I am an AHRC-funded doctoral student researching military musicians during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Before beginning my DPhil, I completed an MPhil at the University of Cambridge with a dissertation on honour, duelling and courts-martial in the early nineteenth-century British army. I am a Council Member of the Society for Army Historical Research, one of the world's oldest military history societies, and edited the memoir of a Napoleonic-era Coldstream Guards sergeant, Narrative of the Eventful Life of Thomas Jackson, in 2018. I have published a number of articles on military memoirs, music and courts-martial and presented work at several academic conferences, including the Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain Conference and the Wellington Congress. My research has recently garnered attention from a variety of media outlets, including BBC News, BBC Radio 4's Today Progamme and CNN. In 2019, I appeared on the hit BBC One family history show "Who Do You Think You Are?", speaking with Kate Winslet about her ancestor, a drummer in the early-nineteenth-century British Army. My research on the Georgian diary of Yorkshire tenant farmer Matthew Tomlinson, which includes remarkable reflections on homosexuality, was featured on Songs of Praise on BBC One in September 2020.
Military music was ubiquitous in Britain and Ireland during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Regimental bands enlivened martial reviews and public spectacles while drummers and fifers led recruiting parties through teeming towns and remote villages, enthralling the imaginations of would-be warriors. As the writings of soldiers and civilians attest, the British nation-in-arms was experienced by the ears as much as the eyes.
Within the army, sound was critical to inculcating military discipline: an immutable musical schedule structured soldiers' work patterns and perceptions of time, moulding raw recruits into obedient veterans. Moreover, regimental bands and drum corps enhanced morale, lifting spirits on campaign and in garrison while enriching the army's unique regimental cultures.
Bandsmen provided sought-after professional musical entertainment across Britain, Ireland and the empire, enlivening dinner parties, church services, electoral hustings and victory celebrations. Through pervasive performances in the civilian sphere, military musicians encouraged and amplified expressions of wartime patriotism, contributing to the process of forging the British nation articulated by Linda Colley. By incessantly broadcasting sonic shibboleths of loyalism, regimental bands reinforced state authority while helping domestic and colonial populations envision their place within a wider imperial community.
The wars of 1793 to 1815 marked a significant moment in British musical history, as the growth of the regular army and proliferation of auxiliary units resulted in unprecedented investment in martial ensembles. The blossoming of the military musical project as a corollary of mass mobilization stimulated and democratized musical culture, popularizing instrumental entertainment through regular public performances and training a new generation of professional musicians from plebeian backgrounds. Many military bandsmen pursued musical careers after discharge, passing on their skills to civilians, instructing working-class wind ensembles and further accelerating the development of provincial and colonial music industries. Martial music and drill, embedded in popular culture after a quarter-century of near-continuous war, were also widely adopted by post-war political demonstrators campaigning for parliamentary reform and Catholic emancipation or repeal of the Irish Act of Union.
Ultimately, military music must be viewed as a vehicle of both indoctrination and empowerment. Martial ensembles not only fomented wartime patriotism, buttressing national security during a revolutionary age, but also gifted post-war radicals, reformers, and reactionaries with powerful organisational tools for challenging and discomfiting the British state.
E. O'Keeffe, "The Anatomy of a Drum Corps: Drummers and Musicians in the Canadian Regiment of Fencible Infantry, 1803-1816", Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research (Winter 2020).
E. O'Keeffe (ed), Narrative of the Eventful Life of Thomas Jackson: Militiaman and Coldstream Sergeant, 1803-1815 (Helion, 2018).
E. O'Keeffe, “The Old Halberdier: From the Pyrenees to Plattsburgh with a Welshman of the 39th”, Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research (Spring, Summer and Autumn 2017). Three-part series.
E. O'Keeffe, “Such Want of Gentlemanly Conduct: The Court Martial of Lieutenant John de Hertel”, Journal of Canadian Military History (Autumn-Winter 2016).
E. O'Keeffe, “Fops under Fire: British Drum-Majors in Action during the Napoleonic Wars”, The Napoleon Series (June 2016).
Conference and Seminar Presentations
E. O'Keeffe, "Regimental repertoires: the manuscript music books of Napoleonic-era British military musicians", Theatre on the Move in Times of Conflict (1750-1850), Magdalen College, University of Oxford, 18-19 September 2019.
E. O'Keeffe, "'An Evil of Long Standing': martial musicians, partisan performances and the militarization of British electoral spectacle", War and Peace in the Age of Napoleon (British Commission for Military History), King's College London, 13-14 September 2019.
E. O'Keeffe, "Regimental repertoires: the manuscript music books of Napoleonic-era British military musicians", 12th Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain Conference, Canterbury Christ Church University, 3-5 July 2019.
E. O'Keeffe, "Siblings or Subordinates? – Brotherhood, Hierarchy and Discipline among Napoleonic-era British Officers" (revised and expanded), Seventh Wellington Congress, University of Southampton, 12-13 April 2019.
E. O'Keeffe, "The Musical Armed Nation: Mass Mobilization, Music and Politics during and after the Napoleonic Wars", European Song and Political Protest workshop, University of Warwick, 24 November 2018.
E. O'Keeffe, "Siblings or Subordinates? – Brotherhood, Hierarchy and Discipline among Napoleonic-era British Officers", New Voices in the History of War, All Souls College, University of Oxford, 18 July 2018.
E. O'Keeffe, "Musicians against Napoleon: British Drummers and Bands in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars", Redcoats, Tommies, and Dusty Warriors: Britain's Soldiers c.1650 to the present, University of Leeds, 10-11 July 2018.
E. O'Keeffe, "Instruments of War: Military Music during the Napoleonic Wars", Instruments of the Eighteenth Century Seminar, Oxford University Music Faculty, 1 November 2017.
Prizes and Grants
Conrad Russell Prize (Merton College) for best thesis in History (2017)
Travel Grant for Historical Research, Colin Matthew Fund (2016)
Second Place, Society for Army Historical Research Essay Prize (2016)