Alan James

King’s College London
Paris IAS
10 months


Research interests: Early modern warfare. Naval history. The pre-revolutionary state in France. Imperialism. History of the international system. History of science

Research Project

The Nature of War: Reassessing the Historical Relationship between Science and War

As the conflict in Ukraine has powerfully reminded us, war remains one of the greatest threats to society. Yet never before has there been so much uncertainty about the nature of war, the type of enemy that is likely to emerge or the manner in which the next war will be fought. Breath-taking technological innovations threaten to transform warfare beyond recognition. At the same time, the future direction of war is also being set by large-scale urban gangs, organised crime, and the rise of terror attacks fuelled by religious or political extremism, sometimes by single actors or loose, non-state networks with crude, simple weapons. The challenge, therefore, is not just a technical one. It is also conceptual. Building on important work in imperial and naval history, this project will address the influence of scientific and technological developments on our understanding of modern war from its medieval origins to today. It will question the common assumption that the changing character of war is driven by the physical means by which it might be waged. Instead, it will consider war as a cultural activity that has escalated over time broadly in step with scientific advances because they are both reflections, or products, of how we make sense of the natural world. The aim of the project is to explore this relationship and to raise some of the intractable ontological and epistemological challenges with the study of war that can affect responses to our uncertain future.


Alan James is a Reader in International History in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London where he is currently Deputy Head of Department with responsibility for Academic Staffing. He is an historian of early modern naval warfare with a particular focus on France and the impact of sea power on the state from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. A longstanding Director of the MA programme in the ‘History of War’ at King’s, his research and teaching interests extend to many different aspects of war and imperialism.  His latest project is a co-edited volume, Religion and War from Antiquity to Early Modernity (Bloomsbury, forthcoming 2022).