Spenser Wilkinson Military Collection

In the period before the First World War, Spenser Wilkinson (1853-1937), the first Chichele Professor of Military History at the University of Oxford (1909-1923), along with Sir John Knox Laughton (1830-1915) and Sir Julian Corbett (1854-1922), was the leading military intellectual in Britain. As an advocate, early in his career, Wilkinson agitated for a General Staff and reform of the volunteer system. In his role as a defence analyst, before and after the second Boer War (1899-1902), Wilkinson informed British policy and strategy. As an academic, Wilkinson contributed to the development of modern military history. Wilkinson’s writings and career are of interest to the historian.

In 1927, with his eyesight failing, Wilkinson donated part of his library to the military department of Pollard’s growing Institute of Historical Research. Major General Sir George Aston (1861-1938), then a lecturer on military history at the University of London, collected the first set of books. Several more donations followed through to 1931.

This gift, totalling some 265 volumes on military and naval history, provided an invaluable resource for early researchers and scholars of military subjects. It covers a broad range of nineteenth century military history, including the Napoleonic campaigns, British naval and imperial history, British military campaigns and military thought. It has a large number of histories by continental scholars. Historians researching nineteenth century German military history are likely to have benefited at some point from the collection’s rare German monographs, such as Friedrich Hoepfner’s Krieg von 1806 und 1807 (1855).

It was not until 2012 that the IHR rediscovered that the books represented a collection donated by Wilkinson, as a result of research by Paul Ramsey (doctoral candidate, University of Calgary, Canada). The related correspondence and accession lists of books are held in the Institute archives. The books are located mostly within the Military collection, but also in the German, Italian and United States collections and elsewhere. They can be identified by a book plate in the front of each volume, and those identified can be viewed on the library catalogue with a keyword search for Spenser Wilkinson Military Collection.

By Paul Ramsey (University of Calgary, Canada)