SUPERVISING A REVOLUTION: BRITISH ORDNANCE COMMITTEES, PRIVATE INVENTORS, AND MILITARY TECHNOLOGY IN THE VICTORIAN ERA
Leclair, Daniel Richard
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This project is a study of the changes in military technology and administration in Great Britain between 1855 and 1907. After a period of quiescence following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the major militaries of the world began transitioning away from ancien regimé muzzle-loading weapons, wooden sailing ships, and precision-drill tactics. England stubbornly lagged behind, however, until the Crimean War triggered an intense period of military technological development. For the next five decades, the nation struggled to understand and harness improvements in ordnance and small-arms, armor for ship and fortress defense, mechanization of materials production, and the myriad other changes brought about by the ongoing Industrial Revolution. The British public played a surprising but largely unexamined role in these changes, making thousands of suggestions for new weapons and other military material to the British War Office. The British ordnance committees charged with evaluating new ideas and inventions related to military hardware compiled their findings in annual Abstracts of Proceedings, published in bound format from 1857 to 1897. From these and other sources, I have built a database that allows the compilation of statistics on the number of inventors and projects brought before the War Office for consideration, as well as to provide an index to the various topics examined. In addition, I have drawn heavily on many online resources, including the British Newspaper Archive, House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, and texts available from Google Books and other sites. Using such information, the dissertation examines the British public’s interest and participation in weapons development during the second half of the nineteenth century. In addition, the project seeks to put such participation, along with ongoing changes in military administration, in the greater context of the political and financial considerations of the time, as well as Britain’s activities on the world stage. Ultimately, it argues that the Victorian era saw the convergence of three different social revolutions: the British governmental revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the European military revolution. This convergence produced a period of unprecedented public participation in the British weapons development process and fundamentally altered civil-military relationships in the Empire.