A West Virginia University history professor has led an international team of historians on a study of economic warfare during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.

The result— a collection of essays offering new perspectives on the consequences of the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s European conquest.

“Revisiting Napoleon’s Continental System: Local, Regional and European Experiences,” edited by Katherine Aaslestad, explores the fate of Europeans as they faced transformative social and economic challenges.

Instead of looking at Napoleonic expansion purely as a military operation, the book examines how Napoleonic conflict spread to the high seas, harbors and marketplaces across Europe and the Atlantic through economic warfare.

“Studying how societies confronted the constant experience of war clarifies the total effect of war— its political, social and economic consequences,” Aaselstad said. “These transnational and regional case studies force us to think about war differently, beyond patriotic clich�s. The book underscores the complexity as well as the human and social cost of war.”

Regional and urban case studies offer a more complete understanding of the significance of economic warfare during the Napoleonic era, and explore the experiences and consequences of the conflict through several key themes: a re-evaluation of the historiography of the Continental System; the uneven power triangle of the French, British and neutral powers; and the strategies of merchants and smugglers to adapt to, or circumvent, the system. The essays highlight the vulnerability and ingenuity of Europeans confronting war as civilians at home, in the marketplace and in the harbors.

By looking away from the battlefield, new perspectives are possible.

“I think we’re giving a voice back to people whose stories had been subsumed by big military battles and generals,” Aaslestad said. “We’re doing to these European civilians or individuals what historians do naturally now for modern wars. You would never just study World War I or World War II or even the Cold War solely on a military level. Historians need to study how civilians experienced conflict on the home front too.”

The collection emerged from a 2011 international conference that Aaslestad co-organized in Amsterdam at the International Institute of Social History, where more than 30 scholars from nine countries convened to present their research on the “Napoleonic Continental System: Local, European and Global Experiences and Consequences.” Aaslestad selected 13 papers from the conference publication, with two others solicited for the collection.

Aaslestad is a specialist on 19th century Germany who has published nearly 20 articles on the Napoleonic era and a book, “Place and Politics.” She co-edited the book with Johan Joor, an expert of Dutch history and honorary fellow of the International Institute of Social History at Amsterdam.



CONTACT: Devon Copeland, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
304.293.6867, Devon.Copeland@mail.wvu.edu

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