From Mercenaries to Freedom Fighters: Transnational Soldiering, c.1700-2020 - HIST6116

Looking for a different module?

Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2023 to 2024.


Through a number of chronologically- and geographically-diverse case studies, this Special Subject will trace the evolving notion of 'mercenaryism' from its role in establishing the fiscal military state in the Early-Modern period through to its more modern connotation with ‘freedom fighters’ acting beyond – and often against – the defined nation state. It will cover events in Europe, North America, South America, the Indian sub-continent, Africa, the Middle-East, and Asia. In doing so, students are invited to consider the impact of ‘transnational soldiering’ on the development of modern warfare in a global context. The continued presence of these ‘foreign soldiers’ around the world poses interesting questions concerning identity, military cultures, global networks and encounters, as well as the transfer of ideas across borders. It ties together the experience of national and colonial soldiery, international volunteerism, and statelessness within a broader context of the 19th & 20th Centuries’ nationalist and internationalist movements. In a broader cultural sense, students will reflect on the importance behind the semantics of ‘mercenaryism’ and how the term has been perceived, evoked, and moulded by society over time. ‘Mercenary’, ‘guerrilla’, and ‘franc-tireur’ are often pejorative terms used to describe combatants acting outside the established laws and customs of war. Yet, these are not far removed from the more sympathetic terms of ‘people’s army’, ‘foreign/political exile’, and ‘freedom fighter’. Understanding how and why these terms converge forms the primary learning objective.


Contact hours

Total contact hours 88
Total private study hours: 512
Total module study hours: 600

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods:

Essay 1 (2.500 words): 12%
Database + Methodological Essay (1,000 words): 6%
Essay 2 (2,500 words): 12%
Presentation 1 (Autumn Term) 5%
Presentation 2 (Recorded) (Spring Term) 5%
Examination 1 (2 hours, essay-based): 30%
Examination 2 (2 hours, Gobbet analysis): 30%

Reassessment methods:
Reassessment Instrument: 100% coursework

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading List:

Nir Arielli & Bruce Collins (eds.), Transnational Soldiers: Foreign Military Enlistment in the Modern Era (Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2013) – E-Book
Christine G. Krüger & S. Levsen (eds.), War Volunteering in Modern Times: From the French Revolution to the Second World War (Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2010)
David Malet, Foreign Fighters: Transnational Identity in Civic Conflicts (OUP, USA, 2013)
Martin Rink, 'The Partisan's Metamorphosis: From Freelance Military Entrepreneur to German Freedom Fighter, 1740 to 1815’, War in History, vol. 17, no. 1, (2010), pp. 6-36.
Sibylle Scheipers, Unlawful Combatants: A Genealogy of the Irregular Fighter (OUP, Oxford, 2015)
Janice E. Thomson, Mercenaries, Pirates, and Sovereigns: State-Building and Extraterritorial Violence in Early Modern Europe (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1994)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Deploy sophisticated techniques of analysis and enquiry within 'new military history' and 'transnational history'
2 Examine and critically evaluate the merits of different primary sources.
3 Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of digital humanities theory and practice through the compilation of a primary-source database.
4 Use software in a sophisticated manner from Excel through to specific mapping and network-tracking programmes.
5 Demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the evolving historiographical debates and arguments about 'foreign soldiers': where they fit on a scale from 'mercenaries' to 'freedom fighters' and how their presence has changed the nature and dynamics of warfare.

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Interpret a range of secondary as well as primary sources in order to create sophisticated assessment outputs.
2 Demonstrate an advanced level of research and interpretation and the flexibility to present findings in a variety of ways.
3 Work individually and collectively in seminars and to convey views in a succinct and effective manner in a variety of ways.
4 Demonstrate an ability to manage time and work-load effectively so as to produce a consistently high level of output.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
Back to top

University of Kent makes every effort to ensure that module information is accurate for the relevant academic session and to provide educational services as described. However, courses, services and other matters may be subject to change. Please read our full disclaimer.