Wars were once considered to be the essence of world history, but under the influence of social history, the histoire des mentalités, and the discourse of the ‘cultural turn’ their role has changed fundamentally. More interest is now paid to wars as part of cultural history than as highpoints of histoire événementielle.
Historians of the present generation stand in an ambivalent relation to the phenomenon of war. The ‘cultural turn’ in historical studies has generally focused on anthropological phenomena that are part of general human experience — love and death, body and soul, memory and hope, customs and emotions, mentality and ideologies. These phenomena, which are conceived as driving forces in history, are at the same time parts of the contemporary cultural furniture of those scholars who study their changing aspects as objects of research. The phenomenon of war, however, for the majority of contemporary historians and other observers in Europe and North America, has become a distant spectacle. So, what do we really know about war? And what do we want to know about war?