Jasper Heinzen

junior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2017/2018
discipline History
Lecturer in Modern European History, Department of History, University of York

Research project

In Search of Civilised War: Prisoners of War and the Concept of Military Honour in Western Europe, 1750-1918


The rise and fall of military honour codes is a timely topic. Although the term human rights is now used more commonly than honour in public discourses about restraints on violence in war, questions of normative conduct remain at the core of what expressly or subliminally unites international coalitions against perceived rogue states and "terrorists". These norms reflect a widely held belief that soldiers in the 18th century’s Age of Reason acted with restraint towards each other, that this "enlightened" consensus was gradually lost with the advent of total war between 1789 and 1945, and that modern armies are in the process of reconnecting with the cosmopolitan, albeit Eurocentric, ideals of their predecessors.


The present project challenges this teleological perspective. It argues that a closer look at the evolution of military honour in Western Europe relativises the importance of sharp breaks and instead refocuses attention on historical continuities and organic progressions in the treatment of enemies. The versatility of honour as a concept makes it a useful heuristic tool to investigate this problem. Most scholars agree that honour comprises two more or less compatible manifestations: on the one hand the way in which the ethical and cultural values of a society become internalised, and on the other the extent to which individuals or even whole states are seen to conform outwardly with the socio-moral standards of their times. As such, honour is at once individualistic and collectivist. The resulting dialectic between personal virtue and reputation has been much explored by historians of duelling and martial valour, yet so far the literature has tended to concentrate on the articulation of honour codes in a national context, with an emphasis on cultural differences that set countries apart from each other. What role honour played in the transnational setting of war during the crucial phase of transition from mercenary to conscript armies in the nineteenth century is still a little researched topic.


In terms of methodology the project traces the transnational dimension of honour in the changing status of prisoners of war. Since the early modern period officers and, increasingly, common soldiers possessed the right to give parole d’honneur―in effect to pawn their reputation as men of integrity―in return for freedom of movement and other privileges in captivity. Based on case-studies from Britain, France, and Germany, the study investigates how servicemen and politicians on each side understood honour, how they negotiated national differences, and why honour continued to matter as a code of conduct despite recurring infringements. In pursuing this line of enquiry, I hope to shed new light on why the codification of humanitarian international law failed so miserably to prevent the violent excesses of total war after 1914. The project therefore seeks not only to make a contribution to modern cultural history but also international relations.





Jasper Heinzen is Lecturer in Modern European History at the Department of History at the University of York. He holds a Ph.D in Modern European History from the University of Cambridge. His main research interests are the history of modern European nationalism; Modern state-building (with a particular focus on Germany); cultural historical approaches to the way in which notions of "civilised warfare" changed between the French Revolution and the First World War; and memory studies and the collective remembrance of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe and prisoners of war.



Selected publications


'Monarchical State-Building through State-Destruction: Hohenzollern Self-Legitimisation at the Expense of Deposed Dynasties in the Kaiserreich', German History, [online], published 28 September 2017.


Making Prussians, Raising Germans: A Cultural History of Prussian State-Building after Civil War, 1866-1935, New Studies in European History Series, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2017.


'The Forgotten Victory: Germans and the Battle of Waterloo, 1815-2015', RUSI Journal, vol. 160, no. 3, 2015, pp. 70-75.


'A Negotiated Truce: The Battle of Waterloo in European Memory since the Second World War', History and Memory, vol. 26, no. 1, 2014, pp. 39-74.


'Transnational Affinities and Invented Traditions: the Napoleonic Wars in British and Hanoverian Memory, 1815-1915', English Historical Review, vol. 127, no. 529, 2012, pp. 1404-1434.




junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Paris Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Political Philosophy
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2011/2012
Paris Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Anthropology
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Paris Institute for Advanced Study
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Paris Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Visual and Performing Arts