Category Archives: War

Type Under Siege


In late 1544, Henry VIII’s forces were defending the English possession of Boulogne in a series of brutal battles against the French as part of the Italian War (1542-1546). They were aided by Giovacchino da Coniano, a sergeant-major in charge of the Italians fighting on the side of the English. The king had been present in France earlier in the conflict, but he later returned to England, leaving the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk to lead his troops in defending Boulogne. The two leaders disobeyed Henry’s orders, leaving several thousand men at Boulogne and withdrawing the remainder of the army to Calais. The French forces, however, were eventually beaten back from Boulogne, gaining victory for the English. Although an otherwise minor figure in military history, da Coniano left behind a manuscript containing diagrams of battle formations employed during his time in France which would eventually come in to the hands of Girolamo Maggi, who would publish a portion of it two decades later.


Maggi (circa 1523-1572) was born at Anghiari, near Arezzo in Tuscany. He studied at Perugia and Pisa, where he developed a keen interest in ancient languages and architecture, as well as Roman law. He was also a student of old sarcophagi and funerary monuments, and used his expertise to argue against the then-common belief that giants had once roamed the earth. His first work, a poem on the war being fought by the Italians in Flanders, was published in 1551. In the same year, he completed the manuscript of his Ingegni et invenzioni militari, a work on military engineering, and dedicated it to Cosimo de’ Medici. Maggi’s Della fortificatione delle città (On the fortification of cities), was printed by Rutilio Borgominiero in Venice in 1564. In reality a compendium of works on fortification and defense, the volume contains five works: (1) the eponymous treatise, actually a coproduction between Maggi and Jacopo Fusti Castriotto, a military engineer who had died in 1563; (2) a discourse by Maggi on fortifying barracks; (3) a work by Francesco Montemellino on the fortification of the Borgo district of Rome; (4) da Coniano’s treatise on military logistics and battle formations; (5) and a work by Castriotto on the fortresses of France. The Rare Book & Manuscript Library holds a later edition of the Della fortificatione in its Cavagna Collection, printed in Venice by Camillo Borgominiero, brother of Rutilio, in 1584.


Novel illustrations accompany Coniano’s text, made up of combinations of small woodcut elements, depicting cannons, standard-bearers, and other military figures, and individual letters, each representing a different kind of soldier: o stands for archibugieri (musketeers); a for archieri (archers); r for acabie or ronche (halberdiers); p for picchieri (pikemen); and C for cavalli (cavalry). These formations must have challenged the typesetter, as they sometimes involve oblique orientations, the tight packing of type, and the careful layout of various sections of “troops.” (Even more burdened by this system of notation is modern optical character recognition, or OCR, technology, whose limits are revealed in some online versions of the text.) Other portions of the compendium are also visually rich. Maggi and Castriotto’s treatise has scores of illustrations of fortification methods, many containing text within the “frame” of the woodcut itself.


A note to the reader appended by Maggi to the end of the work admits that the text is incomplete, but that he has been informed by a Venetian friend that the text in its entirety would cover such topics as defensive trenches, tunnels, bridges, and firearms. Maggi ends with an expression of hope that these lost passages could be recovered and shared with the world. As far as is known, the complete text remains lost to history.


Maggi’s life ended in a dramatic fashion. Around 1570, he became a military engineer to the Republic of Venice. Soon afterwards, he went to Cyprus, where he acted as a judge and advised on the defenses of Famagusta, which was held by Venice. After the Turks laid siege to the city, Maggi was captured, enslaved, and taken to Constantinople. He was made to work on a merchant ship and later wrote two further works while in prison, without the aid of a consulting library. These were the De tintinnabulis, on bells, and the De equuleo, on an instrument of torture similar to the rack. These works attracted the attention of the French and Italian ambassadors to the Ottoman Empire, who were impressed by Maggi and sought to have him released. As Maggi was being taken to the Italian ambassador, however, the prison captain ordered him to be brought back. Upon his return to the prison, Maggi was strangled to death; he left behind many manuscripts on literary and military topics, some of which were published posthumously, including his two works penned in prison. TAWB

Della fortificatione delle città / di M. Girolamo Maggi, e del capitan Iacomo Castriotto, ingegniero del christianiss. re di Francia ; libri III. Venice: Camillo Borgominiero, 1584. Q. 623.1 M272d.


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Then and Now, There and Here (1914–2014)

For Veterans Day 2014, we have invited our colleague Kevin T. McLaughlin to reflect on the impact of the Great War on our local community.

– Tony Hynes, Dennis Sears, Caroline Szylowicz, curators of the exhibition First Global Conflict: Contemporary Views of the Great War, 1914-1919. (On exhibit until December 19 in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library)

C7-3_Q_940_9197_Un3o_USWW1_No145_0001 copy

“The Last Two Minutes of Fighting, 11 November 1918, 10:58 a.m. Stenay, Meuse (France).” Photograph. Shelfmark: Q. 940. 9197Un30, item 145.

On Veterans Day of the Centennial of World War I, it is tempting to view events of such historical significance as this conflict at the global or national level.  However, that conflict had an impact on our state, our community and our university.  During WWI, the ground school for the School of Military Aeronautics was located here at the University of Illinois.  Chanute Air Field was located in Rantoul because of its proximity to the ground school and the East Central Railroad.  If you want to learn more, you may want to pay a visit to the Chanute Air Museum in Rantoul. Busey Residence Hall was used to quarter the students (cadets) of that school.   To this day, a commemorative plaque may be found inside one of the entrance halls to that dormitory.  Kenney Gym—previously known as the Gym Annex—was used as a laboratory for constructing wooden biplanes.  The Armory—which is home to Army, Navy & Marine Corps, and Air Force ROTCs was dedicated on November 1, 1914.  The United States Army, the longest tenant of the Armory, maintain a nice link to the history of the Department of Military Science or Army ROTC.  Memorial trees planted just outside the Armory were dedicated to U of I soldiers who died during WWI.  A few medallions may still be found near some of the trees.  And, of course, Memorial Stadium was built as a memorial dedicated to the 189 U of I students and alumni who died in WWI.  Their names have been engraved on the colonnades of that arena and may also be found on the University of Illinois Alumni Association’s Veterans Memorial Project website which includes a list of Gold Star Illini who died in WWI as well as the names of Illini who have died in conflicts since then.  The U of I’s Department of Chemistry was also very prominent in doing research for the War Department, as documented in the Bulletin for the History of Chemistry (“Noyes laboratory, an ACS National Chemical Landmark: 100 Years of Chemistry at the University of Illinois,” vol. 29, 1, p. 46).  There is a U.S. Army Reserve Chemical unit located in Urbana which may have been lured here because of the research being conducted at the University.  The 33rd division—comprised of mostly of National Guard units from Illinois—has a connection with the university from this time period and an even longer connection with Champaign-Urbana.  The Illinois State Library has put together a collection of digitized documents related to Illinois’ participation/response to World War I including one entitled “Response of the University of Illinois to the Call of War.”  Many of these historical connections can be researched locally at the University Archives and at the Champaign County Historical Archives.  Champaign-Urbana and campus resound with the echoes of our rich military history.

Kevin T. McLaughlin
MSW, Class of ‘18
MSLIS, Class of ‘04
LAS/Anthropology, Class of ‘88
Senior Library Specialist/Serials
Government Documents Cataloging & Processing Team

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Proust and the Great War (Part 1)

Selected Letters at the University of Illinois

by François Proulx, Assistant Professor of French

See also Part 2 of the exhibition.

This online exhibition is part of The Great War: Experiences, Representations, Effects, a campus-wide initiative marking the centenary of World War I. (Read more about this exhibition)


At the outbreak of World War I in the summer of 1914, Marcel Proust (1871-1922) was experiencing professional success and private heartbreak. Swann’s Way, the first volume of his novel In Search of Lost Time, had appeared in November 1913, to largely positive reviews. Prestigious publishers who had previously turned down the novel now approached Proust to acquire the rights to its remaining volumes. Yet Proust found himself unable to work following the death of his driver Alfred Agostinelli, a man he “really loved” and “adored.” Meanwhile, the European powers were marching toward war.


Letter from Marcel Proust to Lionel Hauser, 2 August 1914


In a letter to his financial advisor Lionel Hauser written the night of August 2, 19141 – mere hours before Germany formally declared war on France – Proust foresees the atrocities to come:

Letter from Marcel Proust to Lionel Hauser, 2 August 1914 (excerpt 1)

In the terrible days we are going through, you have other things to do besides writing letters and bothering with my petty interests, which I assure you seem wholly unimportant when I think that millions of men are going to be massacred in a War of the Worlds comparable with that of Wells,2  because the Emperor of Austria thinks it advantageous to have an outlet onto the Black Sea.3

He fears that one of these victims will be his younger brother, the doctor Robert Proust, who was mobilized on August 2 along with over three million Frenchmen:

Letter from Marcel Proust to Lionel Hauser, 2 August 1914 (excerpt 2)

I have just seen off my brother who was leaving for Verdun at midnight. Alas he insisted on being posted to the actual border.

In closing, Proust reflects further on the impending war:

Letter from Marcel Proust to Lionel Hauser, 2 August 1914 (excerpt 3a)

I still hope, non-believer though I am, that some supreme miracle will prevent, at the last second, the launch of the omni-murdering machine.

Letter from Marcel Proust to Lionel Hauser, 2 August 1914 (excerpt 3)

But I wonder how a believer, a practicing Catholic like the Emperor Franz Joseph, convinced that after his impending death he will appear before his God, can face having to account to him for the millions of human lives whose sacrifice it was in his power to prevent.

With all my heart and very sadly yours

Marcel Proust

Robert Proust survived the war, and was decorated for his courage in caring for the wounded under enemy fire. Marcel Proust left for the coastal town of Cabourg in September 1914, but soon returned to Paris where he remained for the duration of the war, enduring air raids and seeing the city’s social and cultural life first halted, then transformed. Due to his ill health, he was exempted from military duties, but many of his friends enrolled and fought, some never to return.

The war provided Proust with an unforeseen opportunity to greatly expand his novel: the three volumes announced when Swann’s Way appeared in 1913 had grown to five when In the Shadow of Young Girls In Flower appeared in 1919. After Marcel’s death in 1922, Robert Proust oversaw the publication of posthumous volumes until 1927, bringing the total number of volumes to seven. The final volume, Time Regained, includes many scenes set during and after the war, which Proust could not have imagined when he first conceived the novel in 1908.


This online exhibition was designed in collaboration with graduate students enrolled in the seminar “French 574: Marcel Proust.” Students have selected and commented on the following letters:

October 1914: Proust to Reynaldo Hahn, and March 1915: Reynaldo Hahn to Proust (by Anne-Bénédicte Guillaud-Marlieu)

March 1915: Proust to Louis d’Albufera (by Nick Strole)

April 1915: Madeleine Lemaire to Proust, and February 1918: Jacques-Émile Blanche to Proust (by Malyoune Benoit)

May 1915: Proust to Madame d’Humières (by Paola Pruneddu)

July 1915: Proust to Robert de Montesquiou, and Robert de Montesquiou to Proust (by Peter Tarjanyi)

July 1918: Proust to Louis Brun (by Laura Furrer)


The Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois houses over 1,100 letters to and from Marcel Proust, making it the largest collection of Proust’s letters in the world. This unique collection was built to support the remarkable work of Philip Kolb, who spent decades editing Proust’s vast correspondence. Today the collection continues to grow in collaboration with the Kolb-Proust Archive for Research: in 2013, sixteen new letters were acquired.


1. Marcel Proust, Lettres. Edited by Françoise Leriche. Paris: Plon, 2004. 696-698. The date of this letter was established by Philip Kolb.
2. The War of the Worlds (1897), a novel by H. G. Wells. The manuscript of this novel is part of the University of Illinois’s extensive archive of H. G. Wells papers.
3. Marcel Proust, Selected Letters. Volume III. Edited by Philip Kolb. Translated by Terence Kilmartin. 274-275. (Translation modified)


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