Thursday, April 5, 2012

Review: Hohrath's "Uniforms of the Prussian Army"

"While invaluable as an unmatched resource on the military material culture of Germany’s foremost eighteenth-century army, The Uniforms of the Prussian Army under Frederick the Great from 1740-1786 has a value that far exceeds the focus of its title." 

Among the Library's new acquisitions for 2012 is the seminal two-volume work The Uniforms of the Prussian Army under Frederick the Great from 1740-1786, the product of several intense years of research by German museum curator Daniel Hohrath. The following review is intended to provide patrons with an idea of how rich a resource this work is. Since The Uniforms of the Prussian Army aims at a niche market, it is unlikely to go into a second printing and most of the first printing is already sold out. We encourage anyone interested in the Prussian Army, the Hessian forces, museum philosophy, and the history of museums and collecting to visit us and check out this new work. See below for the full review.


 The Uniforms of the Prussian Army under Frederick the Great from 1740 to 1786. By Daniel Hohrath, with contributions from Judith Zimmer and Elizabeth Boxberger. (Vienna: Verlag Militaria, 2011. 2 vol. 824 pages, 1500 color photographs, notes, index. $171.)

In this two-volume work, Daniel Hohrath, Staff Conservator at the Bayerisches Armeemuseum, builds upon the earlier efforts of Hans Bleckwenn and Klaus-Peter Merta to create a masterfully comprehensive study of the military material culture of eighteenth-century Germany's foremost fighting state. Lavishly illustrated with 1500 detailed color photographs, this set offers a well-integrated analysis of the Deutches Historiches Museum’s collection of eighteenth-century Prussian military uniforms and equipment. Combining exhaustive historical research and with a nuanced reading of collections philosophy and practice, Hohrath has created a piece of scholarship that is set to be the new classic in the field and will provide scholars and enthusiasts with an unparalleled degree of information for subsequent studies. Due to Prussia’s central role as a model for armies throughout Germany, the information contained in these volumes promises to impact the study of military material culture throughout the region.

The first volume of the work contains the historical background of the collection and the eighteenth-century Prussian Army, followed by detailed treatments of the artifacts. Originally acquired by Crown Prince Frederick William III beginning in 1786, the surviving artifacts represent over two hundred years of museum and collecting history. The story of how the collection survived numerous political transitions, including two world wars and a communist occupation, as well as the sometimes primitive methods of display and conservation employed by earlier generations provides an excellent history of the museum as a vibrant German cultural institution. While several previous researchers have studied this collection, Hohrath's work provides the first investigation since the re-unification of Germany and benefits from significant advances in technology, theory, and practice. Over the course of two years, Hohrath conducted a detailed study of the surviving items, completing his work in time for Frederick's 300th birthday.

Having established the collection's context, Hohrath provides a nuanced account of Prussian Army history that ties purely military concerns in with political developments and lays the groundwork for the subsequent discussion of military procurement. After lengthy commentary on the process of collecting along with issues of preservation, display, and interpretation as they arose during the collection's lifetime, Hohrath turns to investigating the nature of the surviving items by class. His treatment begins with uniform coats and progresses through hats, helmets, neck stocks, shoes, boots, and accoutrements, examining each branch of the army in detail with an eye towards materials and construction processes. Volume 1 concludes with an examination of lace, trim, and buttons, and with a detailed investigation of the effects of wear, aging, repair, and restoration on the artifacts. The latter discussion charts the effects of changing display philosophies in museums over time and the challenges of conservation work, which will be of particular interest to collectors and professionals alike.

 In Volume 2, Hohrath turns to a detailed exposition of the surviving artifacts from every regiment in Frederick’s Army. Arranged by unit, each entry begins with a brief history of the corps from its creation through the end of Frederick’s reign, followed by images and commentary on its uniforms. Most entries include close-up photographs of surviving artifacts and the unit’s entry in the 1755 lace pattern book, as well as portraits of the unit’s commanders and soldiers, where available. Where artifacts have been lost, Hohrath includes copies of the photographs taken of the collection during the early twentieth century. The author pays significant attention to the special equipment associated with certain units, including horse furniture for mounted corps, grenadier and fusilier caps, sword belts, and cartridge pouches. The level of detail captured in the photographs can only be surpassed by an in-person examination of the artifacts.

These volumes have a value that far exceeds the focus of their title. As the archetype for military organizations throughout western Europe, Prussia serves as an excellent case study for establishing patterns against which the military material culture of other states may be judged. Students of the American Revolution will find this volume particularly helpful for understanding the clothing and equipment of the Hessian and Brunswick contingents that served in North America, whose home states were heavily influenced by Prussia and contracted for at least some of their material there. For students of museums and museum professionals alike, this study charts the lifetime of a key collection over the course of two centuries, providing invaluable information on the effects of different museum philosophies and practices. The coverage provided for the surviving artifacts is unparalleled in its detail, with extremely well-chosen photographs that will provide students of material culture with significant food for thought. Far from being a mere picture book for military enthusiasts, The Uniforms of the Prussian Army stands out as an exciting new style of work that blends several separate fields of study to produce a unique piece of scholarship that preserves vital information on, and opens new avenues of inquiry into, the history of the eighteenth-century German military state.

For more information, visit the publisher's website here.

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