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Gregory Hanlon

Gregory Hanlon

Canadian historian
Gregory Hanlon
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Canadian historian
Is Historian
From Canada
Type Social science
Gender male
Birth 29 August 1953, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Age: 67 years
Star sign VirgoVirgo
The details


Gregory Hanlon (Born 1953), is a Canadian behavioural and military historian of early modern Europe, author of eight books on various facets of behaviour in France and Italy from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, as well as an ample bibliography of titles on early modern Italian history published in English and French.


Trained in France at the Université de Bordeaux when the Annales School was at its height, since 1989 he has taught at Dalhousie University with teaching stints at the University of California Berkeley, Université de Paris IV-Sorbonne and the Université Laval (Québec). His textbook on early modern Italy was the first in any language to embrace all aspects of that country during a period long neglected by historians. His comprehensive bibliography of studies of early modern Italian history published in English and French similarly has similarly facilitated the rapid development of this field. Since 2000 he has been one of the pioneers of post-cultural history, also called deep history, emphasizing the way human universals operate throughout historical time. These historians combine insights from anthropology and sociology, but also from evolutionary psychology, human ethology, behavioural ecology and primate studies. His major influences include Raymond Boudon, Eckart Voland, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, and Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt.

Academic work

Hanlon is credited with three discoveries that have changed the way historians have studied major problems in European history.

Confessions & Community was the first to explore in detail the problem of confessional coexistence during the age of the European wars of religion. According to Hanlon, widespread religious toleration was a pragmatic negotiation among neighbours, completely unaffected by philosophical ideas. Its typical expression was mixed marriage, which over time led to the collapse of the minority confession, whether Catholic or Protestant.

In the Twilight of a Military Tradition, Hanlon revealed the surprising extent of Italian aristocratic participation in European wars, from Flanders and Hungary to Turkey and the Barbary Coast. Widespread Italian support for the Habsburg dynasty was one of the hidden strengths of both the Spanish and the German Catholic empires. These elites then demilitarized rapidly under the weight of the economic crisis caused by the Thirty Years' War, and as the small states became militarily irrelevant, nobles moved instead into the service of the Church. One review noted that the book explored the "curious historical phenomenon" of the until then "largely ignored" demilitarization of Italy in the early modern period. In the mid-sixteenth century the Italian states possessed "significant military capabilities, and their aristocracies were imbued with a warrior ethos. But by 1796, when Napoleon Bonaparte burst in, their military potential had withered away." Hanlon examined a subject largely ignored since the Second World War, examining it from a pan-Italian (as opposed to regional) perspective and with a systematic and more modern focus for the first time.

In Human Nature in Rural Tuscany and in several spinoff articles, Hanlon demonstrated that European populations almost certainly practiced neonatal infanticide on a large scale throughout the early modern period, at the expense of girls, but also boys when the uncertainty of survival and the cost of bringing them up outweighed the benefits for their married parents. This practice owed little or nothing to gender ideologies in the period, but to the rationality of people who understood their predicament and took appropriate actions. One review said, "his approach is a reaction against what he sees as the proliferation of 'unnecessary' theories of culture, instead arguing that there are common behavioral traits that are fundamental to human nature and that these traits are rooted in our genetic make-up. But beyond this debate about evolutionary and behavioral psychology, what lies at the heart of this study is a highly skillful analysis of a rural community in seventeenth-century Tuscany. This book is a welcome addition to recent studies of the Tuscan territory, going further than most in humanizing peasants and their behaviors." Another reviewer said, "Gregory Hanlon’s well-written and engaging examination of the early modern Tuscan village of Montefollonico is a worthy addition to the growing number of biologically aware historical studies". He added however, "The deployment of evolutionary psychology is, however, only partially successful. It appears somewhat episodically [...] Between the very specific and the very general, there remains a rather broad territory. [...] Hanlon is well versed in some of the literature on evolutionary thinking; however, he does not always manage to satisfactorily unite ultimate and proximate (a task best achieved in the ‘Reproduction’ chapter.)" It strikes this reviewer that the book’s biological references "could even be excised without substantially affecting its value as a social history. This is not strictly a criticism of the author; while it seems clear enough that any real understanding of human beings should take into account their biological (and thus their evolutionary) origins, turning that realization into a useful historical methodology is a more vexing issue."

In recent years, Hanlon has exploited some fortuitous discoveries in the archives to study the place of the Thirty Years' War in Italy. The Hero of Italy examines the illuminating experience of the young Duke of Parma, who embraced the French alliance against Spain only to suffer humiliating defeat. The author uses an almost intact collection of company rosters to analyze the makeup of a 17th-century army, soldier by soldier, in unprecedented detail. The volume also provides a detailed assessment of the impact of the war on civilians, based on parish registers for city and country. The subsequent book, Italy 1636: Cemetery of Armies is one of the most closely researched and detailed books on the operation of early modern armies, explicitly inspired by neo-darwinian thinking, wherein human beings are evolved animals equipped with a wide variety of innate predispositions. The book examines closely the tactics of both the infantry and the cavalry and validates the ongoing effectiveness of Spanish practices in the 1630s. It also confirms that soldiers displayed some natural inhibitions to killing their enemy counterparts face to face. The book explores the universal features of human behaviour and psychology as they relate to violence and war in the 17th century. Notwithstanding the centrality of the book's neo-darwinian analysis, 'Italy 1636: Cemetery of Armies' received highly positive reviews. Two European reviewers, Sven Externbrink (Francia 2017/2) and José Miguel Escribano Páez (European Review of History 2017), called the book a masterpiece. Fernando Gonzalez de Leon wrote, "this is the most incisive and informed study of the soldier's experience in an early modern battle that I have read." (Renaissance Quarterly, 70, 2017). The book appeared in paperback in 2018, followed by an Italian translation published by LEG Edizioni the same year. The most recent book, "European Military Rivalry 1500-1750: Fierce Pageant", published by Routledge in April, 2020, consists of an overview of European conflict in roughly chronological order, accompanied by chapters on the underlying structures permitting warfare on an ever larger scale, and several chapters describing the details of operational campaigning, siege warfare and the battlefield experience.


1992: Frank S. and Elizabeth D. Brewer Prize of the American Society of Church History
1998: Marraro Prize of the Society for Italian Historical Studies

2006-2016: University Research Professor, Dalhousie University (non-renewable)

2018: Induction into the Académie Nationale des Sciences, Belles-Lettres et Arts de Bordeaux

2019: Munro Professor of History, Dalhousie University


  • L’Univers des gens de bien: Culture et comportements des élites urbaines en Agenais-Condomois au XVIIe siècle, Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux, Talence 1989, ISBN 2-86781-076-0
  • Confession & Community in seventeenth-century France; Catholic and Protestant coexistence in Aquitaine, ISBN 0-8122-3205-4
  • The Twilight of a Military Tradition; Italian aristocrats and European conflicts 1560-1800 ISBN 978-1-85728-704-2
  • Early Modern Italy 1550-1800: Three seasons in European History ISBN 0-333-62003-8 PB
  • Storia dell’Italia Moderna 1550-1800 ISBN 88-15-08297-2
  • Early Modern Italy 1550-1800: a comprehensive bibliography, free access at Dalhousie University Department of History, Gregory Hanlon
  • Human Nature in Rural Tuscany: an early modern history 2007, ISBN 978-1-4039-7764-9
  • Vita rurale in Terra di Siena nel Seicento: natura umana e storia ISBN 978-8876260605
  • The Hero of Italy: Odoardo Farnese, Duke of Parma, his Soldiers and his Subjects in the Thirty Years' War, ISBN 978-0-19-968724- 4
  • L'eroe d'Italia: Il Duca Odoardo Farnese, i suoi soldati e i suoi sudditi nella Guerra dei Trent'anni, 2017, ISBN 978-88-942764-0-4
  • Italy 1636: Cemetery of Armies, ISBN 978-0-19-873824-4
  • Italia 1636: Sepolcro degli eserciti, ISBN 88-6102-502-1
  • European Military Rivalry 1500–1750: Fierce Pageant ISBN 978-1-138-36898-9 (pbk)
  • Early Modern Italy 1550-1800: a comprehensive bibliography (free to access on the author's Academia.edu webpage


  1. Faculty Profile, Dalhousie University Department of History
  2. Macmillan Authors, Gregory Hanlon
  3. Renaissance Military Bookllist - Out of the WoodWork Productions
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 01 Jul 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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