Towards and ontology of the historic battlefield

John Carman, Patricia Carman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A growing interest in studying and preserving past sites of battle has become evident in a number of disciplines over the past decades, especially that of archaeology. However, there has been no academic consideration of what constitutes a ‘battlefield’ for this purpose. While agencies charged with the protection of such sites as historic places have provided criteria by which past sites of violent activity may be considered for preservation, they have generally chosen not to define what they mean by battlefield except perhaps in negative terms (i.e. what they are not).

Our ongoing interest in studying such sites as distinctive forms of landscape has led us to start considering why some places are considered specifically sites of battle and others are not. In particular, our encounter with sites of conflict separated by a clear difference in time but which are in essence otherwise identical in terms of the action that took place and where one is unquestioned as a site of battle but the other is not, raises this question. This paper therefore considers these two sites – Thermopylae in Greece (480 BCE) and Arnhem Bridge in Holland (1944 CE) – in terms of the question we ask. It emerges that while they share key characteristics, they nonetheless do not share the same status in historical memory. We suggest a reason for this worthy of further investigation by an examination of a wider range of sites.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCritical Military Studies
Publication statusUnpublished - 2018


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