What new technology emerged from the Crimean War?

The Crimean War began in 1853 when Ottoman Turkey declared war on Tsarist Russia. This declaration was not very unusual, since there had already been three previous Russo-Turkish Wars in 1768-74, 1787-92 and 1828-29. However, this war included the participation of the British and French, both aligned with Turkey, a very unusual alliance at the time, considering that Britain and France were enemies at least a couple centuries before that [wikipedia: “Crimean War”].

Turkey represented the Islamic interests in the Holy Land, particularly the city of Jerusalem, as well as the Balkans along the Black Sea as far as present-day Romania, at the Danube River. Tsarist Russia represented the competing Christian interests. Sound familiar?

The infantries of the armies still rode horses. Mechanized infantry, i.e., tanks and jeeps, were not introduced until World War I in 1914. However, plenty of new technology was introduced during the Crimean War, not just newer and more lethal weapons.

One was the newly invented technique of photography and another was the telegraph that contributed to substantially instantaneous war-time journalism. Examples of war-time photographs taken by Roger Fenton, some of which were originally published by Thomas Agnew & Sons, can be seen at the U.S. Library of Congress (LOC) website [http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/coll/251_fen.html]. Also, see the online collection by the George Eastman House Archive [http://www.geh.org/fm/fenton/htmlsrc/fenton_sld00001.html]. Note that none of the 263 photographs acquired by the LOC from a grand-niece of Roger Fenton in 1944, show actual battles or any of the tragic scenes of actual combat one might expect at a time of war. This could be an example of propaganda or self-censorship in the use of technology. Nevertheless, there are many photographs of soldiers and commanders on their horses [http://www.iphotocentral.com/showcase/showcase_descrp.php/68/1/1/0].

Photographs that may have showed the true horror of war in the Crimea may have been made by British military officers Brandon and Dawson, who were trained by London photographer J.E. Mayall, disappeared from official military files. This could be an example of a cover-up to prevent letting the public see the realities of war. What’s changed since then, right?

It appears that Roger Fenton learned the art of photography from Paul (Hippolyte) Delaroche, in the early 1800s. Although Delaroche was a painter rather than a photographer, he was apparently instrumental in promoting the invention of Louis Daguerre [wikipedia: “Louis Daguerre”]. Fenton used the waxed-paper negative modified calotype process of Gustave Le Gray [wikipedia: “Roger Fenton”, calotype]. Note that the invention of Daguerreotype, a French competitor of the calotype of England, was purchased by the French Government and given as a gift “Free to the World” on August 19, 1839.

In a parallel process of technological development, the newly invented telegraph was used to transmit information over long distances using wires placed using horse-drawn carriages in areas of the Crimea, particularly in the region near Sevastopol in the north-east of the Black Sea. The telegraph had been invented in the early 1800s after efforts were made to harness the features of the Leydon Jar to form a useful device. Samuel Morse was the famous American inventor, but he was not first to patent, since a British patent had been issued in 1837 at about the same time as Morse’s patent. However, Morse appears to be credited with completion of the first working model in 1835 [http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Telegraph].

Various examples of early telegraph devices can be seen in museums in the U.S. (Smithsonian in Washington, DC), UK (Victoria & Albert Museum and the British Museum in London), and elsewhere in Europe. Also, the Royal Corps of Signals Museum, located at Blandford Camp, near Blandford Forum, UK, roughly 70 km west of Southampton in the Dorset countryside, describes the first use of the telegraph in war-time in the Crimean War as well as showing some of the earliest telegraphs [http://www.army.mod.uk/royalsignalsmuseum/displays/crimean_war.htm].

Thus, while U.S. Presidents John Tyler, James K. Polk, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan (who collectively held office from 1841 to 1861), where dealing with short-lived presidencies, politics (e.g., Whigs versus Democrats), the issue of slavery, and wars with Indians, the British, French, Spanish and Mexicans, and preparing for the U.S. Civil War – Europe, on the other hand, was dealing with Napoleon III and various monarchies (e.g., Tsarist Russia and the Hapsburgs), as well as the Ottoman Turks. And technology, in the meantime was gradually developing and contributing to the dramatic changes in society that were still to come.

This brief synopsis of a very important moment in world history has not even included other major contributions to the progress of technology, particularly Florence Nightingale’s contributions to medicine, most notably the systematic and organized approach to nursing in the battle-field (i.e., using statistics in medicine, a precursor to today’s bioinformatics), where she noted that the majority of battle-field mortality was caused by “zymotic preventable” disease, such as typhus, cholera and dysentery. In 1860, she became the first female to be elected a fellow of the prestigious (British) Statistical Society [http://www.florence-nightingale.co.uk/flo2.htm]. Her book entitled “Notes on Nursing” was also published in 1860. She also became an honorary member of the American Statistical Association, received the Royal Red Cross from Queen Victoria in 1883, and the (British) Order of Merit in 1907.

Other areas of technological progress included the advancement of maritime and naval capabilities, such as the use of exploding shells by the Russian Navy. Also, the side taken by the British and French generally won the most favorable terms in the resulting Treaty of Paris of 1856 ending the Crimean War and signed by Russia, France, United Kingdom, Austria, Prussia, Italy/Sardinia/Piedmont, and Turkey (perhaps giving the Catholic clergy greater power in the Holy Land compared with the Orthodox clergy?); nonetheless, it seems that the British military behaved in a grossly incompetent manner throughout the conflict, especially by failing to provide adequate equipment, clothing and sanitation for the infantry [http://www.cwreenactors.com/~crimean/criwar.htm]. This incompetence led to the fall of the government of then Prime Minister Lord George-Hamilton, 4th Earl of Aberdeen, who was therefore succeeded by Lord Palmerston in 1855 before the end of the war [wikipedia, “George Hamilton-Gordon”].

In the building of nations, since the Kingdom of Sardinia (based on the island located near Corsica between present day France and Italy in 1848) had participated in the Crimean War on the side of England and France, this led to the consolidation of the various city-states of the Italian peninsula that led to the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, then to the First Republic of Italy in 1946, and ultimately to the present Second Republic of Italy that began in 1992.

This time of conflict in the mid-19th century apparently contributed significantly to progress in photography, telegraphy and medicine, three major subject areas in today’s technology landscape. When these advances are combined with the advancements of the Industrial Revolution during the late 19th century, thanks at least to the contribution of inventors such as James Watt [http://www.answers.com/topic/james-watt?cat=technology] and his earlier improved steam engine (UK Patent No. 913) [http://www.ladas.com/GeneralInterest/Firefighting.html], Henry Bessemer and his concurrent improved steel-making process (U.S. patent No. 16082) [http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventors/bessemer.htm], Nicola Tesla and his later polyphase power distribution systems (U.S. Patent No. 390721) [http://www.frank.germano.com/nikolatesla.htm], to name only a few of the greatest contributors.

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This entry was posted in A Level History, British Empire, Crimean War, Empire and Expansion, History, Imperial Expansion 1815-1870 and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What new technology emerged from the Crimean War?

  1. Martha Mahard says:

    you need to look at the history of the technology of photography – no cover-up or censorship or conspiracy is involved, the process was not able to capture any rapid motion until much later in the 19th century. The wet plate collodion process (also used by Mathew Brady and his photographers during the American Civil War) involved a lot of work with chemicals which had to be evenly coated on a glass plate – often larger that 5×7″ and inserted into the camera while still wet – you can’t do this in the midst of a raging battle.

  2. Ken says:

    Thanks for that. I’m pretty sure we addressed this in a later post but this was an initial -and as you note, somewhat inadequate- assessment. Cheers, Ken

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