Hello, I’m Eamonn O’Keeffe

I am a Junior Research Fellow in the History of the British Army, based at Queens’ College in Cambridge. I am affiliated with the Cambridge Centre for Geopolitics and the National Army Museum, which has generously sponsored my fellowship. My research interests include military music, duelling and honour among army officers, and the broader connections between war, society, and geopolitics in the long eighteenth century.

I recently submitted a DPhil dissertation on military music during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars at the University of Oxford. I previously completed an MPhil degree in Modern British History with a dissertation on honour, duelling, and courts-martial in the late Georgian British army. An Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, I worked as a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire in 2021. I am also a Trustee of the Society for Army Historical Research. I have published several peer-reviewed articles and discussed my research widely in the media, appearing twice on the BBC’s hit family history show “Who Do You Think You Are?” You can find out more information about my research and publications by browsing this website. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @1812andallthat.

– Eamonn O’Keeffe

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DPhil in History, University of Oxford – ‘Musical Warriors: British Military Musicians during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars’
Begun October 2018 and submitted September 2022
Supervised by Professors Erica Charters and Bob Harris

Short abstract

Military music was pervasive in Britain and Ireland during the French Wars but has received limited attention from historians. This thesis interprets martial music-making as a core military activity and an integral part of wider musical culture. A critical tool of communication and discipline, music sounded the alarm, aided recruitment, and governed soldiers’ routines and bodily movements. Officers invested heavily in military bands, regarding them as social amenities, sources of prestige, and essential for maintaining soldiers’ morale. Regiments competed and cooperated in a seller’s market for musical labour, engaging knowledgeable civilian performers and training a mass of novice instrumentalists through a cogent instructional programme.

Attention to music reveals the depth and reciprocity of interactions between the military and society. Regimental bands provided sought-after entertainment at myriad public events, staged free open-air concerts for socially diverse audiences, and amplified wartime expressions of patriotism. Military performers also promoted cultural dissemination and exchange, rehearsing eclectic repertoires and adopting melodies from other regiments, armies, and peoples.

Military mobilisation palpably shaped nineteenth-century musical culture. Volunteer and militia bands established in wartime continued playing together for decades after Waterloo while discharged regimental instrumentalists actively contributed to provincial and colonial musical life as teachers, performers, and retailers. The expansion of military music-making also encouraged the post-war spread of amateur wind and brass bands, which were often led by old soldiers and modelled on regimental lines. Ingrained in popular culture after two decades of conflict, martial music was widely emulated by political reformers with the involvement of musically trained ex-servicemen.

Military music, in sum, was an everyday and intrusive part of wartime life, a source of entertainment and opportunity, and a politically charged exponent of both patriotism and protest. The legacies of martial music-making, as this thesis argues, echoed far beyond the barrack gates.

E. O’Keeffe, ‘“A Natural Passion?” The 1810 Reflections of a Yorkshire Farmer on Homosexuality’, Historical Research (February 2021)
E. O’Keeffe, ‘Theatre on the Move in Times of Conflict, 1750-1850’ (conference report), Eighteenth-Century Music (September 2020)
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)
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)
E. O’Keeffe, ‘New Light On Toronto’s Oldest Cold Case: The 1815 Murder of John Paul Radelmüller’, The Fife and Drum (December 2015)

Prizes and Grants
August 2022 – Recognized as runner-up for the Nicholas Temperley Prize, awarded for the best student paper at the biennial conference of the North American British Music Studies Association.
January 2022 – Received the Michael Burden Award for best paper on musicology by a graduate student at the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies annual conference.
May 2021 – Received the Mary LeMessurier Award for the Study of History from the Canadian Centennial Scholarship Fund to support a final year of DPhil studies.
March 2020 – Received First Prize in the Three Minute Military Thesis Competition sponsored by the British Commission for Military History.
March 2018 – Awarded an AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership Studentship to fund a DPhil in History at the University of Oxford, covering tuition fees and living expenses for 3 years.
June 2017 – Received the Conrad Russell Prize (Merton College) for best undergraduate thesis in History.
April 2013 – Received First Prize in Historica Canada’s Heritage Minute contest for an outstanding public history media project – a short film interpreting the winter march of the 104th Regiment during the War of 1812.

Conference and Seminar Presentations
‘Diligence, Discipline, and Time: Training Military Musicians during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars’, North American British Music Studies Association conference, Illinois State University and online, 21-24 July 2022
‘The Silence of the Bands: British Military Music in Battle, 1793-1815’, 88th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History, Fort Worth and online, April 28-May 1, 2022
‘Germans, Choristers and Young Beginners: The Recruitment of Musical Warriors during the French Wars’, British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies conference (online), 5-7 January 2022
‘No time [should] be lost in procuring the performers: The Recruitment and Training of Military Musicians, 1793-1815’, Graduate Seminar in History, 1680-1850, University of Oxford, 23 November 2021
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘Instruments of War: Military Music during the Napoleonic Wars’, Instruments of the Eighteenth Century Seminar, Oxford University Music Faculty, 1 November 2017

Select Media Engagement
New York Times, ‘Space Force Song Shoots for the Stars, but Some Think It Falls Flat‘ by M. Levenson, 21 September 2022.
BBC One, ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ – spoke with singer-songwriter Pixie Lott about military bandsmen in her family tree. First aired 9 November 2021.
BBC One, ‘Songs of Praise’ – interviewed for a feature on the Matthew Tomlinson diary. Aired 27 September 2020.
BBC News, ‘The 200-year-old diary that’s rewriting gay history‘, Sean Coughlan, 10 February 2020. Followed by interviews on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, BBC Radio Oxford, BBC Radio Leeds, and Dan Snow’s History Hit podcast, as well as coverage on CNN and other international media outlets. My article on the diary was published in the journal Historical Research.
BBC One, ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ – spoke with Kate Winslet about her ancestor, a drummer in the British army in the early nineteenth century (see below). First aired 12 August 2019.