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The research catalogue is an archive of ESRC-funded grants and outputs. Links, files and other content will no longer be maintained or updated after April 2014.

War trophies in the Western military

Anthropological accounts of warfare in many indigenous societies have described the taking of heads or other body parts as trophies. Such practices have sometimes been considered a hallmark of 'primitive' warfare, epitomising its savagery and irrationality. Alternatively, some anthropologists have interpreted these practices in the context of indigenous understandings of masculinity, fertility or power. In either case, the type of warfare fought by the professional militaries of modern states tends implicitly to appear, by contrast, a technical, impersonal and instrumentally rational activity moderated by law. Little is known of the prevalence of trophy-taking in the armed forces of contemporary nation-states, nor of the meaning such behaviour might have to those who engage in it.

This research project will be the first study of these practices in Western militaries and will cover a number of countries over the past two centuries. Evidence will be gathered from interviews with war veterans, from the forensic anthropology literature, from a survey of museum collections of human remains, and from primary and secondary historical sources. The principal output of the research will be a series of articles and a monograph.