Could the New Military History rescue the humanities?

Historians in the News

 According to an oft-repeated urban myth, the backlash to the Vietnam War that supposedly radicalized American higher education in the 1960s and 1970s, relegated military history to pariah status.  While a few institutions seem to have turned their backs on military history, military historians have continued to find jobs at many colleges and universities.  

            At the same time, the sub-field has matured in ways that makes it increasingly relevant to the historical profession in general.  Military historians no longer write just about battles, campaigns, and commanders.  Schooled in the latest scholarly tends, they have applied the insights and methodologies of social, cultural, gender, economic, political, diplomatic, and institutional history to their work.

            Due to military history’s popularity with the general public, its practitioners are constructing a gateway that can benefit both the departments that employ them and the entire humanities community.  Military history courses generally attract high enrollments, including a substantial number of “buffs” who might be persuaded to become history majors or minors.  Doctoral programs that worry about their graduates finding employment appropriate to their education should take note of the many military historians who work for the Department of Defense and National Park Service.  

            The attached Society for Military History White Paper on The Role of Military History in the Contemporary Academy provides a brief history of the sub-field’s evolution over the past forty years.  The authors also explain how the inclusion of military history can add depth and insight to college curricula.  This is especially important for the citizens of the world’s mightiest military power, which frequently projects its force to the furthest corners of the world.  America’s future leaders need to better understand the nature of war – its uses, its costs, and its long-lasting consequences.

            This white paper raises important issues regarding the future of American higher education, and the Society for Military History welcomes hearing from anyone who would like to join in this conversation.

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