With time off from teaching, Dr. Ostwald continued his work on siege warfare and the laws of war in the age of Louis XIV. Among other topics he is examining the ‘rhetoric of siege history’, how historians compare sieges to dance, theater, and even games of chess, and how these parallels encourage people to think of siegecraft as artificial and inherently limited, distinct from the ‘real’ unlimited war of bloody battle in the open field.
This summer he worked on one part of this broader question by studying the extent to which the negotiated end of early modern sieges were “ritualized” – the ‘empty’ rituals of the evacuation ceremony often interpreted as an artificial limit on war, contrasted with how ‘real’ wars should be fought to the bitter end. He examined several ways in which capitulations in the period 1702-1712 could be considered ‘ritualized.’ The most basic was to test whether the specific terms requested by garrisons followed a clear pattern from one siege to another: was there a formula for surrender? To test this, he did a simple content analysis of the terms of two dozen siege capitulation documents. Dr. Ostwald categorized the terms and then color-coded them for easier comparison. Formulaic capitulations would expect to see a similar number of articles as well as very similar color patterns from row to row.
These early results suggest that while there was a menu of options each capitulation drew from, the details of each document varied significantly, and that most of the garrisons’ demands dealt with practical matters (regulating the town transfer, garrison finances) rather than the evacuation ceremony so often emphasized by other historians. This suggests that the capitulations’ terms were not nearly as formulaic as is usually suggested, and that the evacuation ceremony was a very small part of the capitulation as a whole.
He’ll present his early conclusions at a conference at Duke University in September.