Historical methods in defence and war studies: The case of historical defence studies in France

Christophe Lafaye

This chapter’s main goal is to map and survey the researchers, facilities and methods in the field of defence history in the French case. As we will explain it, that there is no direct French equivalent to defence and war studies as understood in the UK. In fact, this is the reason why this project adopts a pluridisciplinary approach, highlighting the different ways of thinking and studying defence and war in France through a historical lens. This contribution is a global mapping of different methods used in the field of Military History, with a direct methodological application concerning archives of soldiers, enabling them to document their fighting experiences in the most recent conflicts (Afghanistan, Mali). Thus, the chapter explores a case study which will focus on the author’s own project of “collecting the men and women’s fighting experiences in the 20th and 21st Centuries’ conflicts”.



Over the last few years in France there has been a strong trend to promote War and Defence Studies among a few scholars and the Institute for Strategic Research of the Military School (IRSEM)1 funded by the Ministry of Defence. War Studies is defined as a multidisciplinary research field having war as its object. This field of study con- siders that war is a global social fact since it is influences society in all its (political, economic, sociological, ethical, geographical, juridical etc.) aspects. War is an overall phenomenon escaping disciplinary boundaries. A cross-cutting approach is the only one fit to understand it in all its complexity. The same applies to defence studies, as defined in the introduction of this volume. Defence studies are by essence multi- disciplinary, as defence issues not only concern the strategic aspects but also histor- ical, social, economic, political aspects. War and defence studies thus aim at  combining heterogeneous methods from various disciplinary fields.  Moreover there  are no simple distinctions unambiguously defining war and defence, thus enabling a variety of disciplinary perspectives (strategic studies, security studies, peace studies, military studies, defence studies etc.) to coexist. Prof. Jean-Vincent Holeindre help- fully demonstrated how to differentiate them (Holeindre 2015). As a matter of fact, they are not identical. So what is specific about defence studies and war studies? Like security  studies,  they  were born within the academia  (unlike  strategic  studies  stem- ming from administrations and think tanks) and they have a distinctive inclusive approach. As Jean-Baptiste Vilmer points out: “War Studies have  a  narrower  approach as they are limited to a particular threat, that is armed conflict, but  wider  than others as they are examining it from every conceivable angle” (Vilmer 2017: 51). Defence studies as well as war studies rely on a comprehensive approach seemingly  fit for the complexity of the subjects at stake. In this chapter we use  both  terms of defence  studies and war studies, as we  conceive defence studies  as  a  natural component of war studies as Schmitt states, underlying the “constitutive effects of war and defence”: “defence policies are shaped by the changing character of war and the international context, and in turn influence them” (2018: 26). As Schmitt notes, understanding war is a necessity for a state in order to build a proper defence able to face a potential enemy (Schmitt 2018: 19).

Established within King’s College in London in 1962, the department of War Studies is considered a global flagship in this disciplinary field. It provides education for over 2,000  students,  among  which  many  are  foreigners.  Its  teaching  capacity   includes researchers  from  an  array of  disciplines  (history,  political  science,  law, philosophy, sociology etc.) as well as practitioners from various backgrounds (high-ranking military officers, diplomats, physicians etc.). From 1997 onwards the defence studies department provides higher military education to Joint Services Command and Staff College based in Shrivenham. While this kind of education is spreading in Europe (especially in Denmark) and worldwide (in Canada and the United States, where security studies, strategic studies and military history are prevailing), France appears to be lagging behind (Eulriet and Krahmann 2004; Holeindre and Vilmer 2015; Meijer 2015). Why is the development of war and defence studies so weak in France? Are there works of individuals taking this multidisciplinary perspective? In this chapter we propose to first examine the reasons for the late and still ongoing recognition of defence and war stu- dies in France as well as the ongoing catching-up process. In a second part of the chapter we will focus more precisely on the case of history in the field of defence and war studies and show the tortuous path for military history to gain legitimacy within the academic circles and the universities in the French case. The third section of the chapter will then raise the methodological issue when studying defence in a historical perspective. In such case, the researcher has to put forward innovative transdisciplinary methodologies. We will precisely take the example of the collecting, archiving and highlighting of the 21st-century fighting experience of the French army as a test case to explain how we apply the historical methodology to defence issues. This method is borrowing its intellectual tools to immediate history, military history, archival science, sociology and computer science. The use of built archives enables the researcher to gather sufficient sources so as to study the experience lived by soldiers in the 21st century’s armed conflicts. Providing a basis for transdisciplinary academic works, this method is fully adequate for defence studies and war studies. We will conclude our chapter by drawing perspectives for the future of defence and war studies using the historical method.

Defence and war studies: a slow implementation process in the French case

In France, despite many attempts since the early 1970s to establish research centres or training courses specialized on defence and war issues within the academia, this dis- ciplinary field has been undermined by institutional instability and dissipation of the effort. The literature published on defence issues, and more specifically on issues con- cerning war, is not only scarce but is also scattered. As Vilmer points out:

The fact that France was able to produce its own strategic thinking, as well as significant authors, is a testament to individual talents and to the combined efforts of associations and research institutes, including the Ministry of Defence, a con- sumer as well as producer of research.(Vilmer 2017: 53)

For example, the Institute for Strategic Studies (IRSEM) was created in 2009 by mer- ging four previously existing research centres. It presently plays a significant role in the development of defence and war studies in France. Each army also develops in parallel to its own research centres. The French army land forces also disposes of a Centre for Command Teaching and Doctrine2 as well as the Saint-Cyr School Research Centre (CREC)3 at the superior military academy of Saint Cyr Coëtquidan. The French air Force develops a Centre for Strategic Aerospace Studies4 and an Air School Research Centre on its air base in southern France (Salon-de-Provence)5 but also recently set up two Excellence Research Chair (one on drones and one on cyberdefence) dedicated to applied research for the French Air Force. The French navy disposes of a Marine Graduate Studies Centre6 and the Naval School Research Institute based in the  Superior Naval Academy in Brest.7 The existing higher education system in the French Military School in Paris (The War College and the Military School Centre for Advanced Studies)8 helps to invigorate strategic research. The same is also true on a lower level, which is at the joint service force level: the Joint Centre for Concepts, Doctrines and Experiments9 has been created to perform operational foresight, develop and experiment doctrine and operational concepts for joint and combined operations   in a national or multinational framework. At the inter-ministerial level the National Defence Institute of Advanced Studies10 and the French Superior Council for Strategic Research11 also tend to play an increasing role in strategic thinking. However, this brief overview of the specialized research centres working on strategic and defence issues in France shows how this research remains scattered. France is lagging behind compared to other developed countries. Defence and war studies are adversely affected by mar- ginalization and fragmentation. Marginalization is partly attributable to a certain anti- militarism legacy in French universities. Originating from the interwar period it grew stronger after World War II. This marginalization has been intensified by the war in Algeria in the 1960s and its repercussions and then, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, by the faith in the possibility of bringing peace to international relations. As Vilmer states:

studies on war are also marginalized because of other factors related to the research subject’s practical aspect. Studying war involves (…) speaking freely  with  politi- cians determining it and military men waging it. (…) Some believe this position  is      a threat to research’s independency. (Vilmer 2017: 55)

Some of these observations also apply to some other European countries’ situations regarding the emergence of defence studies, like in the case of Germany for instance where the field really started to get academic recognition after the end of the Cold War and once Germany was back in military interventions in the late 1990s (Gareis and Klein 2004). This is not the case in the United States for instance where dialogue between universities and the administration are quite commonplace.

The fragmentation of defence and war studies is stemming from the French uni- versity system’s structure: there are a few main subject areas hardly engaging in dialo- gue and mostly following disciplinary silos. Nor are the various services producing strategic  thinking  (academia,   the  military  institution,  companies,  and  think  tanks) properly connected. Encouraging interdisciplinary research and creating the conditions for dialogue between the parties involved in strategic thinking therefore represent important issues to develop further defence and war studies. Some progress is currently under way. Since the beginning of the 2000s a new generation of researchers started benefiting from research-funding programmes from the Ministry of Defence (and in the first place from the French Procurement Agency),12 which is yearly funding 130 doc- toral researches not only in engineering or competing but also in social sciences. These new experts tend to hold high-level academic positions. Students are also more and more able to benefit from international mobility and use an academic stay to study abroad  in  countries where  defence  and war  studies  are  well  established within   the academia. Increasing numbers of students also engage in specialized master’s degrees on defence issues. A professional association to promote defence and war studies has also been set up by young scholars in the aftermath of the terror attacks against the journalist of Charlie Hebdo in Paris in January 2015: the Association for War and Strategic Studies (AEGES) aims at promoting this research area in the global French academic sphere. Increasing overseas military operations (Afghanistan, Lybia, Mali, Central African Republic, Iraq, and Syria etc.) as well as domestic ones (counter-ter- rorism) implying French armed forces triggered a brutal awakening of public opinion to  the  social  significance  defence  issues.  In  2017  Jean-Yves  le  Drian,  the  former Defence Minister made this issue one of its top priorities: “to support the emergence of an academic strategic research within the field of social sciences and the humanities (…) implying the development of War Studies à la française”(cited in Vilmer 2017: 54). The  French Ministry of Defence (MoD)  decided  to launch  a specific Pact for  Higher Education funding for not only doctoral dissertations in social sciences, but also post- doctoral programmes and research programmes in several research centres in France (see the chapter written by Borzillo and Deschaux-Dutard in this volume). One of the benefits of this measure is to increase the employability of young researchers working on defence issues by giving universities an incentive to create positions. Other mechanisms are imagined to encourage servicemen to undertake doctoral dissertation not only in engineering or computer sciences (as in the French Air Force for instance) but also in social sciences and more precisely in history, political science, psychology and sociology. Yet, although defence and war studies benefit from an encouraging environment in France, over the last few years they have still encountered criticism from a part of the academia, as the controversy raised in the political science commu- nity in 2018 shows.13 The same applies to history where defence and war studies also face implantation and legitimacy issues in the universities.

Military history and defence studies: a long road to gain academic legitimacy

Since the early 20th century in France, military history has neither been the most prestigious nor the liveliest sub-field of the historical discipline in academic research. Each generation produces a few famous names, but generally speaking military his- tory still remains the poor relation of the academic world. The French history school clearly stayed behind its German and British counterparts in the period before 1914. Between 1920 and 1940 military history was conceived narrowly and conventionally. Military history was at the time written without concern for new disciplinary considerations, eliciting a strong social rejection fuelled by pacifism and anti-militarism   in the 1930s. The interest in the history of institutions prompted Marc Bloch’s and Lucien Febvre’s harsh criticism voiced in the periodical Annales dhistoire économique et sociale (See for instance Huppert 1982). Both intellectuals held up to ridicule what they called the “battle history” (see Paret 2009 about the relationship of the Ecole des Annales and the history of war). This kind of history is frequently written by military officers seeking to draw lessons-learned from the past battles for the  present  and future actions (Offenstadt 2011: 98). Marc Bloch’s work have been used for the pur- poses of military history in France, while Hans Delbrück censured it in Germany (Delbrück 1908).14 The latter complained about the fact that that military history focuses on battle, which is one of the armed forces’ main goal, thus shrinking the scope of the possibilities for historical inquiries. Scientific military history gradually started developing in the United States during the 1930s. It particularly became a prominent part of the intellectual formation of the officers’ training in military academies. The closeness of military history to the academia provided a fertile ground to develop new research issues. Historians in English-speaking world still largely teach   in higher education structures as it was the case for John Keegan (Keegan 1983)15 in the United Kingdom. Despite the existence of promising works (Lot 1946, Launey 1949, Girardet 1953, Vidalenc 1955;16Contamine 1957), military  history  has  been cast aside in France after World War II. Moreover military history tends to be taught less and less in the universities even within armed forces.

Yet this sub-field of the historical discipline experiences a form of revival based on the increasing porosity between historical subfields and on the broadening of histor- ical methods and subjects globally (Contamine 1998). In order to secure its resur- gence, military history engaged in a sociological and quantitative turn. A renewed military history started developing following the historical conception of the sub-field by the Annals School (Denys 2005). In 1963 an article about the dimensions of mili- tary history has been published by Piero Pieri (1963). Books about warfare in the Antique world have been published quasi-simultaneously (Vernant 1968, 2019; Bris- son 1969). André Martel, André Corvisier, Guy Pédroncini and Philippe Contamine also played an active role in reviving military history. They constitute an outstanding generation.17 Institutions such as the French military history commission (CFHM)18    or the development of specialized research institutes in Montpellier, Paris and later Aix-en-Provence19 indicate a clear trend towards the re-emergence of military history. These structures deserve credit for (re)creating a meeting facility for researchers in military history to exchange and develop collaboration with the military. The military has long been perceived – until the 1990s – by academic military history mostly through its societal, cultural and political aspects (Denys 2005: 23), whereas research related to military thinking or strategic aspects has most of the time been confined to institutional research made within the military institution itself. Yet since the 1990s historical academic schools started evolving not only in their research topics but also  in their academic debates, which has provided a positive context for the re-emergence of military history. Historical analysis progressively takes into account many aspects  of a historical situation (including political, diplomatic, economic, cultural aspects  etc.): for instance the publication of the four-volume Histoire militaire de la France edited by Corvaisier (1998) embodies a half century of shared research between the military and the academic world, while allowing various researchers to provide a personal contribution (Jacques Frémeaux and Jean-Charles Jauffret, for example). Military history started to cover a variety of issues among which a renewed version of “battle history” (Bertaud 2013 [1970]; Duby 2014 [1984]; Drévillon 2009; Henninger and  Wiederman  2012), studies about prisoners  of war or  history of weapons (Cochet 2012), or more broadly historical cultural interest in combat and in fighters. This widening of the issues covered by military history in the last decade indicates a dynamism going beyond the specificity of the historical disciplinary field, and even sometimes, threatening its own singularity (see for instance Branche (2011) on war- time violence and Barthelemy (2004) on peacetime violence in the medieval era). Moreover, military history has benefited from the setup of dedicated research centres  in the last two decades such as the Center for Defence History Studies (CEHD) cre- ated in 1994 and integrated within the Institute for Strategic Research (IRSEM) in 2009.  

The   IRSEM   thus   helps   gathering   researchers  with   different disciplinary backgrounds and researchers involved in  the  renewed  battle  history  form  an  influen- tial group among them. The IRSEM also  includes  the  former  Center  for  Social  Stu- dies in Defence,20 the Center for  Higher  Military  Studies  and  Research21  and  the  Center for Advanced Armament  Studies.22  This  institute  thus  offers  an  interesting venue to develop cross-disciplinary fertilization on defence research issues. Both the military and academic worlds seem to draw  closer  to  each  other  in  this  research  facility, which remains rather rare in the French research and academic sphere. Yet as evoked earlier this getting closer together has raised controversy within the academic community concerned with the independence of research funded by  military  funding. More precisely concerning military history, past the rejection phase in the 1960s the sub-field now has to find its place within the growing number of researches in defence studies on the one hand, and the growing interest of the military institution for social science knowledge so as to better train the future officers. Therefore, having difficulty expressing specificity within the global field of defence studies,  the  researchers  in  military history decided to go their own way and left the  IRSEM  in  2014  to  join  together the Historical Service of Defence in Paris under the supervision of Professor  Hervé Drévillon. However,  this  evolution  left  unresolved  until  now  the  question  of  the collection of historical military sources, which was at stake in the decision of the historians to set up their own  research  facility.  On  23  November  2015  a  directive  about operational archiving  has  been  adopted  by  the  French  army  general  staff  to  give a new impetus to the historical  mission  of  the  military  institution.  One  of  the  main aims of this document  is  to  enable  the  military  institution  to  document  the  recent French army commitment overseas. This  process  implies  the  collection  of  sources meant for immediate use, thus  opening  up  opportunities  for  the  implementa- tion of a new oral history project driven  by  the  Army  legacy  delegation  working together with the historical office of the MoD (Service Historique de la Défense). Since 2017, new internal directives have  been passed so as to coordinate the gathering      of historical material within the military institution. The writing of  military  history  is more  and  more  conceived  as  a  multidisciplinary  process  encompassing  asserted  global history dimensions.

This aspect is  apparent  in  the  recent  research  work  of  Masha Cerovic (2018) or Elie Tenenbaum (2018).  Two newly published books about war history are noteworthy and adopt  a  pluridisciplinary  perspective:  the  collective  work  completed  under  the  supervision  of  Professor  Bruno  Cabanes  (2018)  and  the two-volume publication of France’s military history edited by Hervé Drévillon and Olivier  Wieviorka  (2018).  Another  paper completes  these  funding  works: the book published by Xavier Lapray and Sylvain Venayre (2018) definitely confirms the edi- torial liveliness of this historiographical field in defence studies, which is currently experiencing a renaissance.

Defence and war studies, by nature multidisciplinary, inspire many research projects in contemporary history. The method developed to collect, archive and highlight the 21st-century fighting experience is a perfect example of what a researcher in defence studies or military history can achieve.

An important methodological challenge for defence studies in a historical perspective: building archives to study the 21st century ghting experiences

A good example of the development of defence and war studies in France can be  found with of a multidisciplinary academic research that the author of this chapter launched for a few years, which was about the gathering,  archiving  and highlighting of the 21st century fighting experience. This research projects asks the researcher in history to rely on a cross-disciplinary approach to achieve an improved study of the fighting experience lived by French military fighters in very recent battles. This observation was made during our doctoral research in history about the  French  military forces in Afghanistan (Lafaye 2014, 2016) prompted  an indepth study of  how to build archives on such contemporary issues. The methodological questions about  the  collection  of  archives  on  this  kind  of issues  even  generated  the will  tocomplete a master’s degree entitled “Archives in the 20th and 21st century” at the University of Burgundy and to write a Master thesis on how to collect, archive and increase the value of fighting experience in contemporary armed conflicts (Lafaye 2017, 2018a and 2018b).23

A further incitation to develop reflexivity on how to col-  lect and archive fighting memory was carried out during an internship in the histor-  ical office of the MoD within its oral archives department, which allowed us to carry out an experiment of data collection about the military deployment of the 1st Divi-  sion of the French Army and the 19th Combat Engineer Regiment in the Sahel- Saharan strip from 2015 to 2017. Since the early 2000s, the French Army experienced an intense professionalization process as well as an increase in military operations outside the French territory. This raising involvement of the French armed forces in international security started raising the crucial question of the recollection of mili-  tary operations and soldiers’ fighting experiences in their wide variety. In  an  ever more digitalized era, what kind of workable traces can the researcher  be  able  to handle so as to retrace present-day campaigns or to document the lived experiences     of soldiers? In France, in spite of the existence of an up and running archiving project lead by the MoD’s historical service Historical Defence Service of the French Min- istry of Defence (SHD), numerous sources are not well preserved. This concerns sol- diers’ oral testimonies (from privates to junior officers, including the NCO Corps), emails exchanged with their family, journals, pictures, videos, artefacts etc. Another kind of data, such as war diaries are not available in consideration of time-based access restrictions. Therefore the researcher in contemporary, and even immediate,  history has to think carefully about the forms of data gathering concerning the fighting experience of soldiers in recent or current military operations, starting from combat personnel as such. To understand more accurately the fighting experience of soldiers by working in a global history perspective, it is necessary to extend the gathering of testimonies to political actors, military families, civilians planning the missions, defence bases, local people involved in the areas of operations, non-governmental organizations (which are fre- quently interacting with servicemen), diplomats, international coalitions staff where appropriate, and even to the enemy wherever possible. The only collection of the oral testimonies of soldiers deployed in these armed conflicts is obviously insufficient; never- theless the researcher has to start somewhere among the variety of actors involved, even though the researcher needs to be aware that the military institution is not the only depositary of the fighting experience in military operations. This reflexive thinking about how to collect such recent archives spread on diversified media seems to be a necessary prerequisite to the investigation and the writing on contemporary military operations  and the experience of the protagonist of armed conflicts.

The historian should ideally be able to possess fully organized research materials in order to be able to produce a reflexive analysis of  the collected data. Within the  variety of potential sources, oral sources hold a special status. However, they should not be overestimated compared with other sources as public or  privately  held  archives, newspapers, pictorial or audiovisual materials, etc. The researcher needs to develop  rigorous methods here so as to gather and  build  his/her own archives,  so that the collected data can not only be useful for the researchers’ works in progress but   also  be  available  to  other  researchers  or  readers  (reuse  of  research  data)  while respecting national legislation (on the secondary use of qualitative data, see  the  chapter by Borzillo and Deschaux-Dutard in this volume). These documentary resources tend to be preserved either on the shelves of material archive centres or on servers of websites and online databases (thematic digital archival centres). This practice assumes the researcher has the ability to master at least some competences in software tools: for instance he/she has to be able to index collected sources, to scan,    to operate qualitative data with software tools, etc.24 This kind of methodology raises challenges for the researcher as it stands at the crossroads of immediate history, military history, sociology, archival, and information technology. Thus it provides a good example of pluridisciplinary approach involving diversified proficiencies and technical skills complementing those of the classical historical work. In the section below we explain thoroughly how the researcher can  implement this kind of method  to investigate immediate history in defence studies.

Building archives: a method to preserve the soldier’s fighting experiences and document immediate history in defence studies

Building archives is a key feature in this method (Lafaye 2018b). These archives are produced by an actor (researcher and/or archivist) for the purpose of building up sources enabling the completion of a research and/or to cope with an institutional expectation. This researcher collecting the archives therefore has to delineate the perimeter of the field of survey, to care for its opening (and sometimes obtain an authorization from the military institution), and to develop a collecting methodology. Once this phase has been completed the researcher has to proceed to data collection, to operate their archival treatment and to depose them so as to ensure their preservation. He/she may need to exploit the collected data and develop the whole process in accordance with the applicable laws and regulations related to archives. The collection of the fighting experience specifically requires an a posteriori testimony of the real-life experience of a witness present on the armed conflict theatre, in order to fuel further multidisciplinary research and to keep records for future generations. These collections are made up of oral testimonies, but personal archives should also include relevant information about its collector, the fieldwork procedures (data collection and produc- tion charts, systematic note-taking, all relevant sociological information concerning the interviewed witnesses etc.). Rigor is required while exercising this method. Modesty  is also suitable in the presentation of the research’s outcomes.

The researcher’s complete neutrality in respect of his/her object of investigation is a very challenging ideal to say the least. It is possible to objectivize research material through the use of reflexivity regarding the collected sources. The precarious nature of digital documents produced by people in the very recent past must also be acknowledged. This applies to private iconographic documents, battlefield-recorded videos, diaries drafted with mainstream word processing software, working papers foregoing the drafting of official documents, personal e-mails (which are frequently non-archived documents), videoconferencing discussions (frequently unrecorded, or non-archived when recorded), etc. If this kind of evanescent data is not collected soon enough, they are meant to irrevocably disappear sooner or later, thereby depriving historians from sources documenting the life of con- temporary fighters. For instance, Afghanistan has been lived as an ordeal for French fighting soldiers, who formed the fourth generation to fight in an armed conflict abroad after the trauma experiences with the Algerian War: the Afghan experience here con- fronts the researcher and the archivist with a technological challenge resulting from the digital revolution.

The early stages of this disruption were perceptible for the researcher not only in the preliminary questionnaires but also as we experienced problems affecting the curators responsible for the preservation of the first photographic and audiovisual collections, facing the digital revolution in the late 20th century. Formats survivability, data pre- servation, data migration and losses resulting thereof, these themes were foretaste of future challenges that the researcher and the archivist could encounter in a society entirely driven by digital tools and the daily production of personal data in the virtual space. Which ones of these data have to be collected? When produced on a warzone by soldiers themselves, are they public archives or private ones? What kind of contract has to be chosen for collecting them? What kind of protection is needed to ensure the rights of the various personnel contributing to the collections development? In the case of archives related to armed forces, questions about confidentiality, protection of witnesses (as they may still be in activity), military secrecy, professional confidence, and com- municability of collections as well as their exploitation are as a matter of fact a big concern for the researcher/archivist. Working on the collection of testimonies of con- temporary fighters, be it either on the external operation theatre or in a mainland-sta- tioned unit, raises the question of the access to the field. Required approvals must be available to the researcher so as to be able to access his intended witnesses. Addition- ally, it is important to possess a relatively high cultural capital and master a good knowledge about the military society and its specific codes, thus allowing researchers to carryout surveys in the military environment (see for instance Deschaux-Dutard 2015; Schmitt  2015).  Collection  straight  from  the  operation  theatre  within  close combat units – such as the collection carried out in the United States from 1942 on in the framework of the Military History Operations (Krugler 2009) – can only be performed by historians specially trained to this end and embedded in the military institution.

Collection on the national territory in France concerning domestic operations (such as the Sentinelle operation launched in the aftermath of the terror attacks in 2015, for instance) can on the contrary be carried out by more diversified actors such as reservists or even students if the chain of command approves. In any case this work is required to be part of the researcher/archivist’s preliminary training (interviewing methodology, technical learning of use of the tools needed for recording and exploita- tion, archival tools, XML-EAD computer language etc.). This training may also con- cern researchers in contemporary history wanting to deal with defence and war studies and relying on archive research data.

In our experience the method we use to collect fighting experiences allows the his- torian to dispose of original research materials which could be effectively used to document research on 21st century armed conflicts. Besides, fighting soldiers’ real-life experience can also be recounted thanks to these research materials. The present work needs further development within the National Defence archives so as to prevent the potential loss of valuable data. An ambitious joint service programme could be imple- mented; the creation and training of a specialized team dedicated to the collection as well as to an in-depth thinking about the legal framework regulating digital data pro- duced by individuals on the battlefield could be very beneficial for defence studies more generally. Computer equipment procurement should also be carefully thought-out before taking action because this hardware is meant to ensure total data security from the field where data are collected to the server on which they are hosted and archived. We have been granted access to units returning from operational tours in France and in our opinion, the forthcoming initiative should be to provide access to new collection areas during domestic and overseas military deployments so as to fuel the archival fieldwork. Digital revolution has therefore an influence on the organization of sources but also reshapes the research methods and approaches for historians and archivists. Such a method calls for more diversified knowledge as well as for computing skills to be developed.


In this chapter we commented on the slow implementation process of the defence and war studies in France and showed how difficult this emergence is within a major dis- cipline such as history. We have therefore highlighted a research methodology drawing its tools from the multidisciplinary approach needed in defence and war studies as many topics stand at crossroads of different disciplines. Even though defence studies have faced some opposition in France, the current dynamic is powerful and seems to follow the flow of history. As Olivier Schmitt points out, the emergence of defence and war studies depends on three parameters: an awareness of the importance of the sub- ject for the society; promotion of interdisciplinary in the academic sphere; the concern of  the  researcher  to  be  useful  to  the  policy  (Schmitt  2018).  Even  though  multidisciplinarity currently remains under-recognized in French universities and the researcher’s connection with the defence field is sometimes still perceived a little suspi- ciously by colleagues working on other research fields, defence studies keep developing and  imply that both  the academic and military perceptions of defence and war  studies keep evolving. In the meantime, the creation of a pluridisciplinary research institute by the French MoD in the 2000s offers a promising measure, as well as the funding facil- ities offered by the MoD in the last two decades.

Yet it cannot be denied that the defence studies tend to clash with the traditionally discipline-based organization of the French university system. Therefore, one important question here seems to be: how to integrate defence and war studies into the French university system based on strict disciplinary organization? By creating a new discipline like “international relations” with defence studies as sub-discipline? This  solution  is not yet  conceivable  in  the  French  context.  Currently  the  training  courses  and  research centres dedicated to defence studies are mostly connected to disciplinary departments like law or political science mainly. This situation creates tensions between disciplines and competition between universities. Another problem linked with this disciplinary structure of the French academic system is the still rather low perception of the doc- toral degree in the military institution, even though more military personnel tend to write PhDs not only in social sciences but also in technological sciences for instance in the last decade. Unlike in the United States, officers with a PhD are still quite rare in France. Their careers may even be slowed down by their doctoral process. The devel- opment of defence studies not only requires a real scientific recognition from the aca- demic community but also a professional recognition within the military institution.

However, by developing diversified research skills as we tried to show here, a researcher in military history may prove very useful not only for the academia but also for the defence field, as he may be able to archive and pass on the memory of recent armed conflicts by relying on digital tools.


  • In French: Institut de recherche stratégique de lécole militaire (IRSEM).
  • In French: Centre de Doctrine et denseignement du commandement (CDEC).
  • In French: Centre de Recherche des Écoles de Saint-Cyr (CREC).
  • In French: Centre détudes stratégiques aérospatiales (CESA).
  • In French: Centre de recherche de lécole de lair (CREA).
  • In French: Centre détudes supérieures de la Marine (CESM).
  • In French: Institut de recherche de lécole navale (IRNAV).
  • In French: Ecole de guerre and Centre des hautes études de lécole militaire (CHEM).
  • In French: Centre Interarmées de Concepts, de Doctrines et dExpérimentations (CICDE).
  • In French: Institut des Hautes Études de la Défense Nationale (IHEDN).
  • In French: Conseil Supérieur Français de la Recherche Stratégique (CSFRS).
  • In French: direction générale de larmement (DGA).
  • See the arguments of this controversy online: https://zilsel.hypotheses.org/3052 and https://hypotheses.org/3071 (Consulted on 19 July 2019).
  • As Bloch used to say himself, military men may be the only ones among men of action intentionally attempting to use its research results for practical purposes. (Bloch 1937), “Que demander à l’histoire?”, Mélanges Historiques, Paris,
  • John Keegan (1934–2012) was a British historian and journalist whose works had a very significant impact on military history’s development, notably new battle history.
  • Jean Vidalenc, La demi-solde, étude dune catégorie sociale, Paris, Rivière, 1955.
  • The military was present in the 1960s and 1970s thanks to the writing of general of Jean Delmas and general Fernand Gambiez, among others.
  • In French: Commission française dhistoire militaire (CFHM).
  • The Centre dhistoire militaire et détudes de la défense nationale was created in 1968 within the Paul-Valéry University (Montpellier III) under the leadership of André Martel. Worth mentioning are also the “Armées sociétés en Europe du XVe au XIXe siècle” seminar chaired

by André Corvisier at the University Paris IV and the Centre d’histoire militaire comparé in

the Instiotute for Political Studies of Aix-en-Provence.

  • In French: Centre détudes en sciences sociales de la défense (C2SD).
  • In French: Centre détudes et de recherches de lenseignement militaire supérieur (CEREMS).
  • In French: Centre des hautes études de larmement (CHEAr). A research support programme was implemented. Furthermore, the point of this structure is  to  bring  young  researchers’  efforts together in a joint seminar, fostering transversality between research fields and a rela-    tive
  • Christophe Lafaye, Collecter, archiver et valoriser lexpérience combattante des XXe et XXIe siècles, Mémoire de Master II professionnel “archives des XXe et XXIe siècles européen”, réalisé sous la direction du professeur Jean Vigreux, Université de Bourgogne, soutenue le 6 septembre
  • The researcher also needs to be aware of concepts such as informed consent process, copy- right, professional secrecy, national defence secrecy, rights pertaining to individual data secured by the Commission Nationale Informatique et Liberté – CNIL (National Commission on Informatics and Liberty).


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SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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