Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Matthew McCormack’s "Embodying the Militia in Georgian England"

Matthew McCormack has published widely on British history, including his book The Independent Man.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book Embodying the Militia in Georgian England, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford had a point. Page 99 may not seem an obvious place to start, but then history books are rarely written sequentially, and this one certainly wasn’t. Page 99 falls in chapter 5, which was one of the first chapters that I wrote, and was the point in the writing process when the project really “clicked”, since it enabled me to figure out what the book was really going to be about.

Chapter 5 is entitled “Training the Militia” and it focuses on the training literature that was produced from the mid-eighteenth century which sought to instruct militiamen how to become soldiers. This was a part-time force, designed to be called out in times of invasion or riot. Since the men and their officers were civilians, and since they met up only occasionally for training in peacetime, a market sprung up for drillbooks that were comprehensible to the amateur.

Reading this literature, it struck me how different these works were to those that were aimed at the regular army. For starters, they were simpler, making the complex process of muzzle-loading a musket easier for the part-timer. They also focused on the challenge of training civilian men. On page 99 I quote William Windham of the Norfolk Militia, who mused that ploughmen “have a slouch in their gait” so require extra training in posture and balance. Most importantly, these manuals suggested that the harsh discipline and robotic drill that regulars received was not appropriate for citizen soldiers. One should not drill out their individuality and humanity, since that is what made them distinct from – and even superior to – professional soldiers.

It was at this point in the book that I stopped focusing simply on representations of the militia, and started to think about the practice of military life: I started to think about issues like embodiment and material culture. So I would like to think that it was round about page 99 that I became a better historian.
Learn more about Embodying the Militia in Georgian England at the Oxford University Press website and Matthew McCormack’s website.

--Marshal Zeringue