Professor Alexander Watson’s research focuses on conflict and identity in East-Central Europe. He works on all social, cultural and military aspects of ‘total war’, and on the rise of national consciousness, minority integration and pre-Holocaust plans of ethnic cleansing. He is also interested in the history of violence. He has written extensively on these topics, concentrating particularly on the era of the First World War.
Watson’s latest book is The Fortress. The Great Siege of Przemysl (London: Allen Lane, 2019). This is the story of the First World War’s longest siege, and of the opening of the brutal tragedy which befell East-Central Europe during the twentieth century. It follows a ragtag Habsburg garrison of old soldiers as they desperately defend Central Europe from Russian invasion, and recounts the vicious fighting, starvation and anti-Semitic ethnic cleansing which began in the region already in 1914. The book has been praised in The Times newspaper as ‘a masterpiece’. ‘Vividly written and well researched …it deserves to become a classic of military history.’
Watson is also author of the widely acclaimed Ring of Steel. Germany and Austria-Hungary at War, 1914-1918 (London and New York: Allen Lane and Basic Books, 2014). This book re-tells the First World War from its instigators’ and losers’ perspectives, and explains how this ‘total war’ bequeathed a fateful legacy of impoverishment, political extremism and racial hatred to East-Central Europe. The book won the 2014 Wolfson History Prize, the 2014 Guggenheim-Lehrman Prize in Military History, the Society for Military History’s 2015 Distinguished Book Award and the 2015 British Army Military Book of the Year. The Sunday Times named it ‘The History Book of the Year’ for 2014.
Watson’s first monograph, Enduring the Great War. Combat, Morale and Collapse in the German and British Armies, 1914-1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008) is a comparative and interdisciplinary investigation of German and British military resilience on the Western Front. It examines how soldiers coped psychologically and how military institutions functioned to support and coerce them, and it provides a new explanation for why the German army ultimately broke down in 1918. The book was awarded the Institute of Contemporary History and Wiener Library’s Fraenkel Prize
Academic Qualifications and Fellowships
- BA(Hons) in Modern History University of Oxford 2000
- DPhil in History University of Oxford 2005
Professor Watson has won several prestigious research fellowships to advance his work on East-Central Europe. In 2005-8, he was a Research Fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge University. He was awarded a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship which he held from 2008-11, also at Cambridge University. In 2011-13, he held a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship at Warsaw University, Poland.
BA Second and Third Year Modules
- Minorities in East-Central Europe: Coexistence, Integration and Annihilation, c.1870-1950
- The Central Powers in the First Word War
BA First Year Modules
- Lecture Block on ‘Revolutions’ in the module Dictators, War and Revolution
Professor Watson is the Deputy Head of the History Department.
Areas of Supervision
Professor Watson welcomes research proposals on any aspect of nineteenth and twentieth-century East-Central European history or on the history of modern war. He is very happy to supervise single country and local topics, but also encourages prospective students to consider taking on comparative, transnational and interdisciplinary studies. He is open to proposals for joint supervision with colleagues at Goldsmiths or at other University of London colleges.
Professor Watson undertakes a variety of activities alongside his research and teaching. Public engagement is a core role. Watson has written and reviewed for The New York Times, Times Higher Education, Literary Review, History Today and BBC History Magazine. At the end of 2016, he was invited to select the best military history books of the year for BBC History Magazine.
Watson has also collaborated with and been interviewed on international television and radio. On radio, he has spoken on the BBC World Service’s ‘World War One. The Documentary’ and the BBC’s ‘Good Morning Scotland’. He was interviewed on 103.2 Dublin City Fm’s ‘Bookbound’ programme and on New York’s WNYC ‘The Leonard Lopate Show’.
On television, the BBC News Channel interviewed Watson about the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis. France 24 interviewed him about the centenary of the Battle of the Somme and Brexit. Watson appeared in the German Channel ZDF’s documentary ‘Die Suche nach den verlorenen Söhnen. 100 Jahre Erster Weltkrieg’ (‘The Search for the Lost Sons. One Hundred Years of the First World War’). Watson has also been interviewed by the German production company Florianfilm for an ARTE / ZDF documentary on the military occupation state Ober Ost in 1915-18.
Watson has had many public speaking invitations. Recent engagements have included the Chalke Valley History Festival, the York Festival of Ideas and the Penguin Lecture in Bristol. He has also been a speaker at BBC History Magazine ‘History Weekend’ events.
The Fortress. The Great Siege of Przemysl (London: Allen Lane, 2019). Published in the U.S. by Basic Books, New York.
Ring of Steel. Germany and Austria-Hungary at War, 1914-1918 (London: Allen Lane, 2014). Published in the U.S. by Basic Books, New York.
Enduring the Great War. Combat, Morale and Collapse in the German and British Armies, 1914-1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).