Meet Joseph O’Leary ’19

Probing the Influence of Napoleon

History major researches French emperor’s military genius

The emperor Napoleon Bonaparte developed logistical systems for the military that paved the way for modern warfare. The French commander’s strategic genius inspired Joseph O’Leary ’19 to dig deeper into the era that spawned European nationalism.

“He established supply lines to support troops in the field and trained them to live off the land,” O’Leary said. Equally important were Napoleon’s political leadership and his introduction of a civil code that gave post-revolutionary France a comprehensive set of laws and influenced the development of the modern legal system.

A history major from Bloomingdale, Ill., O’Leary is studying Napoleon’s legacy with professor Robert Butler under the Creative and Scholarly Endeavors (CASE) program. CASE fellows work on a scholarly or creative project under the supervision of a faculty mentor, and earn a stipend.

O’Leary said he’s been interested in military history since he was a young child and read books on the two world wars. He would like to parlay his knowledge of military history into a career in government intelligence, working for the Defense or State Department or the CIA. After graduation, he plans to enroll in a ROTC program to fund his graduate studies.

“This type of research is good training for graduate school, where you do this type of work on a daily basis,” Butler said. “Things don’t always go smoothly—for example, the documents you want may not be available. You learn to get around this kind of gap.”

O’Leary is using a mix of sources, including primary documents, contemporaneous news accounts (written in English or translated from French) and works by modern historians. “I want to know why conflicts erupt and if there are telltale signs that can help prevent similar battles from happening,” he said.

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