International Relations in the Napoleonic Era: The Long View

  • Dominic Lieven
Part of the War, Culture and Society, 1750–1850 book series


This chapter will look at international relations in the Napoleonic era from a perspective which is both long in time and global in breadth. It will also interpret the words ‘international relations’ rather freely, investigating not just diplomacy and inter-state relations but also warfare and the sources of power in this era. Such broad perspectives have clear advantages. Comparative approaches can open up new issues and interpretations. They can also challenge the assumptions and enrich the debates among specialists in any historical field. Since most history-writing — and the history of war in particular — is still national and sometimes even nationalist, global perspectives and international comparisons are doubly useful. Attempting to determine what were the key issues and fundamental trends within a mass of detail is essential to the telling and understanding of history. Like all approaches, however, the broad sweep has its problems. Even the best comparisons can never replace detailed local knowledge based on mastery of the sources. Global perspectives can be little more than vapid bows to contemporary fashion. They can also feed into an inevitable danger when writing history in the longue durée, which is to read the present back into the past and to impose master narratives which legitimize contemporary assumptions and ideologies. The great point, in my opinion, is for the historian to be aware and explicit about these dangers.


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