Military History

Blogging about the Battlefield since 2005

The Future of Military History

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on June 10, 2007

I have been reading articles from the magazine National Review that were linked by the Military History Foundation website.  The articles raise an important issue in academic history, the decline of military history at our institutions of higher education.  The articles note how in years past, military history was taught at most colleges and universities in America.  These classes dealt with the tactics and operations of the battlefield, as well as the major figures of military history.  In addition, these classes were usually the most popular amongst students.  Today, many of the scholars who taught these classes have since retired and have n0t been replaced by other military historians.  Instead , these scholars have been replaced by social historians, historians who focus on such mundane topics as gender, sexuality (particularly homosexuality), and minorities.  The fields that replace military history are often not popular with students, and, do not resinate with the public (military history titles consistently sell well at book retailers).  This is not to say that the replacement fields are not important or worthwhile, as there are people interested in those areas, but rather that they are replacing a popular subject that may be the key to enhancing student interest in history and the humanities as a whole.

This raises two questions:  What is the future of academic military history and what can be done to remedy the problem?  Reading the articles gives one the sense of a bleak future for the field.  However, it seems that the field will enjoy popularity in the public realm, which is good.  As for what can be done to reverse this trend in the academy, some scholars are working hard on behalf of the field.  As noted above, the articles in question came from the website for the Military History Foundation.  The creator of the Foundation is Dr. Mark Grimsley, professor of history at The Ohio State University, which has a great program in military history. 

The mission statement for the Military History Foundation, according to the website, is as follows:

The purpose of The Military History Foundation is to advance to field of academic military history by:

educating the academic community concerning the field and dispelling outmoded negative stereotypes;

promoting the study of military history in colleges and universities by equipping historians in other fields to teach military history and to understand how military history can be integrated into their existing specializations;

fostering greater intellectual exchange between military history and other fields;

increasing the number of dissertation fellowships, post-doctoral fellowships, and faculty positions in military history, creating a synergy that advances the intellectual achievements of the field;

engaging with a wider public to help them use military history as a tool for better understanding issues of war and peace in general, and U.S. national security policy specifically.”

When contacted regarding the Foundation and how one can assist (aside from monetarily), Dr. Grimsley seemed optimistic and was pitching the Foundation to his university.  Hopefully, the Foundation will succeed and foster a greater appreciation in academia for military history.  While many academic historians are either children of the 1960s anti-war movement, or were taught by them, they must understand that while war is not the answer in most situations, it must be studied and understood to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.  Furthermore, academic historians must be more accepting of the field, as it is very popular amongst students and if classes do not fill, the professor may wind up unemployed.  Military history is a fascinating field worth studying and everyone should do their part to ensure that it has a future.  Ensuring the future of the field is as easy as reading this post, or starting a blog of your own, but it can also extend to joining professional organizations for the field and studying history professionally, which is what your humble blogger does.  Let us all do our small part and help ensure a future for military history so that our children can learn what we love.


One Response to “The Future of Military History”

  1. Chris said

    I agree very much with this assessment. I am a grad student, with an undergraduate degree in history, but I moved into international relations for the PhD so as to do military history on my own terms, without the stigmas in the history discipline itself. I think much of the problem is due to the postmodernist bias found in the discipline today, which has moved from social history into cultural history, which is even farther away from diplomatic/military history. Even in IR, however, I see a move toward many social topics as you describe above, that in many cases, are at best irrelevant. This needs to change, I agree, but I don’t see it happening at all soon, much to the detriment of society. Maybe this is why we can’t seem to learn from any previous wars to fight current conflicts competently.

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