Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Military History Debate

Posted by Chris at 10/9/2006 7:52 PM...

There's a new debate raging through the blogosphere, at least the academic and conservative parts of it. The issue is an unlikely one - the (deplorable) state of Military History as an academic discipline in the academy. The debate was started by John J. Miller's article "Sounding Taps", which appeared at National Review Online. The gist of Miller's article was that Military Historians were being driven out of America's university's by what he and other conservatives call the "tenured radicals".

The idea is that these far left, touchy-feely types are letting Military History die a slow death by not hiring replacements for Military Historians who leave the academy - John Lynn of UIUC being one of the examples. These historians, it seems are to be replaced with cultural and social historians. Worse, the courses in military history that continue to be offered are tarnished by focusing not only on bombs and bullets, trumpets and drums operational military history, but by including the cultural and social aspects of the wars studied. Evidently the cultural and social reasons behind war - reasons for fighting, determination of the types of forces and weapons used, goals, and the aftermath - don't belong in the classrooms of Military Historians. Looking at Miller's argument, only how, what, and where are important, not the why of war.

Miller does cite some Military Historians, including one of the professors from one of my alma mater's - Sam Houston State University, where I earned an M.A. with an emphasis in Military History. The professor cited, Dr. Robert Bruce, teaches the department's courses in World War I and the Napoleonic Wars. I never took his courses, inStead taking a course on the Antebellum South & Civil War with his wife, Dr. Susannah Bruce. The Military History program at SHSU is sizable, as is its focus on another out of fashion discipline, Diplomatic History. His take on the question of Military History's status at universities is that Military Historians are being hunted down like dogs by the leftists that their entire discipline offends as being unseemly. Of course, Miller offers this as a one-liner, so we don't know anything else about Dr. Bruce's response, or whether it was more thoughtful than that.

On the other side of the debate stands Associate Professor Mark Grimsley of Ohio State University, who argues that Military History's status at American Universities is not quite as bad as Miller portrays. Dr. Grimsley points to strong Military History programs at places like Texas A&M, Duke/UNC-Chapel Hill, and other universities as signs that the discipline still exists. Military History also persists in places like SHSU, which was just approved for a PhD program, and Alabama. Grimsley meets Miller head on, arguing that Military Historians are all capable of dealing with operational issues such as what happened at Antietam, and why the Army of the Potomac didn't pursue Lee's forces, and that the social and cultural aspects of war are also very important.

The biggest contribution that Dr. Grimsley has made, other than his point-by-point defense of the field, is his new organization, The Military History Foundation, which is designed to work with donors and schools to find funding and positions for Military Historians. Grimsley also wants to push Military Historians into further developing the theoretical base of the field beyond trumpets and drums. He has previous noted at his blog that the last time this happened was twenty years ago with the "Military Revolution Debate", which focused on whether changes in military organizations (how war was fought, modern weapons, etc...) forced the creation of string central governments in Europe during the 17th century, or whether the development of stronger central governments caused the changes in how wars were fought. The point, of course, it to show that Military History has more to offer than just discussions of who marched where, who lost, and provide all the gory bits to titillate undergrads.

Obviously, I have a direct interest in this, as my own interests lie primarily in Military History, and it is a struggle to find a good program for it that is also located near a law school that would be a good fit for my wife. I don't have the experience in the field to really know which side is closer to the truth, but I do know that it is not easy to find an appropriate program to study at beyond the M.A.

No comments:

Post a Comment