Numbering the fighting men: population, bodies and the Militia lists of the eighteenth century

    Activity: Academic Talks or PresentationsSeminarResearch


    The military power of the state relates to the number of men it can put in arms. Accurate population statistics are therefore a prerequisite of military planning and strategy but, prior to the 1801 census, the British government had no clear idea of what the population actually was. The eighteenth century is usually seen as a lacuna in the history of population statistics, but this paper makes a case for the Militia Lists, which were collected systematically from 1757 and which represent a nationwide census of adult males. The process of creating a national territorial force involved the collection of population data on a massive scale. Furthermore, some of this data is biometric in nature, and the authorities used the process to select men of appropriate health, age and stature in order to optimise the militia’s physical stock. If the reform of the militia during the Seven Years War was partly prompted by concern about ‘effeminacy’ and national degeneration, the process of implementing the policy arguably sought to address these same concerns. National defence was a key obligation of citizenship and it also promised to reinvigorate the nation’s men and restore the social order. By grounding citizenship in the male population in a biological sense, the New Militia marks a new departure in the relationship between population, the gendered body and the state.
    Period19 Nov 2013
    Event titleLife-Cycles Seminar Series
    Event typeOther
    LocationLondon, United Kingdom