The Corbett 100 project marks the centenary of the death of British naval historian and maritime strategist Sir Julian Corbett (1854-1922) in 2022.
Corbett’s commitment to the education of the Royal Navy, the integration of naval thought into national strategy and policy, and the importance of academic rigour marked him out from the majority of contemporary writers in the subject. A civilian and a progressive liberal in politics Corbett developed maritime strategic doctrine naval in the context of an evolving British system, in contrast to the work of serving officer. Corbett understood the critical importance of the past, once suitably analysed, in highlighting long terms trends in national security policy. His major theoretical contribution came in 1911 with the publication of Some Principals of Maritime Strategy, a book that synthesised his teaching and published output into a masterly analysis of British strategic doctrine. Although he built his work around the strategic arguments propounded by Clausewitz, he adjusted them to address the limited/maritime strategy of the British Empire. Some Principles remains the single most important text on maritime strategy, it placed Corbett among the great strategic thinkers, and remains critical to any assessment of contemporary British defence policy. Corbett’s scholarship became central to maritime strategic thought and exercised significant influence during the First World War and beyond. From 1916 to his death Corbett directed the British Official History of the First World war: he wrote the central volumes on grand strategy and naval operations. Corbett’s contribution and efforts to the development of intellectual thought on strategy and naval policy resulted in global recognition, shaping not just the Royal Navy but also other nations navies and strategic thinking in the 20thcentury. One such example exists with how Corbett’s “Historical Section” within the British Admiralty inspired the efforts of United States Navy Admiral, William S. Sims to establish a “Historical Section” at the Naval War College after the First World War. Corbett believed in the ethos promulgated by the founding father of modern naval history, Sir John Laughton, (1830-1915), writing history of the highest academic and methodological standards, but designed for the use of serving officers and statesmen. Corbett’s approach remains relevant today, for defence educators, decision makers and the development of naval policy, military doctrine and both grand and national strategy. His work and his message remain as timely and pertinent in the 21stcentury as they were at the time they were written.
Corbett 100 is a collaboration between the Laughton Unit, Department of War Studies, King’s College London and the Hattendorf Historical Center, U.S Naval War College. The scholarly connections between King’s College London and the Naval War College are deeply entwined. In the late nineteenth century, King’s College London Professor Sir John Laughton assisted U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce in efforts to establish the U.S Naval War College. Laughton not only inspired Corbett but many of the ideas attributed to U.S. Navy Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan and the American notion of “sea power” at the dawn of the twentieth century. Corbett’s inspiration to Admiral Sim’s to build a “Historical Section” at the U.S Naval War College provided the template in the 21stcentury to establish the John B. Hattendorf Center for Maritime Historical at the War College.
The project is co-directed between PhD candidate James W.E Smith, King’s College London and Dr D Kohnen, U.S Naval War College. The project is supported through an academic council comprised of Professor Andrew Lambert at King’s College London and Professor John Hattendorf at the U.S. Naval War College.
Corbett 100 provides the ideal platform to bring together academics, civilian researchers, veterans and active military from an international background to discuss historical and contemporary questions covering a range of topics from maritime strategy, defence policy, naval theory, sea power, trade protection, future global trends and security, naval history and naval wargaming. The project will run between 2019 and 2023, featuring special events and publications. The directors and council have identified two key themes to the project, the first being Sir Julian Corbett; his scholarship, influence and research areas. The second theme focusing on revisiting theory, research and fundamental principles in relation to naval theory, sea power and maritime strategy in the 21st century. This covers a range of topics from maritime strategic concepts through to space theory.
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