Society For Military History 87th Annual Meeting
We find ourselves called upon, sometimes, to answer the charge that by studying armed conflict we are glorifying it or condoning it. Because the field was predominantly male for a long time, many of our colleagues assume that it remains so, and is hostile to women. The Society for Military History is a United States–based international organization of scholars who research, write, and teach military history of all time periods and places. It includes naval history, air power history, and studies of technology, ideas, and homefronts. The society was established in 1933 as the American Military History Foundation, renamed in 1939 the American Military Institute, and renamed again in 1990 as the Society for Military History.
We seek to educate future Americans to fully appreciate the sacrifices that generations of American Soldiers have made to safeguard the freedoms of this nation. Through popular media and public discourse in this decade alone, American students have heard about such events as the bicentennials of the Napoleonic Wars and War of 1812, the centennial of the First World War, and the sesquicentennial of the battle of Gettysburg. They realize that in order to fully comprehend the significance of these commemorations, they need a basic historical grounding that can explain why the events mark turning points—and have thus become influential pieces of our contemporary narrative. Students long for intellectual frameworks that help them understand the world in which they live—and the study of war and conflict is an essential part of such frameworks. For instance, it is difficult if not impossible to understand the geo-political fault-lines of the 21st century world if one does not understand the causes and outcomes of the First World War.
The Society for Military History traces its lineage to 1933, when it was founded as the American Military Foundation. Renamed in 1939 as the American Military Institute, it assumed its present designation in 1990. Its international membership, which numbers nearly 2,700, includes many of the most prominent professors, government historians, military personnel, and independent scholars at work in the military history field today. Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide. Forged from a partnership between a university press and a library, Project MUSE is a trusted part of the academic and scholarly community it serves.
Wariness towards the field persists despite its evolution in recent decades. Other historians—for instance those who study slavery, or the history of Native Peoples, or the dictatorship of Josef Stalin—work in fraught spaces without finding themselves the object of suspicion or stereotype. Part of the problem stems from the way that military history is, and has been, identified and categorized inside American popular culture. In addition, combat sheds light on the civil-military relationship within states, and the way that societies are able to leverage technology by setting up organizations and processes to take advantage of it. What happens on the battlefield also influences, and sometimes crafts, key social and political narratives. For instance, the tactical and operational reasons for stalemate on the Western Front matter precisely because this stalemate shaped the human experience of the war, burdened its settlement, and shaped its legacy.
Indeed, many of our young people have no idea of how the US military came to exist in its present form, what tasks it has been called upon to carry out in the past , and what tasks it may be called upon to carry out in the future. Popular television also complicates the lives of academic military historians. “Info-tainment” via commercial media shapes ideas about what military history is, and how its practitioners allocate their time and energy. The academic subfield struggles also to free itself from association with popular writing and popular film that grasps too readily at “great man” theories, triumphalism, nationalism, gauzy sentimentality, or superficial tales of derring do. We face a suspicion that those drawn to the field are mesmerized by the whiz-bang quality of arms technology, or the pure drama of organized violence.
Even as the American people built a large military and handed it vast responsibilities, they devoted less and less time to equipping their future civilian leaders with the knowledge they need to interact with the military in informed and constructive ways. This affects the nation’s ability to develop, implement, and sustain an optimal national security strategy for itself, and to adequately address the great range of crucial issues pertaining to the effects and consequences of war. Our students’ desire for knowledge creates an important opportunity for Departments of History. The late recession has produced a drop in humanities majors as students seek courses that seem more likely to produce an immediate payoff in terms of jobs and wages. Legislative budget cuts have forced even state schools to conform to a tuition-driven model, and departments that cannot attract a sufficient number of students can expect hard times to get harder. University college administrators, particularly college deans and chairs of History Departments, may find some relief in the appeal of military history.
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