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The History of ‘Total War’ – Masterclass with Professor David A. Bell (Princeton University)

26 January 2023 @ 14:30 - 17:30

Masterclass with Professor David A. Bell, Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor in the Era of North Atlantic Revolutions at Princeton University.

The History of “Total War”

When the French right-wing author Léon Daudet coined the term “total war” in a 1918 pamphlet, he used it not to describe the cataclysm of the Great War, but to refer to an aspirational state that the French should strive to achieve in order to defeat the German enemy. The term has since become a staple in several disciplines, often used to describe a conflict in which all of society’s resources are mobilized to wage war. But it has also come under immense criticism and raises many thorny questions—what wars qualify as total? What level of mobilization must be achieved? Does it refer to the obliteration of the civilian-soldier distinction? To a disregard for the laws of war? And once we agree on a definition, when did “total war” first begin and why?

David A. Bell has provided an influential answer to these questions in his popular 2007 book The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the Birth of Modern Warfare. He argues that total war is helpfully understood as a process, specifically one of uncontrolled radicalization and that this phenomenon developed in the wake of the Enlightenment, during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.

We invite master’s students and PhD candidates to participate in a master class at Utrecht University on 26 January 2023 from 14.30 to 17.30 to discuss Bell’s book and more recent scholarship on the subject. For those whose research aligns with this theme, you will have the opportunity to present your research and receive feedback from Professor Bell and the other participants. Please send a 200-word letter of motivation to Prof. Dr. Ido de Haan (i.dehaan@uu.nl) and Dr. Devin Vartija (d.j.vartija@uu.nl) by 13 January 2023. Indicate in your letter whether you would like to join as a general participant or whether you would like to present and receive feedback on your research. Students will receive 2 ECTS for participation in the masterclass.


26 January 2023
14:30 - 17:30
Event Category:


Utrecht University