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French Soldiers in Italy, 1795-1814

by Fergus Robson

The lineage of French interventions in northern Italy was long by the time Bonaparte led his Armée d’Italie on one of the most strikingly successful campaigns in history. A series of campaigns between 1792 and 1796 saw the County of Nice and Savoy come under French control while limited fighting around the Piedmontese border had given the French the upper hand. In 1796 Bonaparte was appointed commander of the ill-supplied and reportedly demoralised Army of Italy. His troops nonetheless responded to his tactical daring and won a series of lightening engagements which took Piedmont-Sardinia out of the war. The number ...

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Fergus Robson

French Soldiers Encounter European and Arabic Architecture

Architecture, from the symbolism of vast palaces, sites of power and places of culture, to the layout of city streets and the construction of the dwellings of the poor, both urban and rural, constitutes one of the first omnipresent sights of difference when we arrive in a new country. Sometimes this difference is pronounced, sometimes it is subtle, in today’s world a degree of architectural homogenisation is breaking down older stylistic differences. Most of the soldiers whose writings we are using had in many cases barely left their own region prior to enlisting or being conscripted. This meant that, when they encountered the building styles typical of ...

Fergus Robson

French Soldiers’ Gaze upon Italian and Egyptian Women: Gender, Masculinity and Sexuality in Militarised Cultural Encounters

The way soldiers interact with and treat women has been problematic for probably as long as soldiers have existed. While the previous post introduced the ‘tourist gaze’, where women are concerned this interacts with the ‘male gaze’. The intersection of the two is a powerful means of defining, categorising and exerting control over women. This discussion will not avoid sexual violence and coercion which are seemingly inseparable from warfare, it will however focus on the discursive and definitional aspects of encounters between French soldiers and the female populations of countries they travelled through or occupied. The analysis will go ...

Fergus Robson

Hygiene and Pollution: French Soldiers Gaze upon Dirt, Dust and Disease

The eighteenth century saw many changes in the way people thought about bodily hygiene, smells, rotting matter and pollution. These changes however were gradual and emanated from the elite, and older understandings of the intersection between environmental, bodily and moral-spiritual pollution still loomed large alongside more modern notions of disease and cleanliness. This post will consider the ways French soldiers saw, described and thought about dirt, disease and pollution in Italy and Egypt. Some of their ideas now seem humorous, others ...