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30 May 2022

Security Studies hosts international conference on maritime strategist Sir Julian Corbett

The Corbett 100 Conference explored the life and times of the important historian and strategist

Speakers at the Corbett 100 conference

Last week, King’s welcomed over 60 speakers and delegates from around the world to a conference marking the centenary of the death of British historian, strategist and philosopher of seapower and maritime strategy Sir Julian Corbett (1854-1922).

The conference was the first of three taking place in the UK, Australia and USA throughout 2022-23 as part of the Corbett 100 project. Delegates discussed the life and times of Sir Julian, his influence as a historian on British and global national during the early 20th century, and his methodology of applied history.

The Corbett 100 project, designed by Dr James W E Smith when he was a PhD candidate in the Department of War Studies, launched in 2019. It builds upon historical and scholarly links between the UK, US and Australia through research collaboration on maritime strategy, national defence policy, and history.

The project will feature a series of special publications and events exploring historical and contemporary questions on maritime strategy, defence policy, seapower, trade protection and future global security, including Space power. The relationships between nations at sea and the ongoing development of navies has been identified as an area of interest to each of the countries in the ‘AUKUS’ partnership, a trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Over the next year, more than 350 delegates from 19 countries and a diverse range of backgrounds, including serving military, veterans, academics, policymakers, national representatives and officials, will attend or present at a Corbett 100 event.

Sir Julian Corbett was a historian whose research efforts led to the development of national strategy, dispelling the belief military and foreign strategy should be based on a set of universal principles towards efforts to secure peace and international order. He also understood the critical importance of the past in highlighting long-term national security policy trends.

Laughton Chair for Naval History, Professor Andrew Lambert remarked:

Sir Julian Corbett’s contribution as a historian places him amongst the great scholars and thinkers of military history and strategic studies, alongside the likes of theorist Carl Von Clauzwitz. He used applied history, garnering useful insight from studying Britain’s military past to to create a national strategy for Britain, guiding decision-making on topics critical to national realities on strategic defence policy and the use of seapower.

Professor Andrew Lambert

Sir Julian’s major theoretical work of 1911, Some Principals of Maritime Strategy, remains the single most important text on maritime strategy. His work received positive international acclaim from the United States, Australia and Japan as they developed their notion of “seapower”.

As part of its efforts to mark the centenary of Corbett’s death, the Royal Navy’s Naval Historical Branch is digitalising many of his essays on naval history and maritime doctrine in the year ahead to make them accessible to researchers and the public.

The Corbett 100 committee is formed of Dr James WE Smith, King’s College London, Dr David Kohnen, US Naval War College and Dr Mark Bailey, Royal Australian Navy. The project is supported through an academic council consisting of members including Professor Andrew Lambert, King’s College London.

Professor Lambert also spoke about Sir Julian Corbett with Dr James W E Smith on an episode of the Department of War Studies podcast about his book The British Way of War, exploring why Sir Julian ranks amongst the greats of military strategic studies, used history to develop a new national strategy for Britian, and how his naval successes helped shape Britain’s naval success in the Second World War.

Listen to the episode via Spotify, Soundcloud or Apple podcasts.

In this story

Andrew  Lambert

Laughton Professor of Naval History

James W.E. Smith

Laughton-Corbett Visiting Research Fellow

David Kohnen

Visiting Research Associate

Mark Bailey

Visiting Research Associate

Hillary  Briffa

Lecturer in National Security Studies

Alan James

Reader in International History