Dr Adam Storring’s article ‘Subjective Practices of War: The Prussian Army and the Zorndorf Campaign, 1758’, published in History of Science, uses the figure of King Frederick II of Prussia to integrate the history of military theory – and the practical history of military campaigns and battles – with the history of knowledge. Placing the military treatises read and written by the king alongside the practical example of the Prussian army’s campaign against the Russians in summer 1758 at the height of the Seven Years War (1756–1763), it challenges ideas that the new natural philosophy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (the so-called Scientific Revolution) fostered attempts to make warfare mathematically calculated, and it builds on work showing that seventeenth- and eighteenth-century natural philosophy was much more subjective than previously thought. It shows that both the theory and practice of war – like other branches of knowledge in the long eighteenth century – were fundamentally shaped by the contemporary search for intellectual order, but that the inability to achieve this in practice led to a reliance on subjective judgment and individual, local knowledge. Whereas historians have noted attempts in the eighteenth century to calculate probabilities mathematically, this article shows that war continued to be conceived as the domain of fortune, subject to incalculable chance. Moreover, the examples of Frederick and his subordinate Lieutenant General Count Christoph zu Dohna reveal sharply different contemporary ideas about how to respond to uncertainty in war. Whereas Dohna sought to be ready for chance events and react to them, Frederick actively embraced uncertainty and risk-taking, making chance both a rhetorical argument and a positive choice guiding strategy and tactics.
The article can be viewed in full here – https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0073275320958950 – and the manuscript is available open-access here – https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/310831.
Adam Storring completed his PhD at the University of Cambridge under the supervision of Professor Sir Christopher Clark. From October to December 2015, he was Stipendiat of the Bühler-Bolstorff-Stiftung Berlin and the Stiftung Preußischer Schlösser und Gärten (SPSG), and he returned to the SPSG as RECS-Voltaire-Fellow in December 2018. He is currently Early Career Fellow at the Lichtenberg-Kolleg – The Göttingen Institute for Advanced Study.