Sunday, July 25, 2010

New Tools for Military History (Part 1)

Originally Posted by Chris at 10/16/2006 9:49 PM...

Last week, "HJ", one of the commenters in our discussion of the needfor new theoretical tools to use in Military History as part of Dr. Grimsley's campaign to create a broader military history, wrote that we should be careful not to refight the last war like Generals with no vision:
While some work in gender and history would be good, we need to be careful of avoiding most of the debris left by Postmodernism, since, quite frankly, it's dying. While there are some good, cool things for us to loot from it's corpse, we shouldn't go overboard. Rather than say, old women's history, read the latest in true Gender history.

Remember, that military history, with good reason, rejected a great deal of the theory of the past as simply not that relevant. What we need to do is not look to what historians have toyed with in the past few years, but look how we can move the field forward. In other words, let's not look back for approval, but forge a movement in history that incorporates us. It's coming, especially in transmodernism and transnationalism, and we need to be at the forefront of those studies, I think best.
HJ has a good point. Not only should we not reinvent the wheel, or fall into the balkanization of many little disparate and warring ideologies, but we shouldn't just adopt new theoretical models just to look more "grown up" or "serious" as a discipline. This is just common sense, but it would be easy to blindly adopt outmoded theories without seriously evaluating whether they actually add something for actual analysis.

I also like the idea of moving forward into new areas to find tools, but I'm not so sure exactly what transnationalism is, much less transmodernism. Luckily, there are some military historians that are already looking at these two areas, and presented their ideas at this year's Society for Military History Annual Meeting. Unfortunately, I've not been able to find actual papers or proceedings, so I have not idea what Leif Torkelsen or Dirk Bonner said in their presentations. The SMH website offers no clues. JSTOR and Wilson Omega Full Text are no better. My next steps are obvious: contact SMH to see if copies of presentations are available. If not, I guess I'll be getting my first experience contacting strangers to ask them about their work.

A brief look at articles about transmodernism found on the Internet paints a confusing picture. The Wikipedia article (admittedly not the best source) says that
"Transmodernism consist of a set of attitudes, sometimes part of the general culture, antagonistically aimed at critical theories perceived as relativist, nihilist, counter-Enlightenment or antimodern, particularly in relationship to critiques of rationalism, universalism, foundationalism or science. It is also sometimes used to describe social changes which are held to be confluent with traditional systems of philosophy, religion, and morality."
It also says that:
"Transmodernity" looks forward to a world where technology holds the easy answers to all human dilemmas, while reinvigorating traditional humanist values and can be characterized by:
- The belief that all non-mathematical communication is shaped by cultural bias, myth, metaphor, and political content.
- The assertion that all non-mathematical meaning and experience can only be created by the individual, and cannot be made objective by an author or narrator.
- Acceptance of the evolution of mathematics as the supreme and absolute meta-narrative avaiable to us, which may lead to a decline of international religious conflicts.
It is obvious that something more coherent is necessary in order to understand exactly what transmodernism is, and what it might be able to do for advancing military history. The second portion of the above definition seems like a idealistic vision in which everything can be reduced to numerical values, and feels a bit like New Age meets Star Trek.

Luckily, Mike Cole at Bishop Grosseteste College provides a look at how transmodernism and Marxism can provide insight into the conquest of the Americas by Europeans. In addition to his analysis, Cole articulates a view of transmodernism that might actually be used to analyze events:
• not so much a way of thinking as a new way of living in relation to Others;
• anti-Eurocentrism;
• anti-(US)imperialism;
• analogic reasoning: reasoning from outside the system of global domination;
• analectic interaction: listening to the voices of ‘suffering Others’ and interacting democratically
with suffering Others;
• reverence for (indigenous and ancient) traditions of religion, culture, philosophy and morality;
• rejection of totalising synthesis.
Anti-Eurocentricism and anti-imperialism, particularly of the American variety, form the core of Cole's interpretation of transmodernism. For him, the key is that transmodernism focuses on the European North's systematic oppression and exploitaion of the undeveloped South. This, combined with an argument that transmodernism's main value is that it argues that Western intellectuals have not accepted the "historical responsibilities" of European domination of the globe.

Paul H. Ray provides a different view of transmodernism, tracing its origins to "esoteric spiritual movements that grew out of the Renaissance and continue to today in the rise of new religions, and also in the transcendental movement of the early to mid-nineteenth century with Emerson and the Transcendentalists. They are also found worldwide in the writings of various intellectuals of the mid-twentieth century, in the New Age movement, in the humanistic psychology and transpersonal psychology movements, in the ecology movement, and in the women's movement, which all date from the 1960s on." Ray's approach to transmodernism is all about the shift in cultural paradigms from traditional to modern, and then from modern to transmodern, or as he puts it "Integral". Ray's thesis is that the paradigm shift from "modern" to "transmodern" is about values and lifestyle choices: globalization, ecological sustainability, women's issues, alrtuism, spiritualism, and social consciousness. These are the values that indicate that lead the people who are at the forefront of the transmodern movement want to reintegrate their communites, nations, and to synthesize multiple views and traditions from East and West.

Clearly these two competing ideas of what transmodernism is need more refining before they can be used as analytical tools for any kind of history. Hopefully the talk given by Leif Torkelsen, when combined with the originating documents of transmodernism will provide a more stable base for future analysis.

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