Harfleur to Hamburg w/ Professor Brendan Simms, Dr David Trim & Dr Karine Varley

24 Apr 2024 – 18:00 BST
The Centre for Geopolitics
Fitzwilliam House
32 Trumpington Street

Join The Centre for Geopolitics at the University of Cambridge for this talk on five hundred years of English and British violence in Europe.

Britain’s use of extreme violence, which has traditionally been seen as confined to the colonial context, was actually quite common in Europe against other white people. This complicates notions of English/British commitments to international legal norms but also ideas about endemic racism and about British relations with Europe. Our panel will look at Early Modern violence, the bombardment of Copenhagen, and the destruction of the French fleet at Oran in 1940. It will also ask whether this violence was part of the defence of international law and the balance of power in Europe.

Chaired by Professor Sönke Neitzel

About the book

Britain has historically been seen as an upholder of international norms, at least in its relations with western powers. This has often been contrasted with the violence perpetrated in colonial contexts on other continents. What is often missed, however, is the extent to which the state with its capital in London—first England, then Great Britain—inflicted extreme violence on its European neighbours, even when still using the rhetoric of neighbourliness and friendship.

This book comprises eleven case-studies of Anglo-British strategic violence, from the siege of Harfleur in 1415 to the fire-bombing of Hamburg in 1943. Chapters examine actions that were top-down and directed, and perpetrated for specific geopolitical reasons—many of them at, or well beyond, the bounds of what was sanctioned by prevailing international norms at the time. The contributors look at how these actions were conceived, executed and perceived by the English/British public, by the international legal community of the time, and by the victims.

This history of English violence in Europe complicates not only easy notions of England/Britain as a champion of the ‘standards of civilisation’ or of the ‘liberal international order’, but also of the supposed distinction between ‘European’ and ‘extra-European’ warfare.

About the authors

D. J. B. Trim is Professor of Church History at Andrews University in Michigan. His books include European Warfare, 1350–1750.

Brendan Simms is Professor in the History of International Relations, University of Cambridge, and author, inter alia, of Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, 1453 to the Present.

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