Ann M. Little (AKA: Historiann) insists military history IS taught at colleges and she’s teaching itHistorians in the News
tags: military history
I am not a disinterested observer. Since 2011, when I received my PhD in history from Columbia University, I have taught a course called‘Empire of Liberty: A Global History of the US Military’ on and off at the university during the summers – a survey of ideas and events from King Philip’s War in 1675 to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. It surprised me to discover that this was the first course on the history of the US military in many years at Columbia. It startled me even more to learn that there is little research into the history of military power at elite US universities (themselves key players, ironically, in the story: Columbia and the University of Chicago gave us atomic weapons, Harvard invented napalm, and MIT and others are major military research centres). In fact, academics nationwide often dismiss military history as the home of fetishists of suffering and antiquarians obsessed with swords, muskets and battlefield tours.
In one of history’s great ironies, when I read Neer’s article, I had just minutes earlier sent another draft of an essay I’ve written for The Routledge Handbook of Gender, War, and the U.S. Military to my editors, Meredith H. Lair (George Mason) and Kara Vuic (Texas Christian University). Lair and Vuic are two military historians who seem to have found employment at accredited universities in a profession that allegedly refuses to recognize the legitimacy of their field. Amazeballs!!! But apparently Lair, Vuic, and I–not to mention our teaching and research–don’t exist, at least not according to Robert Neer. So what gives? Why are we completely invisible to some military historians?
As even one of Neer’s informants within the academy points out, “‘this gets discovered about every 10 to 15 years,’ said Brian McAllister Linn, a history professor at Texas A&M University, and a past president of the Society for Military History.” Yes, it’s a perennial complaint we hear about the absence of military history, although it’s usually part of a not-very-sophisticated political attack on the other fields history departments also represent these days. As it turns out, there are institutions that employ military historians; they have their own journals and professional societies; and they get published in premier journals like the American Historical Review (as the article goes on to say)–but Neer complains that because Columbia University and other similarly prestigious Ivies and flagship U’s doesn’t prominently represent the field, it doesn’t exist.
Neer’s lament has a grain of truth: History departments used to be only focused on political and military history–at least, up until the 1920s or so–but that’s so long before the vast majority of living historians were born. No one employed today as a historian can have any reasonable nostalgia for that world. It’s a good thing that history departments also teach about labor, religion, gender, sexuality, the environment, and the many, many other subfields that enrich our work today. That doesn’t mean that military history is non-existent; it just means that it’s only one lens through which we can view history. ...
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