Sunday, April 9, 2017

Blog CCXXXI (231): The State of Military History (Part 4)

Editorial Note: This posting is part of an exceptionally long essay on the status of military history.  Since it is over 5,000 words in length, it has been divided into four parts.  Click here to read part 1, part 2, and part 3.

All to the good, but I believe the piece never gets to some of the real strengths of military history.  The popularity of the topic in book stores is not the strongest of these.  (Few academics are ever going to write a book that sells 20 or 30 thousand copies—which in the commercial world of New York based publishing houses is still pretty small).  The strength comes from the fact that the military needs military history and supports the field in many, many ways.  (Some of what follows are points that Lynn made in his 2008 article.) 

First, there is more money in the field than in many others within the history business.  The private foundations associated with many military schools and history centers have book awards, article prizes, dissertation grants, fellowships, visiting professorships, and sabbaticals.

Another factor, perhaps the most important, is that there are a lot of non-academic jobs for military
historians.  Each branch of the U.S. armed services has a history center that employs history Ph.D.s to produce official histories.  (This situation also exists to a lessor degree in other English-speaking countries).  Although many historians might look at these as studies as propaganda, that view misleads more than it informs.  These studies are honest efforts on the part of a large bureaucracy to learn lessons about its past performances that it can use in the future.  These official studies do not preclude historians from asking other questions.  There are probably going to be other issues that future historians will want to discuss, and the official histories do not foreclose these questions.  In fact, in many ways they help facilitate interest in the topic, and access to the documents.  One final point, many units also have command historians who are part archivists, part on demand researcher, and part analyst.  People working in these positions often have much more influence on events than professors sitting in an ivory tower.

These are also teaching jobs, like mine, at military schools like the Naval War College, or the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy, and so on.  The students you interact with, be they undergraduates at one of the academies or mid-career professionals at a staff college, are very, very good.  They eagerly consume military history, not because they are history buffs—some are—but because it is a tool in their professional development.  It is also worth noting that all of these jobs pay much, much better than the academic average.

The Society for Military History, the main academic organization in the United States for historians focusing on this field, is impressively run.  Although it is scholarly outfit, it is very welcoming of those holding jobs outside of academia.  My guess is that roughly a third of the people on the program have jobs outside of an academic history department.  Although it is American organization it is globally minded.  Its journal—The Journal of Military History—publishes articles and book reviews on all time periods and regions.  So, you will probably see articles on both the Confederate States Army as well as the Mongol Horde, and reviews of books about military innovation under Louis XIV as well as the performance of various Arab armies in the 1960s.  The journal has also published foreign scholars.  What is more impressive is that SMH has held its annual meeting outside the continental United States and has had a foreign scholar serve as its president.  The organization has a $00,000 budget and has a paid staff to manage its day-to-day operations.

Another factor is that military history has a constituency outside of academia.  Politicians, journalists and big dollar donors like military history.  During this public debate on military history, several people without a Ph.D. in history intervened and shaped decisions. There are two ways to look at these interventions, either: a) academics bent to this outside pressure, and did things they would not have done, like filling the Ambrose-Hesseltine professorship; or 2) academia responded to the attention that the debate was getting and gave the field more coverage in journals and conferences to explore an issue on which society had an interest. (In many ways, this influence has been exceptionally important, and is one of the reasons why I believe Logevall and Osgood might end up winning the debate they started in 2016 about political history).

Another strength is that there are a lot and I do mean a lot of venues for military history.  By my count there are at the moment 22 peer-reviewed academic journals published in English that do military history: 
  1. Air Power History
  2. British Journal for Military History
  3. Canadian Military History 
  4. Civil War History
  5. First World War Studies
  6. International Journal of Military History and Historiography
  7. International Journal of Naval History
  8. The Irish Sword
  9. Journal of the Australian War Memorial
  10. Journal of Chinese Military History
  11. Journal of the Civil War Era
  12. Journal of Medieval Military History
  13. The Journal of Military History
  14. Journal of Slavic Military Studies
  15. Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research
  16. Journal of Strategic Studies
  17. Military History Journal
  18. Military History of the West
  19. Small Wars & Insurgencies
  20. U.S. Military History Review
  21. War in History
  22. War & Society
There are more if you look at French-, Spanish- and/or German-language journals.  There are at least six more if you look at the journals focused on diplomatic history; the realm of strategic history is
often where military and diplomatic history meet, and these journals have often published articles that are part military, part diplomatic in nature.  Those are just the academic journals.  If one includes the professional, military periodicals that the various armed services produce, and/or the magazines aimed at the general public, this list could be very close to 100.  That is a lot of venues to get your ideas out to an audience, and places to have your work reviewed.

It is possible to go too far with this argument.  “Military history has always been marginal; unfortunately, the golden age of military history never existed,” Stone stated.  “Military history has been isolated in the academy for as long as there has been an academy.” Case in point, after he came to the Naval War College, Kansas State did not replace him.  There is also still push back in academia.  There was a prominent job search for a position in military history at a major university in 2016-2017 that apparently did not get filled.  There is all sorts of gossip as to why.  

While it is misleading to use the metaphor of a turning point, the public debate does suggest something has changed.  The real questions to ask are:  How much? Where? And for how long?

Editorial Note: click here to read part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Blog CCXXX (230): The State of Military History (Part 3)

Editorial Note: This posting is part of an exceptionally long essay on the status of military history.  Since it is over 5,000 words in length, it has been divided into four parts.  Click here to read part 1, part 2, and part 4.

In many ways, the public debate on military history slowly started to simmer down in 2009 when Wisconsin hired a historian to fill the Ambrose-Hesseltine professorship in U.S. military history.  The university either had enough funds to "top off" the accounts that fund the position, or the faculty in the history department realized they had to hire the position.  My read of the situation is that it was probably both.  I would give it a 60/40 division of responsibility, but which side you give 60 percent, and which you give 40 is something I will leave to the reader. 

In several other ways military historians scored several substantial victories.  Major venues in academic history began making concessions to military history.  By my less than stringent count, the AHA had 30 sessions related to military history at its 2015 meeting.  That same year the OAH held a roundtable on the status of military history.  Mark Grimsley made his comments available on his blog.  He argued that the field was much stronger than when he wrote "Why Military History Sucks."  He also agreed with the position that Lynn took that there were a number of different career paths for the military historian:
PhDs who specialize in military history have four viable career tracks: civilian academe, to be sure; but also PME, public history (where there is considerable demand for expertise in military history), and national security research institutions such as RAND Corporation. I once pointed this out to a colleague of mine, who shrugged it off with a jibe about the 'military-industrial-academic complex.'  The colleague, safely ensconced in a tenured berth, could afford to take such a view. My students can’t. Consequently, nor can I.  As the anecdote suggests, in my view it remains a fact that military history lags badly in terms of its acceptance within academe. This does not mean that tenured radicals are driving military history out of the academy, as the National Review asserted in 2006; much less that it has been “purged” from the academy, as the Wall Street Journal declared in 2009. In fact, there are more graduate programs in military history that at any preceding time. However, I continue to find that historians outside of military history frequently look askance at the field, usually on the basis of unexamined assumptions.
My take: this assessment is basically correct.  My quibble is with the assumption that there are  jobs for history Ph.D.s in the think tank world.  These institutions want Ph.D.s but not historians.  Other than that, he is basically correct.  Academics look down upon military history and always have, except—according to some research I have done—during the 1942-1945 time period. 

In 2010 Stone of Kansas State wrote a short, but important article, “The Future of Military History: A Glass Half Full,” in  Historical Speaking (April 2010), 33-34.  He designed this essay as a rejoinder to the symposium that had taken place in the journal on military history.  This piece is one of the most interesting contributions to this public debate, because it broke away from the "woe-upon-me" school of thought that had dominated so much of the public debate about military history's role in the profession.  “There’s good reason to believe that military history is as strong as it has ever been for all the reasons listed in the symposium.” These factors included strong enrollments, public interest in the topic, and financial support from think tanks and foundations interested in the field.  The real acid test for military history or another sub-field is employment options.  Here the evidence is ambiguous.  Trying to find a job as a history professor, regardless of specialization, is amazingly difficult these days.  Stone’s research of data from the American Historical Association found the percentage of faculty teaching military history ranged between 2 and 3 percent from 1975 to 2005.  Departments offering courses in military history fluctuated between 30 and 35 percent.  Those numbers are not particularly great, but neither are they as bad as many in the public debate had assumed.  Another factor that Stone found is quite interesting.  In absolute terms the number of military historians doubled from 1975 to 2005.  “It is worth keeping in mind that far more military historians are practicing their craft in American universities now than thirty years ago.” 

In 2012, Brian Sandberg of Northern Illinois University, writing on the blog of the Society for Military History, argued there had been a clear turning of the tide in the historiography: "In case you haven't notice, violence studies are in. There has been a steady flood of publications on warfare and violence over the past decade". He cited the publication of major works, such as Peter H. Wilson’s The Thirty Years’ War: Europe’s Tragedy, Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, and Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.  His reasons for this change were fairly simple.  "The shock of the September 2001 Attacks, the lengthy commitment of the Afghan War, and the polemics surrounding the Iraq War have all contributed to a massive growth in interest in the serious study of the history of violence and warfare."

The leadership of the SMH worked to take advantage of the turning of the tide with the release of its white paper: "The Role of Military History in the Contemporary Academy.” (I wrote about this document in Blog CXCIV (194): The SMH White Paper and the Future of Military History).  The paper hit on a major strength of military history:  "Our students’ desire for knowledge creates an important opportunity for Departments of History. The late recession has produced a drop in humanities majors as students seek courses that seem more likely to produce an immediate payoff in terms of jobs and wages. Legislative budget cuts have forced even state schools to conform to a tuition-driven model, and departments that cannot attract a sufficient number of students can expect hard times to get harder." All of that is true, but that fact that students often vote with their feet or their tuition is something that decision makers should consider. "University college administrators, particularly college deans and chairs of History Departments, may find some relief in the appeal of military history. Courses in military history tend to fill, not only with history majors and minors, but also with students from other disciplines who are interested in the field. And because military history intersects regularly with the profession’s other subfields, it can serve as an ideal gateway to the other specializations any given History Department has to offer. It may, as well, lure back some of the students who have been drawn away to political science, international relations, and public policy departments."

Because of this shift—which was subtle—critiques in journalistic venues went into hibernation for several years.  In 2016 Robert Neer reopened the debate with an article in Aeon, the digital magazine of ideas and culture. In "The US Military is Everywhere, Except History Books," Neer stated that "academic historians, especially those at the nation’s most richly endowed research universities, largely ignore the history of the US military."

Ann Little on her Historiann blog made her feelings clear with the title of a post on this topic entitled: "Here We Go Again: Military Historian Complains that No One Teaches or Writes about Military History Any More, Part Eleventybillion."  She observed: "Yes, it’s a perennial complaint we hear about the absence of military history, although it’s usually part of a not-very-sophisticated political attack on the other fields history departments also represent these days."  She makes another strong point:
If Neer were remotely curious about the world west of the Hudson River, he might discover that hundreds of state universities and colleges–Aggies, and the directionals, primarily, like North Texas, Texas A&M (two very prominent military history bastions he mentions in his article!), not to mention the University of Colorado and Colorado State University–hire in military history, teach military history classes, and promote colleagues who research and write in the field.  But none of this matters because Harvard, Yale, and Columbia don’t!  

Although this point is a strong one, I am of two minds of it.  First, I agree with Little; there is a lot more to the historical profession than the departments of eight private schools in the northeast.  On
the other hand, the Clauset, Arbesman, and Larremore, "Systematic Inequality" article that I spent so much time discussing on this blog makes it clear that eight schools (just not the eight in the Ivy League) are responsible for filling the majority of the good jobs in the profession and that kind of influence is significant.  So, there might be sound reason for getting upset about what a small handful of schools are doing, or not doing. 

Paul Huard wrote a news story on the defense news web site: War is Boring.  The title of  his article is interesting: "The Battle Over U.S. Military History Loved by Ordinary Americans, Hated by Scholars? The Answer is More Complicated Than You Might Think," but the piece fails to deliver on the complexity it suggests.   Huard repeats the argument that military was dominated academia in the past—it did not—and the old argument that it is popular with the general public, just not academics.  “I’m not going to criticize anyone’s interest in any kind of history,” Little is quoted in the story. “We need audiences to buy and read our books. But I will suggest that popular writers of the ‘battles, bullets and bios’ school underestimate their reading audience.”  She also adds: “I think anyone who will buy and read serious nonfiction should be treated like a sentient and thoughtful adult who can handle the complexity or ambiguity of warfare. Many, if not all, are not necessarily looking for another heroic biography or another reflexively and stupidly patriotic treatment of military history.”

Little appreciated the article: "Interestingly, both in Huard’s article and in recent private correspondence between me and Neer, we probably agree on more than we disagree."

Neer and Huard were not the only ones advancing these views in 2016.  Max Boot, wrote an article "Teaching to the Narrative" in Commentary magazine on the Logevall and Osgood debate on political history.  He was sympathetic to their arguments, but tried to turn the conversation back to military history: "The failure is even more serious in the field of military history which has been all but drummed out of the prestigious universities."

Editorial Note: click here to read part 1, part 2, and part 4.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Blog CCXXIX (229): The State of Military History (Part 2)

Editorial Note: This posting is part of an exceptionally long essay on the status of military history.  Since it is over 5,000 words in length, it has been divided into four parts.  Click here to read part 1, part 3, and part 4.

The wide-spread attention that these articles garnered had an impact among academic historians.  Two of the main journals within history—The Journal of American History and the American Historical Review—published historiographical assessment of military history in 2007.  These two articles were:
  • Wayne E. Lee, “Mind and Matter—Cultural Analysis in American Military History: A Look at the State of the Field,” Journal of American History, 93 (March 2007), 1116-1160
  • Robert M. Citino, “Military Histories Old and New: A Reintroduction,” American Historical Review, 112 (October 2007), 1070-1090. 
Lee's article was the centerpiece of a roundtable in the JAH on the state of military history.  Lee, a professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, examines the cultural turn in military
history, which he sees as a different topic and approach from the social history approach that had been so central to the "war and society" view of military history.   A number of historians: Sir Basil Liddell Hart, Russell Weigley, Victor Davis Hanson, and John Keegan have pushed the idea that there are cultural norms within the military and the larger society that shape a distinctive approach to war.  This article was an interesting historiographical examination of work on the U.S. Army, and—to a much lesser degree—the U.S. Air Force.  “Cultural analysis in military history should connect that "idea template" to wartime behavior, while recognizing that there may be different templates at different levels with in the military and the political leadership,” he argued. 

Four historians offered their assessments in the pages that followed.  A trio of foreign scholars (Brian P. Farrell of the National University of Singapore, Marc Milner of the University of New Brunswick, and Brian Holden Reid of King’s College London) argued that there was a need for comparative studies of the U.S. and British Armies to see if there really was a distinct cultural approach to war as so many argue.  Ronald H. Spector in his commentary added that ground power dominated military history and that scholars needed to look more at naval power.

The other major article of 2007 was Robert M. Citino’s “Military Histories Old and New: A Reintroduction,” a 20 page historiography.  He starts the article with a tired observation: “Military
history today is in the same curious position it has been in for decades: extremely popular with the American public at large, and relatively marginalized within professional academic circles.”  He also notes “its academic footprint continues to shrink, and it has largely vanished from the curriculum of many of our elite universities.  It has been this way for a long time, and frankly, there seems little chance that things will change any time soon.”  Fortunately, he does not spend the rest of this essay belaboring this point.  He notes that there are three main subjects that military history explores: war and society; operational history; and the history of memory.  His discussion of the literature goes back a hundred years to the work of English and German Medieval historians who tied changes in military technology to the rise of feudalism.  (Historians since have disputed these views).  He also discusses more recent military histories of Ancient Greece, Rome and then moves to Southwest, South, and East Asia before spending a good deal of time in early modern Europe, and then the United States. 

Despite this wide ranging account, he did not get to everything.  His analysis ignored accounts about the application of military power at sea and in the air.  (Then again, not many people write on these topics.  That probably has something to do with a larger unfamiliarity with the sea and the air as transportation venues among historians.  There is plenty of scholarship on railroads and the auto industry; far less on maritime or aviation history).  His study also tended to ignore strategic history—where military, political, and diplomatic history collide.  (This field is one in which social scientists rather historians dominate, so there might have been good reasons for Citino to pull his punches).   The long and short of it is this essay is an impressive, wide-ranging study that shows the diversity of military history.  If one is looking for a quick introduction to the field, they would have a difficult time trying to find a better starting point.

As these articles were going into print, another venue of opinion journalism fired a shot in this debate.  David A. Bell, a historian of Napoleonic France at Princeton University and a contributing editor for The New Republic entered the fray with his essay "Casualties of War: Military History Bites the Dust."  Bell argued the military history suffered because of the success of other fields. "Most historians pay scant attention to military history," he noted, "particularly the part that concerns actual military operations."  That might be a luxury that universities could no longer afford as the United States was in the midst of a long fight in the shadows against terrorists organizations like Al-Qaeda. 
In the real world, nonintellectual concerns constantly impinge upon what professors teach and write, while the question of the university's civic—as opposed to intellectual—obligations is not easily put aside. During the cold war, the government and private institutions like the Ford Foundation provided impressive funding for various sorts of 'area studies,' so as to increase American understanding of the regions in which we might find ourselves confronting the Soviets. It was not a question of forcing existing professors to teach or write on new subjects, but of encouraging movement into the desired areas.
The issue even entered the presidential campaign of 2008 when Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, a candidate for the Republican nomination, blamed the decline of military history on the ideological nature of university faculty.  "History that ignores the importance of warfare is not history," he remarked in a radio address.

In 2008 Lynn wrote another article on the state of military history for Academic Questions, the journal of the National Association of Scholars.  He argued in "Breaching the Walls of Academe: The Purposes, Problems, and Prospects of Military History" that there were three different kinds of military history: 1) popular; 2) academic; and 3) applied.  With those three distinctions in mind, much Military History, which boasts eighty thousand readers; its own book clubs; and now its own television channels. There is a great deal of money to be made on popular military history."  The problem with popular military history, he explains, is that to reach as wide an audience as possible it must take a superficial approach, which creates problems for academic military historians. 
of the criticism that had been fired in journalistic venues was aimed at the refusal of academic institutions to teach operational military history.  One of the odd things about history Ph.D.s is that there is not much of a demand for that degree outside of academia compared to a Ph.D. in other fields like civil engineering, economics, or marketing.  The military history Ph.D., as Lynn notes, is something of an exception: "Popular military history is, indeed, an industry. It fills bookracks in the United States and around the world. It has its own magazines and journals, for example,

I am not sure that Lynn is entirely correct.  What is popular with the public is the history of combat at the tactical and operational levels.  A lot of what the public consumes is superficial, but that probably has more to do with the venue than anything else.  (How much detail does a sixty minute documentary give compared to a book in even a best case scenario?)

Lynn is on better ground in his discussions of applied military history.  I should note that applied military history is basically what I do at the U.S Naval War College.  Lynn describes applied military history as "the use of military history as part of the professional education of officers and as a guide in establishing doctrine and planning and waging war."

From my experiences working at a military school, this point is basically correct.  The study of the past is exceptionally important to most armed services.  The military uses history as part of its professional development in a way few, if any, other professions do in contemporary American society.  "Historical examples can provide warnings against poorly conceived actions on strategic, operational, and tactical levels or in weaponry and logistics, while also suggesting more effective courses to follow. In addition, knowledge of the past can serve as a kind of checklist pointing the way to important factors to be considered now and in the future." 

Lynn makes one final point that in many ways gives historians of this field more influence than those in other sub-fields: "Military historians should be cognizant and proud of the fact that we pursue one of the rare sub-specialties of historical scholarship that is actually regarded as important for training and guidance by real world practitioners."

The debate even made the pages of the news magazine U.S. News & World Report when it was still a print publication.  In "Why Don't More Colleges Teach Military History?," Lee of UNC, Chapel Hill, offered the novel argument that the popularizers were actually a liability to military historians.   “They can make us look primitive in our approach to history,” he told the magazine.  “The solution isn’t to complain about it, but to try and generate military historians who do good work and creative work and who can speak the same language their colleagues do.”

In other ways, the article advanced the "woe-upon-me-as-the-honest-but-oppressed-military-historian" take on the field.  "Each of us is pretty much a one-man shop,” Carol Reardon of Penn State University told the magazine.  Russian military historian David R. Stone—then of Kansas State University, now a departmental colleague of mine—disputed this comment: “While it is certainly true that military historians are often isolated within their departments, that’s true of most historians in most fields.  I am part of a military history program at Kansas State, but when it comes to Russian and Soviet history here, it begins and ends with me.”  

The debate grew in force in 2009 when two major New York newspapers picked up on the topic.  In May, The Wall Street Journal printed the comments of Lewis E. Lehrman at the New-York Historical Society.  Lehrman, an investment banker who ran for governor of New York in 1982 as the Republican nominee, had played a role in establishing historical centers for the study of the U.S. Civil War at Yale University and Gettysburg College.  "The study of military history has in fact been purged from many of the faculties and curriculums of the universities of the Western world," he stated. "How did this happen? Perhaps it is explicable by some form of political correctness; or, parochial specialization; or, the armchair unrealism of the faculty lounge; even ivory tower snobbery—among other related social diseases."

A month later The New York Times entered the fray with a news article entitled:"Great Caesar’s Ghost! Are Traditional History Courses Vanishing?"  The article had a tone and took sides: 
Simply giving everyone a place at the table is just not affordable in an era of shrinking resources. “I’d love to let a hundred flowers bloom,” said Alonzo L. Hamby, a history professor at Ohio University in Athens, but “it’s hard for all but the largest departments or the richest.” In his own department of about 30 faculty members, a military historian recently retired, triggering a vigorous debate over how to advertise for a replacement. (A handful of faculty members had the view that “military history is evil,” Mr. Hamby said.) The department finally agreed to post a listing for a specialist in "U.S. and the world," he said, “the sort of mushy description that could allow for a lot of possibilities.”
Since this story was in The New York Times, it resulted in a flurry of commentary on blogs all over the internet.  All of them in disagreement:
The Historical Society devoted several issues of its journal, Historical Speaking, to discussions on the status of "traditional fields."  These included: intellectual history, military history, economic history, and naval history.
    My personal assessment is that these arguments are premised on the assumption that things were different in the days before Vietnam.  My own research on this topic, suggests quite strongly, that military history has never been a popular topic among academia...ever.  I wrote a paper on Theodore Roosevelt's tenure as president of the American Historical Association.  He was AHA president after his stay in the White House.  Needless to say, getting Roosevelt to serve in this position was a major coup for the organization.  The details, though, were a little less impressive.  Roosevelt decided to run for President again in 1912 and never attended any meetings of the AHA officers.  Most of the work of the AHA president feel on the vice president for that year.  Roosevelt did attend the 1913 annual meeting and gave the presidential address.  He also attended a session and spoke on the status of military history.  It was not a popular topic at the time, and many of the complaints people made in 1912 about the hostility of their colleagues towards their topics sound awful lot like those made a 100 years later.

    Editorial Note: click here to read part 1, part 3, and part 4.

    Wednesday, April 5, 2017

    Blog CCXXVIII (228): The State of Military History (Part 1)

    Editorial Note: This posting is part of an exceptionally long essay on the status of military history.  Since it is over 5,000 words in length, it has been divided into four parts.  Click here to read part 2, part 3, and part 4.

    The X-Men
    In 1963 Marvel Comics created the X-Men series, which in 2000 spawned into an extremely successful film franchise.  The X-Men characters are genetic mutations who have superhuman powers because of the presence of an extra gene.  These powers makes the X-Men special, but it also engenders hostility from the rest of society.  The irony of that situation makes the X-Men a very powerful metaphor to discuss a number of very different topics.

    Military history and its relationship to the rest of the profession is like the X-Men characters.  In many ways the field is at the bottom of the professional hierarchy, at least in academia.  In other ways, it is one of the strongest fields in the history business today.  Reflecting both those apparently contradictory assessments, there has been a long public debate on the status of the field.  Historians love to examine their fate and debate the state of their fields. These type of debates usually take  place in academic journals where the main audience is a professional one.  In this day and age, though, there are a number of other venues in which to advocate or commentate, and the debate on the fate of military history has often involved non-historians for better or for worse. 

    This debate was not the first examination on the status of military history.  There was a big one in the 1980s as the war and society approach grew in popularity.  This exchange, though, was traditional in nature.  It took place in academic journals and was aimed at specialists.  For examples, see:
    • Richard H. Kohn, "The Social History of the American Soldier: A Review and Prospectus for Research," American Historical Review, 86 (June 1981), 553-567.
    • Peter Karsten, "The 'New' American Military History: A Map of the Territory, Explored and Unexplored," American Quarterly, 36 (no. 3, 1984), 389-418
    • Edward M. Coffman, "The New American Military History," Military Affairs, 48 (Jan. 1984), 1-5
    • John Whiteclay Chambers II, "The New Military History: Myth and Reality," Journal of Military History, 55 (July 1991), 395-40
    The public deliberation that I plan to discuss here focuses on the status of the field within the historical profession, and could easily be called the "Why Do They Hate Us So Much?" debate.  It started in the mid-1990s when Mark Grimsley of The Ohio State University, published an essay on his blog that soon became famous: "Why Military History Sucks."  He argued that other historians turned a blind eye to the field of military history because its quality was not particularly good:
    Indeed, I would argue that the best military history is usually done by people who were not trained as military specialists. And the fact that they do do it should suggest not only their interest in military affairs but also the fact that they have to do it—that when they pose a historical question related to military affairs, too often no military historian ever thought of the question before or thought it was worth exploring. We were too busy writing about our subject in a way that did not connect with the concerns of non-military historians.
    Grimsley's argument, though, was one that a lot of other military historians rejected.  For a good example, see: John A. Lynn II, “The Embattled Future of Academic Military History,” Journal of Military History, 61 (October 1997), 777-789.

    There things might have stood—a debate fought on the pages of academic journals and a specialized blog with a very small audience—had it not been for Stephen E. Ambrose.  I have written about Ambrose and his many professional shortcomings, but one of the cooler things he decided to do was donate a big chunk of change to the University of Wisconsin to create an endowed position in military history.  Depending on your view, one of two things happened: 1) Ambrose did not provide quite enough money to fund a chair and Wisconsin had to use its own funds and investment revenues to cover the hidden costs of a faculty position (pension contributions, health care costs, etc.), or 2) the faculty in the department rebelled and simply refused to fill the position.

    John J. Miller, the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College, took the later view.  He wrote an article in the National Review"Sounding Taps: Why Military History is Being Retired."  He savaged the Wisconsin history department's refusal to fill the Ambrose professorship.  Miller's take was dire, as his title suggests, and he contended that the leadership of the historical professional was marginalizing the field:
    Military historians who try for a more conventional career, however, often confront the academic equivalent of urban warfare, with snipers behind every window and ambushes around every corner. “You shouldn’t go into this field unless you really love the work,” warns [Dennis] Showalter [of Colorado College]. “And you have to be ready, like Booker T. Washington, to cast down your bucket where you are.” Many talented scholars wind up taking positions at second-rate institutions because they don’t have other options.
    This article got a good deal of attention, which is a bit of an understatement.  It got reposted on the blog of the historical society: Randall J. Stephens, "Which History?" The Historical Society Blog.  Other commentary followed and there was an exchange about it on the H-Net discussion group dedicated to military history: H-War.  

    At this point, Mark Grimsley entered the debate again.  He pushed back on Miller's attack on both his blog and the History News Network.  The two had an e-mail exchange, which they both made public, and came into agreement on the fact that Wisconsin had an obligation to fill the position, but disagreed on why the university had failed at that point to do so.  "Yours are crocodile tears. You'd love to see us disappear, because it would make a nice talking point in the increasingly stupid culture wars."

    Victor Davis Hanson joined in the fight with an article, “Why Study War?” that was published in City Journal  (Summer 2007), the quarterly of the Manhattan Institute.  A historian of ancient Greece and Rome, he was a Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.  His take was similar to Miller's: “The academic neglect of war is even more acute today.  Military history as a discipline has atrophied, with very few professorships, journal articles, or degree programs.”

    Editorial Note: click here to read part 2, part 3, and part 4.