Saturday, December 8, 2012

Military History in Academia

A couple of weeks ago, Ed Hooper wrote in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tried to resurrect the debate about the decline of military history in American schools of all levels by using Medal of Honor winner Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta and other celebrations of military history to show that while our culture honors the media, our intellectuals don't.  The core of his argument is the claim that not only has military history been chased out of elementary and secondary education in addition to colleges and universities because post-modernists reject the idea of heroes and villains required to teach such patriotic subjects as military history.  Of course, since he is writing an op-ed, Hooper doesn't bother to provide any evidence of the decline he fears, or that it is post-modern attitudes on the behalf of the educational establishment that are responsible for such a decline.

As he has in the past, Prof. Mark Grimsley of Ohio State responded by vigorously defending the continued existence of military history in all levels of the American educational system.  Unlike Hooper, Grimsley uses both anecdotes and evidence to show increasing numbers of graduate programs in military history and interest at the K-12 level.  Grimsley also shows that Wisconsin added a new endowed chair in military history.

As much as Grimsley's comments make me feel better about my discipline, I still have to acknowledge that it is more difficult for a military historian to find a tenure track job than historians in many other disciplines.  In this, I am in the same boat as political, diplomatic, and economic historians, who find themselves at a disadvantage compared to historians working in gender, cultural, or religious history.  This is much the same disadvantage that recent graduates with PhDs in Modern United States History find themselves at when compared to historians of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.

Despite this, my experience is not that military history has disappeared from the academy at any level.  While Hooper can claim that military history disappeared from K-12 education generations ago, my experience is different.  As a student in both DoD and regular public schools from 1976-1989, I ran into the ideas of military history in both settings.  My sixth grade teacher in Rantoul, Illinois taught the most complete view of the Civil War that I saw until I reached college.  My eighth grade history teacher acted out the British charge at Breed's Hill in our classroom (using his cane to simulate a musket with bayonet).  We learned about the Minutemen at all levels of school, and about heroes such as Nathan Hale, executed for spying by the British.

I'm a member of Gen-X.  That makes my elementary and secondary school education decades ago, and we got a surfeit of military history in the classroom.

As an undergrad, I got military history in almost every history class I took.  USF offered courses (among others)in Ancient History by Bill Murray and G. Kelly Tipps, the Civil War by John Belohlavek, the Vietnam War and United States Military History by Cecil B. Currey, and addressed military topics in most other classes, including the History of Baseball.  All of that at a university that the Princeton and Barron's college guides of the day called "a throwback to the 1960s."  USF may have changed in the 20 years since I left, but I think Hooper is making too much of this issue.

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