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War on the frontier


Mario Draper, Martin Kerby, & Margaret Baguley


This article explores current historical thinking regarding the ‘small wars’ fought on the frontiers of European empires during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By drawing on a variety of examples ranging from South Africa to Bolivia and Australia to the Congo, the authors identify three major themes - the expansionist aims of imperial governments often being shrouded in a veneer of benevolence, the brutal fighting that occurred when Indigenous populations challenged the loss of traditional lands, and the speed with which the ostensibly ‘civilised’ European colonists discarded battlefield norms when they waged what were in effect wars of annihilation. In a challenge to the thematic or narrow temporal boundaries that have traditionally dominated scholarship, the authors avoid characterising these wars in discrete national terms. For though every frontier conflict possessed its own unique character, there are broad similarities that can be explored through an analysis of European thinking regarding these ‘small wars’ and the violence and destruction that accompanied them.


European empires, Frontier Wars, Genocide, Small Wars

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Date Published

21 December 2023

How to Cite

Draper, M., Kerby, M., Baguley. (2023). War on the frontier. Historical Encounters, 10(2), 1-11.


  • Issue Published 21 December 2023

  • Double Blind Peer Reviewed

  • Author Retains Copyright

  • Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0​ License

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