like the marquis de Vaudreuil. Perhaps the most interesting methodology is employed by Ewa Anklam, whose interest in military reconnaissance as a cultural practice argues for the “value of the visible” (p. 240), which leads to a reassessment of the roles played by historical actors such as light troops, spies, and deserters. This is not to say that those using more traditional approaches are offering nothing new. On the contrary, Matt Schumann’s chapter on the end of the war in Germany argues that the year 1763 did in fact have a military history, one marked by the diplomatic and logistical challenges of demobilization.

Besides offering new analytical perspectives and filling geographical holes often neglected by histories of the Seven Years’ War, the chapters are bookended by two very strong conceptual pieces by the editors. Danley’s introduction tackles the inherent difficulties in defining just who, what, and when defined the war. Not only does his discussion incorporate the disparate chapters of the text but it also explores useful ideas about the making and unmaking of wartime coalitions, the problem of studying separate yet connected fronts, the role of nonstate actors, and the war as a “shared global problem” (p. lviii) involving the interrelated tasks of projecting power and marshaling human resources. His introduction not only thoroughly positions the war in its global context but is also a must-read for anyone interested in understanding or writing about almost any aspect of the conflict. Likewise, Speelman’s conclusion provides a succinct summation of the costs of the war for the various powers involved and the different meanings of the five separate peaces that were negotiated among the European antagonists. In addition, he goes on to identify three major themes--the struggle between absolutism and its foes; the “afterwars” (p. 533) that were sparked in North America, Eurasia, and India; and the need for historians to examine connections between the various regions and theaters--all of which have been largely absent from the historiography.

Speelman’s call for studies that connect the diverse theatres and global locales of the war will resonate with readers of this volume because very few of the chapters attempt this undertaking. With the exception of Osman’s work (which deals with a transatlantic military culture) and some chapters that implicitly deal with power projection, the pieces in this collection focus on specific states, regions, and groups of actors. As noted above, this approach serves to flesh out neglected aspects of the literature of the Seven Years’ War and reassess the importance of topics such as Ottoman neutrality or the Cherokee War, but the different perspectives are generally just what the title suggests: global views. As Speelman and Danley suggest, future work will need to engage global strategy, and transnational actors. Another critique lies not with the historical content of the book but with some of its translations. Given the global nature of the contributors, which include several non-Anglophone scholars, some (but not all) of the translations make for rocky reading.

Despite these limitations, The Seven Years’ War: Global Views is a valuable volume for historians and graduate students who engage in a variety of regions and topics that relate to the conflict. For those who research, the introduction and conclusion, as well as other chapters will serve to provide important conceptualization and background. For those who teach, many of the book’s chapters will contribute to the understanding of formerly neglected campaigns and demonstrate a variety of methodologies. Regardless of audience, the collection serves as a step in the right direction for both military history in general and the study of the Seven Years’ War in particular.


[1]. For a truly global history, see Daniel A. Baugh, The Global Seven Years War 1754-1763: Britain and France in a Great Power Contest (London: Longmans, 2011). For Atlantic perspectives, see Frans deBruyn and Shaun Regan, eds., The Culture of the Seven Years' War: Empire, Identity, and the Arts in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014); and Matt Schumann and Karl W. Schweitzer, The Seven Years’ War: A Transatlantic History (New York: Routledge, 2008).



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