Blogs > Cliopatria > An Additional Post Card for John J. Miller, National Review Online

Sep 29, 2006 4:42 am

An Additional Post Card for John J. Miller, National Review Online

Cross-posted from Blog Them Out of the Stone Age

Jeez, where to begin?

The NRO article makes much of the apparent failure of the American Historical Review to publish much concerning military history. But it overlooks the fact the 2004 annual meeting of the American Historical Association had as its theme"Thoughts on War in a Democratic Age." And while there is truth in the fact that the American Historical Review seldom publishes military history, no one has checked independently to see if 1) military historians are actually submitting articles for consideration by the journal; and 2) the submissions meet the high standards expected from any flagship professional journal.

A contraindication may be had by noting that the Journal of American History, generally considered to be as"leftist" as the AHR, has in fact commissioned an article on the current state of the field of American military history. Wayne E. Lee, a rising star at the University of North Carolina, is currently completing that study.

Noticing that miitary historians were no longer even trying the organize sessions dealing with their field, the program committee for the 1996 Organization of American Historians annual meeting used its clout to insist upon a"presidential session" that showcased military history. I suspect the 1997 program may have done the same. In any event, at the request of a committee member I organized a session for the 1996 OAH -- the subject was race and war in the American experiences; panelists included the late Craig M. Cameron of Old Dominion University,myself, and Brian M. Linn of Texas A&M, as well as our commentator, Tami Davis Biddle, then of Duke University. Our moderator was John Shy of the University of Michigan.

The 1997 OAH panel took the form of a round table on the future of teaching military history in civilian academe. In this case, I can't recall who else was on the panel -- maybe I can look it up -- but I recall that Richard H. Kohn presided over it.

No doubt about it, some in academia indeed view military history with jaundiced eye, just as others are impatient with women's history or unwilling to provide enough faculty positions to cover adequately the non-North American, non-European regions of the world. And it must also be acknowledged, candidly, that military historians have not always been good ambassadors for their field. But the situation is nowhere near as bleak as the article portrays.

The business about the"problem" of the infiltration of social history into military history, for its part, is by far the weakest part of the article. Edward M. Coffman, the Wisconsin professor emeritus the author praises in the second paragraph of "Sounding Taps," was in fact a social historian of the American army. Coffman wrote two classic works on the subject -- The Old Army: A Portrait of the American Army in Peacetime, 1784-1898, and The Regulars: The American Army, 1898-1941 -- and trained a generation of fine military historians, many of whom employ the same approach; e.g., Joseph T. Glatthaar's Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers.

The article quotes John A. Lynn on his belief that once he retires from the University of Illinois, he will probably not be replaced. But it overlooks the fact that in 1997, Lynn wrote a classic article for the Journal of Military History in which he argued that gender history and the new cultural history provide powerful tools by which to get at a core concern of military history: the experience of combat.

I could go on longer -- and I think I will. But first, time for a steaming cup of coffee.

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