Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Breaching the Walls of Academe - Concerning Military History

John A. Lynn (professor of University of Illinois) takes an in-depth look at the state of Military History in the Academic world: Breaching the Walls of Academe: The Purposes, Problems, and Prospects of Military History

John rightfully identifies the study of Military History as follows:
military history is the study of military institutions and practices and of the conduct of war in the past. This definition frustrates those whose real interest is in the causes or the consequences of war. Certainly these are terribly important matters and involve military factors, but they are much broader than military history per se. Doubtless, some would disagree with my definition, but I will stick with it.
I'll stick with it too, John.

At one point, John identifies males as the main audience for military history. It's tough to argue with that concept, but his revelation on the subject is humorous.

Why do I say male? Let me tell you a story. My younger son used to collect esoteric comic books, some of them graphic novels. Before he had his driver’s license, I would on occasion take him to the shops that specialize in this literature. One of these shops also boasted two sections of used books, so while my son rummaged earnestly among the comics, I looked at the books. Oddly enough, two sections at the back of the store were boldly labeled “Women’s Books” and “Men’s Books.” This intrigued me, so I first ambled over to the women’s books, expecting to see feminist literature—I do live in a university town after all. Instead, the entire section was composed of romance novels. Next I walked over to the men’s books, expecting perhaps Playboy and Sports Illustrated, but all the books were popular World War II histories. It then struck me that popular military history really constitutes the male equivalent of the romance novel.

With a stack of random military books and recent magazines on my desk, I can't remember the last time my wife had the urge to pick one up and read it.

The article goes on to detail the different types of study in this genre and the various debates/camps of thought over the past few decades. John offers examples and book/journal recommendations throughout. It's a good overview for those who are interested in learning more about the study of military history.

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