Blogs > Cliopatria > The History of Military History - Pt 1

Feb 15, 2006 9:27 pm

The History of Military History - Pt 1

Cross-posted from Blog Them Out of the Stone Age

The recent laments about the stepchild status of academic military history have spurred me toward a project I've had in the back of my mind for some time: an historiographical review of the field. Through the miracle of blogging, I'm not obliged to present this in linear order. Nevertheless, my point of departure occurs fairly early--almost fifty years ago in fact--when historians Arthur A. Ekirch, Jr. and Tyson Wilson squared off at a joint session of the American Historical Association and the American Military Institute (the forerunner of the Society for Military History). The session, entitled"Military History: Pro and Con," took place at the annual meeting of the AHA on December 30, 1956, somewhere in the bowels of the Hotel Sheraton-Jefferson in St. Louis, Missouri.

Thirty-seven year old Richard C. Brown served as chair. A professor at the State University of New York College For Teachers, Buffalo, he had recently produced a 61-page pamphlet, issued the Air University, entitled The Teaching of Military History in Colleges and Universities of the United States. He would eventually revise his 1951 University of Wisconsin doctoral dissertation into Social Attitudes of American Generals, 1898-1940 (Arno Press, 1979).

Ekirch, who passed away in February 2000, was in 1956 a forty-one professor at The American University in Washington, D.C., having studied at Columbia under the great intellectual-cultural historian Merle Curti. Ekirch was drafted during World War II but served out his enlistment in a camp for conscientious objectors. Lawrence S. Wittner, who wrote Ekirch's obituary for the AHA Perspectives, observed that Ekirch, far from home and compelled to perform hard labor," considered himself 'a political prisoner.' For the rest of his life, his personality and views were deeply marked by the experience."

At the time of the AHA/AMI session Ekirch had published three major works: The Idea of Progress in America, 1815-1860 (whose page proofs he corrected while in the camp for CO's), The Decline of American Liberalism (Longmans, Green, 1955) and The Civilian and the Military (Oxford University Press, 1956). A few years hence he would help found the Conference on Peace Research in History, nowadays called The Peace History Society.

Of Tyson Wilson I know much less, save that in 1956 he was on the faculty of the Virginia Military Institute and is today an Emeritus Professor of History with the rank of Colonel. At the time of the session he would have been four years beyond his B.S. from New York University; he would eventually receive an M.A. from Yale University in 1985.

The titles of the two presentations are suggestive:"Military History: A Civilian Caveat" (Ekirch) and"The Case for Military History and Research" (Wilson). Both were published by Military Affairs the following summer; I have supplied stable URLs to each, though you will need access to JSTOR in order to read them online. The traditional citations are:

Arthur A. Ekirch, Jr.,"Military History: A Civilian Caveat," Military Affairs, vol. 21, no. 2 (Summer 1957), 49-54.

Tyson Wilson,"The Case for Military History and Research," Military Affairs, vol. 21, no. 2 (Summer 1957), 54-60.

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Ralph E. Luker - 2/16/2006

David, I'm not sure what relevance your point has for Mark's argument, because it's not layed out yet. What you say is probably true of Colonel Wilson, though expectation of publication at VMI has never been terribly high. But it isn't true of Arthur Ekirch, who published 8 or 9 books over his career. He was a well-known and well-respected historian of his generation. I'd like to know what percentage of this generation of historians will have published 8 or 9 books by the end of their careers.

David Lion Salmanson - 2/16/2006

How interesting that neither one of these gentlement would land (or more correctly, keep) a full time academic job today given their paltry publications.

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