In the first half of the twentieth century, broadly defined, Europe experienced an unparalleled number of civil wars resulting in millions of deaths. Civil war, as much as inter-state war, was a defining feature of the period for many European societies, from Ireland in the west and Russia in the east, to Finland in the north and Spain and Greece in the south. Since the 1990s, a rich and increasingly sophisticated body of literature has emerged on individual incidents of civil war, ranging from military studies to social and cultural analyses. However, remarkably little comparative historical analysis has been undertaken on civil wars in this period. Even fewer studies have explored the connections between them – be it transfers of people, ideas, or practices – beyond their ideological tropes. This has resulted in a tacit assumption of exceptionalism, whereby each civil war is assumed to have been unique and self-perpetuating without any serious attempt to explain how and why that might be the case.
This project, funded by an ERC Advanced Grant (2022-2027, PI: Robert Gerwarth), challenges exceptionalist approaches to civil war. While it recognises that significant differences in causes, forms, and/or aftermaths existed between individual civil wars, it argues that those civil wars can only be fully understood as a phenomenon within a pan-European context. The project will therefore investigate the origins, courses, and legacies of European civil wars through a fully integrated team of scholars with complementary expertise on the Russian, Finnish, Irish, Spanish and Greek cases. This will enable comparison between these different conflicts, but it will also go beyond the nation-centric tendencies of comparative approaches to arrive at a better understanding of what made the first half of the twentieth century an era of civil wars in Europe.