Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Archive for March, 2016


Soviet Soldiers performing the Cossack dance after the defeat of Berlin, Germany; ca. May 1945

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“The freestanding Tour Saint-Jacques”; ca. 1867

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Saint-Jacques Tower (Tour Saint-Jacques) is a monument located in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, France, on Rue de Rivoli at Rue Nicolas Flamel. This 52-metre (171 ft) Flamboyant Gothic tower is all that remains of the former 16th-century Church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie (“Saint James of the butchery”), which was demolished in 1797, during the French Revolution, – like many other churches, leaving only the tower. What remains of the destroyed church of St. Jacques La Boucherie is now considered a national historic landmark.


Hjalmar Schacht

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Hjalmar Schacht was an economist of the Weimar Republic and for the Nazis until his dismissal in 1937 due to his opposition to German rearmament. He was known for working with or developing several schemes that the Germans used throughout the interwar period.

The first scheme he was known for was the introduction of the Rentenmark. The currency of the Weimar Republic was normally the Reichsmark, but several things happened after World War I that caused great turmoil in the German economy. Many Germans considered the reparations to be a great outrage (as reparations are paid in “defeat,” and in the view of many Germans, Germany had not lost the war). To that extent, the Germans were willing to sabotage their own economy in an attempt to get the reparations waived or dismissed, due to a supposed German inability to pay it. This is all documented in Sally Marks’ “Myths of Reparations.”

One mechanism of their attempts to sabotage the reparations was to print large amounts of their currency. While there were several relatively sane ways that the Germans could purchase the gold and goods necessary for reparations, such as issuing bonds, raising taxes, or even taking on foreign currency debt, the Germans instead deliberately chose to print Reichsmarks, in an effort to wreck the German economy, thus bringing the Entente to the table to renegotiate the reparations. And it worked-the Dawes and Young Plans, created in the wake of the ensuing Weimar Hyperinflation, allowed to Germans to restructure and reduce the amount of reparations. This was of course at the expense of two years of German economic growth, which resulted in gross wealth destruction and was only fixed by the introduction of the Rentenmark. The Rentenmark, which Schacht was one of several economist that developed the scheme, was a substitute Reichsmark that used German land (real estate) as collateral, much in the lines several other countries used gold or silver to back their currencies. This was introduced into the German economy and helped to restore stability.

It should be noted that during this time, Schacht was only one of a handful of economists and political figures that assisted in the Weimar Republic’s return to economic growth. Hans Luther and Karl Helfferich were the main economists responsible for the Rentenmark.

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Schacht in Nazi Germany, because of his political support and his rather sketchy if not outright illegal financial maneuvering to support the Nazis, was able to become Minister of Economics. During this time, he continued the programs of the previous German administration (namely, public works to artificially lower unemployment numbers, such as the autobahn) and expanded them into a general plan for German autarky. The two main issues he had to deal with were the lack of foreign reserves (caused by the German sell off due to the Great Depression) and the means of rearmament.

Simply put, if Germany ran out of foreign reserves, it would not only be hard pressed to trade with other countries but it would also severely weaken the strength of the German mark. To get around this, Schacht helped structure several trade transactions with South American, European, and even a handful of Asian countries whereby German could acquire strategic materials necessary for rearmament in exchange for either German marks or German goods, which would allow time for the Nazis to balance the foreign reserves deficit (which they never did, instead doubling down on it to increase the rate of rearmament).

The Mefos bills that he created were another tool whereby the Germans could secretly rearm themselves using economic tricks. As president of the Reichsbank, Schacht in theory was only supposed to be a lender of last resort-namely, his job was to be independent of the government and only to step in to preserve monetary stability. However, by issuing Mefos bills, he was able to secretly (if not fraudulently) loan money directly to the German government through a dummy corporation.

This allowed the German government to take on far more debt than any sane investor would have bought on, at a lower rate of interest. For a simple finance lesson, the more debt a country has, the greater the risk. An investor would demand a higher interest rate in return for taking on this higher risk. Since the interest rate for Germany was essentially fixed around 4.50%, this meant there was a theoretical ceiling after which nobody would be willing to buy German government bonds. Through the use of the Mefos bills, in addition to hiding arms purchases from Britain and France, they were also able to bypass this ceiling.

Of course, this would have been completely unsustainable, and would have required the acquisition of large amounts of foreign reserves to balance out the fact that the ostensibly independent Reichsbank was in fact loaning money to the German government, which would otherwise cause rapid inflation as it turned out German currency wasn’t worth what people thought it was. This was part of the reason why the Nazi government chose to invade many countries-one of their most important objectives was the seizure of all the currency and reserves in the various banks, to feed the gaping maw in the German economy left by Schacht and the Nazis’ policies.

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At the end of the day, Schacht wasn’t a particularly brilliant economist, but he did participate in both legitimate economic schemes (as the Rentenmark) as well as some more fraudulent ones (like the Mefos bills) in order to keep Germany’s economy afloat. Still, the fact remains that despite his willingness to fund German rearmament, Nazi rearmament was still too fast even for him, which eventually led to his resignation and collaboration with the German resistance. This should show that he was not in fact some lone genius, but rather one of several German economists that happened to be in a position of leadership during the Weimar Republic and later the Nazi regime.


Sally Marks, The Myth of Reparations

Adam Tooze, Wages of Destruction


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The men left behind on Elephant Island; ca. 1916

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After their ship became frozen in ice, 28 men and Ernest Shackleton (the expedition leader) sailed the lifeboat to elephant island, an island no one had ever stepped foot on. Knowing they wouldn’t be rescued, Shackleton took 5 men to sail 800 miles to a whaling station to get help. The remaining men stayed on the island having to create shelter, procure food etc, and hope that the others would be able to send rescue. After four failed attempts because of heavy ice, all the men were finally rescued. The men had spent 4 and a half months stranded on the island.

Fate of the crew:

Most of these men went straight into the meat grinder of WWI. Some were dead over the next few years.

The Moulin Rouge nightclub at Montmarte, Paris; ca. 1914

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The original house, which burned down in 1915, was co-founded in 1889 by Charles Zidler and Joseph Oller, who also owned the Paris Olympia. Close to Montmartre in the Paris district of Pigalle on Boulevard de Clichy in the 18th arrondissement, it is marked by the red windmill on its roof. The closest métro station is Blanche.

Moulin Rouge is best known as the spiritual birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance. Originally introduced as a seductive dance by the courtesans who operated from the site, the can-can dance revue evolved into a form of entertainment of its own and led to the introduction of cabarets across Europe.





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MERIAN Paris Jasmine


Evening on the cruiser Kalinin, the Soviet Pacific Fleet; ca. 1955

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On her last day as First Lady, Betty Ford jumped on the Cabinet Room table in the White House and started dancing; ca. 1977

This was when she was still on drugs. Afterwards ... BOR ... ING !

An ashtray at every seat. You sure won’t see that anymore.


Lieutenant colonel Laaksonen and Eurasian eagle-owl chicks, Suokumaa, Finland; ca. July 1941

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“Cheyenne captives following the attack on Washita by Custer’s forces”; ca. 1868

Most of the Cheyenne captives are visible in this photograph, taken at Fort Dodge en route to the stockade at Fort Hays, Kansas; to the left stands U.S. Army chief of scouts John O. Austin.

Most of the Cheyenne captives are visible in this photograph, taken at Fort Dodge en route to the stockade at Fort Hays, Kansas; to the left stands U.S. Army chief of scouts John O. Austin.

The Battle of Washita River occurred on November 27, 1868 when Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s 7th U.S. Cavalry attacked Black Kettle’s Southern Cheyenne camp on the Washita River (near present-day Cheyenne, Oklahoma), part of a major winter encampment of numerous Native American tribal bands.


Goodyear’s illuminated tires; ca. 1961

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These illuminated tires were developed by Goodyear in 1961. They’re made from a single piece of synthetic rubber and are brightly lit by bulbs mounted inside the wheel rim. The Goodyear Tire Company intend to produce the tires in a variety of colors.
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According to LIFE magazine this is one of the 30 dumbest inventions.

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Barricades in the streets of Paris during the French Revolution; August 25th, 1848

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The most common way to take a photograph in 1848 was the Daguerreotype, invented by Louis-Jaques-Mandé Daguerre in 1830. He and his partners didn’t start to commercialize it until 1839, and so when Thibault took this image, he was using a technology only nine years old.

It wasn’t easy to take a Daguerreotype. You need a sheet of silver-plated copper, polished to a mirror finish. The slightest imperfection means the image is marred, so you have to keep it as pristine as possible. You take that sheet, then treat it with chemical fumes. Working quickly, in the dark ─ the fumes make the sheet light-sensitive ─ you shove the sheet into your camera, which is little more than a wooden box with a simple hole in the front. That hole is covered with a simple glass lens, itself concealed by a leather or fabric lens cap.

When you judge the time is right, you remove the lens cap and wait. How long you have to wait depends on how bright the scene is. If you’re in bright sunlight, you only need a few seconds. If you’re working indoors or on a dark day, it might take minutes. You have to keep the camera perfectly still on its tripod ─ any vibrations will blur the image. An 1841 instruction manual indicates, “For an exposure by overcast, dark skies in winter 3 ½ minutes is sufficient; on a sunny day in the shade 1½ to 2 minutes are enough, and in direct sunlight it requires no more than 40-45 seconds. The last, however, is seldom employed on account of the deep shadows necessarily obtained.”

When you think you’ve got it (estimating the precise time necessary was by guess, until experience allowed the creation of timing charts), you put the lens cap back on.

To develop the image you have to ─ again, working in the dark ─ expose the chemically treated sheet to mercury vapor, a substance we now know is incredibly toxic. Once done, the sheet has to be washed by a chemical that removes its light sensitivity. Rinse the sheet, then dry it, taking particular care to avoid rubbing against the sheet. The image is so easily marred that you can scuff it or erase parts of the image even with the lightest wiping.

Once the sheet’s done, you immediately put it into a glass case to avoid touching it ever again.

Imagine Thibault doing all of this from a top-floor apartment at 7:30 a.m. on June 25, 1848. That’s exactly when this image was taken. As Thibault crouched over his camera, the soldiers of General Louis Eugène Cavaignac were marching on Paris. Cavaignac had been serving with the French Army in Algeria, where he had a reputation for brutality against the native population. Facing him in Paris were an estimated 170,000 working-class Parisians furious at the government’s closure of a series of make-work factories designed to alleviate unemployment.

Thibault knew what was coming, and so did the other people on his street. You can see it in the closed shutters up and down the road. Since February, the liberal and radical workers of Paris had been protesting, rioting and simply arguing against the government.

But Thibault stayed over his camera, an early-Victorian nerd eager to preserve the moment rather than preserve his own safety. In the end, he not only took this picture, he went back 24 hours later to take another, and the resulting stereo effect shows what happened before and after Cavaignac and his soldiers moved in.

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Newly liberated inmates at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp chase down and beat a former kapo (a prisoner assigned by the SS guards to supervise forced labor in the camp). Kapos were picked for their brutality towards fellow prisoners and received additional privileges; ca. April 16th, 1945

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“A kapo or prisoner functionary was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp who was assigned by the SS guards to supervise forced labor or carry out administrative tasks in the camp. Also called “prisoner self-administration”, the prisoner functionary system minimized costs by allowing camps to function with fewer SS personnel. The system was designed to turn victim against victim, as the prisoner functionaries were pitted against their fellow prisoners in order to maintain the favor of their SS guards. If they were derelict, they would be returned to the status of ordinary prisoners and be subject to other kapos. Many prisoner functionaries were recruited from the ranks of violent criminal gangs rather than from the more numerous political, religious and racial prisoners; those were known for their brutality toward other prisoners. This brutality was tolerated by the SS and was an integral part of the camp system.”


“Hello Democrats! Welcome to Chicago” 1968, police guarding the Democratic National Convention from nearby protesters

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A man on an amphibious cycle (capable of operation on both land and water) in Paris; ca. 1932

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Here is a diagram:

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Under the Truman administration, the interior of The White House was completely demolished for renovation, so only the shell of the house stood back; ca. 1950

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Workmen digging the sub-basement in the demolished White House in 1950.

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(More Info)

Wesel, Germany shows the effects of carpet bombing by the Allies; ca. 1945

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97% of the city was destroyed.

Wesel became a target of the Allies, particularly in its strategic position as a depot with bridges on the Rhine. On the 16, 17, 18 and 19 February 1945, the town was attacked by the Royal Air Force with impact and air-burst weapons and almost entirely destroyed.

On 23 March, Wesel came under the fire of over 3,000 guns when it was bombarded anew, in preparation for Operation Plunder. That day 80 Lancasters from No. 3 Group RAF attacked Wesel Then that night of 23/24 March, 195 Lancasters and 23 Mosquitos of RAF Bomber Command No. 5 Group aided in the softening up of the German defenders. 97% of the town was destroyed before it was finally taken by Allied troops and the population had fallen from almost 25,000 in 1939 to 1,900 in May 1945.

The town was taken quickly with 36 civilian casualties. Field-Marshal Montgomery said “the bombing of Wesel was a masterpiece, and was a decisive factor in making possible our entry into the town before midnight.”


Tereska, draws a picture of “home” while living in a residence for disturbed children; Poland, 1948.

This is a fantastic example of the art style known as Art Brut. Collectively, the art of children, the insane, and those who are

This is a fantastic example of the art style known as Art Brut. Collectively, the art of children, the insane, and those who are “outsiders”, this style has been described as a pure or raw form of artistic expression.

Life Magazine:Tereska Draws Her Home”, photo by David Seymour, Vol. 25, No. 26, December 27, 1948, p. 16.

The original caption reads as follows:

Children’s wounds are not all outward. Those made in the mind by years of sorrow will take years to heal. In Warsaw, at an institute which cares for some of Europe’s thousands of “disturbed” children, a Polish girl named Tereska was asked to make a picture of her home. These terrible scratches are what she drew. (p. 17)

This photograph was taken by Chim (David Seymour) in a home for emotionally disturbed children (Warsaw, 1948). It’s generally agreed upon that the subject, Tereska, was a victim of the Holocaust.

This was part of a series on Europe’s postwar children commissioned by UNICEF.


Tereska’s family had no idea that her photo is famous around the world and used by psychologists to research what war does to children’s mind.

It turns out that Tereska – “Niuńka” as the family called her – has never been to concentration camp. Her drawing may show war, of course, but as children were ask to draw “home” it may show rubble. Tereska’s house was ruined during Warsaw uprising seconds after she and her older sister managed to run away. We don’t know exactly what she experienced since there are no living family members who were there with her, but it happened during Wola massacre so we can just imagine. During bombing a fragment of brick hit Niuńka. Her central nervous system was harmed and ever since she had physical and mental problems.

Tereska died tragically in 1978 in a mental hospital nearby Warsaw.

• More Info (in Polish)



Body of French boy blown into a tree by German shellfire at Avocourt Wood (Battle of Verdun); ca. 1916

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How did Napoleon fund his wars?

One of the hallmarks of the Napoleonic tax administration was that it introduced a degree of efficiency and systematization that meant the Empire could count upon a steady stream of revenue. The recent memory of Revolutionary hyperinflation inhibited more experimental and flexible approaches to finance. For example, one of the achievements of Napoleon that his proponents frequently trumpet, the Banque de France, played a relatively marginal role in governmental finance. Napoleon’s aversion to short-term loans meant that ensured that the Banque’s contributions to French state financing was never more than 10 percent of total expenditures. The state’s commitment to metallism, another legacy born out of a painful Revolutionary experience, meant that the Banque adapted the “Palmer Rule” in which a third of its notes in circulation would be backed by metallic currency. The main sources of war revenue for France would be the systems of direct and indirect taxation from domestic sources and contributions from defeated or allied states.

There is a strong line of continuity between the tax policies of the later Revolutionary governments and the Napoleonic Consulate and Empire. Although the Directory resorted to paper currency and suffered from a repeat of hyperinflation, there was a strong corpus of administrators within the French state who advocated a more stable French economy and logical reforms. The Directory relied upon a series of land taxes, contributions, and later, indirect taxes to finance the French government. The main impact of Napoleon on the French tax structure was that his characteristic focus upon systematization and efficiency, coupled with the promotion of able servitors that were already advocates of reform. One of the unsung administrators of the Napoleonic period was Martin-Michel-Charles Gaudin, Napoleon’s Minister of Finance from 1799-1814, and 1815.

Gaudin directed an overhaul of the la contribution fonciere(land tax), an assessment based upon agricultural income. This form of direct taxation made up to three-quarters of all taxes derived from direct taxation for most of the Napoleonic period. The Ministry of Finance enacted systemic cadastral surveys in 1802, and expanded them into a massive project to catalog the whole of France in 1807. The grand cadastral surveys assessed France parcel by parcel, judging soil quality, buildings, and other factors to predict the ideal agricultural value of the land. The surveys rendered this particular tax burden more equitable, but also expanded both state power and control.

Another form of direct taxation in the Napoleonic period was la contribution personelle-mobiliere (taxes on personal or industrial incomes), which was a legacy of the Revolution and mostly hit towns. This somewhat progressive tax had a fixed sum, plus a variable amount based upon external signs of wealth like chimneys or the number of servants. In keeping with its principles of systematic reform and efficiency, Napoleon overhauled this highly arbitrary system between 1803-04. Its main replacement was the droits d’octroi which was a levy upon all goods entering into a town. There were also various taxes licensing trades and services and upon items like doors and windows.

Although these taxes introduced a steady and reliable stream of income to the French government, they could not cover all of the expenses of the Napoleonic state. Napoleon reintroduced various forms of indirect taxes to make up for this shortfall. These droits reunis were levied upon tobacco, playing cards, alcohol, and salt became increasingly important for French finance from 1806 onwards. The revenue from these indirect taxes increased some fourfold between 1806 and 1812. Again, in keeping with Napoleonic centralization, the state instituted a central excise office to enforce these indirect taxes. Additionally, the French government created a state monopoly on tobacco in 1810. Collectively, these excise taxes made up a quarter of France’s tax revenue in 1813.

Yet even Napoleonic efficiency could not keep pace with the growing costs of France’s wars. The Napoleonic fiscal system became increasingly dependent upon making war pay for war. From 1806 to 1814, non-French states bore more than half of Napoleon’s military expenses. The quartering of troops in Italy, Central Europe, and Spain displaced some of the defense burden upon Napoleon’s allies and occupied states. Indemnities upon defeated powers became a normal means of the French to cover their budgetary deficits. Between 1806 and 1812, Prussia had to provide France with somewhere between 470 and 514 million Francs. To put that figure in perspective, the Banque’s contribution to the French budget peaked in 1805 with a figure of 80 million Francs and provided the campaign of 1805 60 million Francs. Even Napoleon’s allies were not immune from this system of contribution. Tax levels in the southern German states doubled from their 1806 levels, but this was often not enough to keep pace with fiscal demands. The Rheinbund states had to engage in a tricky shell-game of forced bonds purchases to pay for their upkeep. In the Kingdom of Westphalia, 1808 bonds that were due in 1811 were paid off with more bonds. The Hanseatic towns of the northern German coast, officially annexed to the French Empire in 1810, had the French system of indirect and direct taxes imposed, but imperial authorities were more diligent at squeezing out whatever wealth they could get out of these German cities than those in France. Due to their proximity to the Central European battlefields, it was more urgent to collect imperial taxes from these areas. In Hamburg, between 1810-13, approximately a third of all the city’s taxes went to outfitting the French military in Germany. The city’s support infrastructure for Hamburg’s indigent correspondingly suffered as orphanages and hospitals closed up shop.

While this system of contributions and making war pay for war was not unprecedented in European history, but it added another onerous burden upon the other middling and great powers of Europe and made it much harder for Napoleon to cement a lasting peace. The contributions system created a persistent grumbling about French exploitation and undercut Napoleon’s attempts to forge a working alliance with these small states. The disaster of 1812 made pushed this precarious economic system off a cliff as Napoleon had to wring yet more revenue from his allies, and increasingly, from metropolitan France. Despite his reservations about short-term financing, Napoleon assented to sale of short-term bonds within France and expanded the various indirect tax systems. By 1813, many of the states in central Europe were approaching physical insolvency and had an inability to pay their civil servants.

One solution for these European states to meet French demands was to implement French fiscal methods. In the Kingdom of Italy, Giuseppe Prina played the role of Gaudin by strengthening local fiscal institutions and conducting cadastral surveys to render the system more efficient. Although a mob murdered Prina in 1814, his methods lived on. During the post-Napoleonic period, many European states continued the trend of systematizing and streamlining tax revenue through the increase in state powers of regulation and control. The utility of a steady revenue stream and increase in state power often transected ideological barriers in ways that other legacies of the French Revolution, such as nationalism or popular sovereignty, did not. Even Piedmont-Sardinia, one of the most reactionary of the post-1815 governments, had no problem embracing the French-created system of tax inspectorates and gendarmes to enforce order as essential component for the operation of the state. In France, the Bourbon and Orleanist governments continued Gaudin’s cadastral survey would not be finished until the 1820s, but was one of the bedrocks of French tax policies up to the First World War. Napoleonic occupation created a need for an overhaul of revenue collection within continental Europe and this new found efficiency outlasted Napoleon. Although it lacks the drama of the corps system of Napoleon or other elements of martial glory, the reform of tax codes was a persistent legacy of the Napoleonic period and impacted the daily lives of Europeans for the coming century.



Aaslestad, Katherine. “Paying for War: Experiences of Napoleonic Rule in the Hanseatic Cities.” Central European History 39, no. 04 (2006): 641-675.

Bergeron, Louis. France under Napoleon. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981.

Bordo, Michael D., and Eugene N. White. “A tale of two currencies: British and French finance during the Napoleonic Wars.” The Journal of Economic History 51, no. 02 (1991): 303-316.

Chadha, Jagjit S., and Elisa Newby. ‘Midas, transmuting all, into paper’: the Bank of England and the Banque de France during the Napoleonic Wars. No. 1315. School of Economics Discussion Papers, 2013.

Ellis, Geoffrey James. The Napoleonic Empire. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Emsley, Clive. Napoleon: Conquest, Reform and Reorganization. Harlow, England: Pearson/Longman, 2003.

Kain, Roger J. P., and Elizabeth Baigent. The Cadastral Map in the Service of the State: A History of Property Mapping. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1992.

O’Rourke, Kevin H. “The worldwide economic impact of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1793–1815.” Journal of Global History 1, no. 01 (2006): 123-149.

Planert, Ute. “From collaboration to resistance: Politics, Experience, and memory of the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars in southern Germany.” Central European History 39, no. 04 (2006): 676-705.