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.

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