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Navies and Economies; Britain and France, 1660–1815

(Mr Robin Briggs, All Souls College)


Rubric: Over this period a great navy was the most expensive, elaborate, and technically advanced expression of national power. Anglo-French naval rivalry helped to generate the largest industrial complexes in the Western world, and spurred major developments in ship design. These immensely costly activities had massive implications for public finance, colonial and trading policy, and administrative practices. This course will concentrate on the economic and technological aspects of the subject, at both theoretical and practical levels, including contemporary perceptions of maritime strategy. Attention will also be given to timber supply, gunfounding, problems of manpower and recruitment, promotion structures, food, and health. While a comparative approach is a vital part of the course, a degree of concentration on one country will be allowed.

Course objectives: As emphasized in the rubric, this course seeks to encourage a strongly comparative approach, in a field where this can be achieved in a very precise and telling fashion; in this respect it is a study in method. There are many striking similarities between policies and practices in the two countries, which is hardly surprising when so many of the problems were common to all major naval powers. Yet the differing political, economic and social structures of Britain and France also led to many differences in the way they ran their navies and tried to use them. There were in addition important contrasts in the relationships between maritime and colonial policy and national wealth which operated in the two countries. Since most naval history has been written in rather narrowly military terms, many of these connections have not been brought out until recently, and have still to be absorbed into the general understanding of national history, even in Britain. From an apparently oblique approach the course introduces students to several of the most dynamic (and precarious) sectors of the respective economies, across a period which was crucial for their development. It also provides something of a case study in how a valuable secondary literature can be exploited to discuss topics going beyond those envisaged by the authors concerned.

Course requirements: The course is normally taught in eight tutorials, either weekly in one term or fortnightly in two terms. These may be single or paired, depending on the number taking the course. Students will be expected to write an essay for each tutorial, and across the course these will normally cover a range of topics relating to the rubric, although these are far from including all possible aspects which might be set. A good knowledge of French, while desirable, is not essential.


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