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There are 6 messages in this post. Message 1, Paul Westermeyer On 01 Oct 2006, Dan Teodoru wrote: “But to me history -- especially military history -- is not some pleasurable vicarious experience. Once you have lived through bullets randomly whizzing by you or hitting metal; or helicopters beating the air as they drop into a battlefield or leave you alone in some unknown jungle, you suffer, not enjoy, vicariously whenever similar sounds are heard.” I have heard this assertion made several times before, but I find it particularly false. While some combat veterans may 'suffer' when reading military history, it has been my experience that many, perhaps most, _enjoy_ military history just as much as those of us who are not combat veterans. Certainly individual experiences vary, but I find this idea plays particularly into the veteran as victim motif, rather than illuminating any particular truth about human behavior or experience. It also implies that those of us who enjoy military history should be somehow ashamed of ourselves, that our interest is somehow twisted. Given that military history is rife with drama, tragedy, comedy, and emotion, I find it difficult to see how anyone could not enjoy it. One can certainly enjoy it without wishing war upon one's self or others. Paul Westermeyer Historian, History Division Marine Corps University Paul.Westermeyer@usmc.mil Message 2, Vincent Patarino I might be showing my roots as a historian of early modern Europe, but I'm not convinced that graves, historical markers, etc., especially from the Civil War, demonstrates a deep respect for history in the U.S. Without making too fine of a point on it, history is the give and take of analytical interpretation and debate that developes into a complex historiography. In the US, except for the Civl War and perhaps somewhat with the Revolutionary War and WWII, I find that most students and adults are woefully uninformed about western history, much less that of other peoples. The emphasis here in the US on the Civil War period and the others are a product more of nationalism, including southern patriotism, than any serious concern for historical ideas and debate. American interest tends to be closer to antiquarianism, than true historical debate. One needs only to see how Europeans treat their history; how all aspects of it literally soaks their political debates and even their media and entertainment to see the difference. They respect all aspects of their history and are much more keen to know about it, especially among the educated classes. I see little evidence of that here, for the most part. History should be more than what occurs in your own backyard or an excuse for nationalistic impulses, though there is certainly a place for both. Vincent V. Patarino, Ph.D. Dept. of Social and Behavioral Sciences Mesa State College Grand Junction, Colorado Message 3, Robert Cook On 01 Oct 2006, Michael Peck wrote: “To paraphrase a political saying, ‘All history is local." With all due respect, I am not so sure that hoary saw is any more true of history than it is of politics. To say something is "this" is a way to detract us from the question that something may actually be "that". My own personal view is that a question(s) equal or more interesting than whether or not Americans "respect" history or "like" history is to ask, "What kind of history do Americans like and why?" Or: "Which Americans like which history or would that be histories?" "Do Americans choose their historical interests, whether it be reading material, travel interests or historical hobbies because of what they want to know or is it because of what they do not want to know?" For example, where I live, and I am sure this is true in many other cities in America, there is a "upscale" Barnes & Noble catering to a sophisticated public customer and a leading university book store (also managed by Barnes & Noble on behalf of the university -- but that is another story) catering to a "university market". As one would suspect, the history shelves for the two book stores carry a very different selections of history books. Moreover, the campus B & N has a whole section of the floor dedicated to books in all subject fields published by university and scholarly presses that are not offered in their mall store. From the B & N perspective, they are simply sorting their product offerings (published books) by general interest and by niche market. But what accounts for the difference? Are the popular books "easier" to read than the "scholarly" books? Are the popular books cheaper than university press monographs? Or rather, do book buyers select what "histories" they want to read as opposed to "histories" with which may lead to reader discomfort? What does B & N know that we should also know? Jill Russell has recently alerted the membership to an article by Mr. John Miller concerning the present and future of military history. Like those who shop in the B & N in the mall and those who shop in the B & N on campus, Mr. Miller (and most of his critics) have answered the question before asking it. To that extent, they reflect the assumptions of those Americans who might be identified as being interested in "history". While of some interest, attempting to count how many Americans visit Gettysburg, how many watch the History Channel, how many buy a scholarly monograph in military history or how many "military historians" teach in college is not nearly as provocative as asking what questions all of these various Americans have already, in the own minds, answered about their history and to what venues those answers motivate them to find their own intellectual comfort zones. Respectfully, Robert Cook Message 4, Tom Verso Messers. Teodoru (9/11/06) and Sandler (9/27/06) opened a fascinating and important discussion thread regarding the role of history in decision-making and American society generally. Ostensibly, it is a contradiction to say "Americans hate history" (Teodoru) and "Americans are obsessed with history" (Sandler). However, generalizing beyond the Teodoru and Sandler texts, such an apparent contradiction may be based on an equivocal use of the word 'history'. The word 'history' is used professionally to denote two very distinct concepts of historiography (i.e. research and writing methods): the 'narrative' and the 'social scientific'. In the late twentieth century a rift open in the American history profession between the proponents of these two schools. See for example: "Which Road to the Past?" (1983) wherein, Nobel Prize winning historian, Robert Fogel and G. R. Elton debate "traditional narrative" history vs. "social scientific". The narrative is characterized by a linear 'story' type format about unique events, for example, narrative histories of the American Civil War. Social scientific history is characterized by aggregating events into categories. For example, the American Civil War would be studied in the context of many civil wars. There is a third concept of history which Mr. Sandler alludes to - nostalgia ("sentimental yearning for the past"). Good examples are his references to the preservation of "Ft. Bragg's unremarkable NCO housing of the 1930s" and "London's buses." Thus, it is correct to say "Americans are obsessed with history" in the sense that Americans are obsessed with narrative histories and nostalgia. For example, the seemingly endless narrative history books about the American Civil War and the ubiquitous preservation and restoration movements. It is also correct to say "Americans hate history" and "allow their leaders to escape its prognostic value" in the sense that Americans are not inclined towards the social scientific aggregating approach to history and the decision making potential that it holds. For example, military historian William S. Lind introduces his discussion of Iraq as follows: "Rather than commenting on the specifics of the war with Iraq, I [will] lay out a framework for understanding that and other conflicts [i.e. aggregating many conflicts]. The framework is the Four Generations of Modern War." He goes on to say: "The Four Generations began with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the treaty that ended the Thirty Years' War" (see: www 'dot' antiwar 'dot' com/lind 1/15/04). Thus, Lind sees "prognostic value" in history for decision makers not in trying to apply case studies of the past to the present; rather, finding patterns in the past four centuries of warfare that may facilitate decisions in the present. Regarding the other issue Mr. Sandler raises "history repeating itself": again, the answer turns on one's historiographic perspective. Clearly, the events of history are unique e.g. the Vietnam War. In that sense leaders may ignore history. However, what historians such as Lind are saying is that ideological/technological factors affect the strategic/tactical characteristics of war. And, ideological/technological factors do repeat themselves; in turn strategy/tactics are repeated. For example, arguably if Israeli generals paid attention to the ideological/technological factors affecting Vietnamese forth generation strategy/tactics, they may have faired better in Lebanon; similarly, the US in Iraq. Tom Verso Message 5, Glenn F. Williams Dear Friends and Fellow Historians, I agree with Valerie Protopapas and others on this list that Americans are not actually apathetic toward their history. Why do we sometimes get this impression? In my opinion, it is how it is taught in many schools that turns a lot of Americans off to history as an academic subject, not to history, per se. When I was a museum curator, while talking history informally with our visitors, I was struck at how many would tell me, "when I was in school, I HATED history, but now..." or words to that effect. Furthermore, "heritage tourism" is a lucrative business that only continues to grow in popularity. When a student mentions that he or she would like to major in history (maybe some on this list can relate to the experience personally), what response do you think he/she receives from family, friends and even teachers? If you are like me, it is something like, "that's nice, but what can you do with a history degree besides teach?" I don't teach (never have), but I found a history degree extremely useful: first in a successful 21-year military career, and now as a profession. Another answer may be found by looking at what passes for history as a subject at many universities. My experience is that it suffers from two major faults: 1 - an overemphasis on the social history of previously under-represented groups by demonizing, devaluing or marginalizing others previously not under-represented; and 2 - a preoccupation with competing historiographies, instead of encouraging original research and developing interpretive skills. In addition, especially in many courses I have taken at the graduate level, there seemed to be more "peer review" by the professors of other professors' historiography than in presenting history. As an historian, it turns me off to the point of apathy, so I can imagine what it does to the non- or fledgling historian. To me, a "good" history is one that gives the reader a sense of time and place. I find, however, that too many of the books on my readings lists are simply analyses, or over-analyses, ad nauseum, of "traditional" interpretations based on "new" history. When I point out in class that the primary documents do not support what the author is trying to advance in his/her analysis, for example, I am usually asked by the professor, as well as other students, "but does that really matter?" Well, to me it does! If I find dozens of examples of how the primary documents were misinterpreted, or misrepresented, I can't take the author's "historiography" seriously. Yet, the same book will receive numerous awards, and be touted as "groundbreaking" by those in academe - - - while no one else reads it. When academic, or "scholarly," histories do manage to include some compelling narrative, many of them flush it by interrupting the flow with open challenges to other historians' interpretations. In my opinion, that kind of distraction belongs in the end- or footnotes, forward, afterward, preface, etc., but not in the body. I want to learn what the writer's interpretation is, not how he/she disagrees with another historian. As far as public interest in military history goes, I would like to mention what the keynote speaker of a symposium I once attended said in his address. Don Hickey, author of "The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict" said something to the effect, "the three letters that sell the most books in this country are not 'S-E-X,' but 'W-A-R.' Yet, it is an aspect of history most academic historians take pains to avoid. To return to my opening statement, and as alluded to others on this list, browse the bookshelves at the local Barnes & Noble, Borders, or you favorite independent bookseller, and you will see many shelves filled with narrative histories that give their readers a sense of time and place, and do well at the cash registers. Try to find a tome on "historiography." More often than not you will have to special order it, as the average American is not interested, i.e. "apathetic," because to many, it is not "real" history. Best Regards, Glenn Glenn F. Williams Army Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commemoration Office US Army Center of Military History 103 Third Ave, Bldg. 35 Fort Lesley J. McNair, DC 20319-5058 Voice: 202-685-4117 FAX: 202-685-2081 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org "The Fate of Unborn Millions Now Depends, Under God, on the Courage and Conduct of the Army" - George Washington, August 1776 Message 6, George Shaner I grew up about 5-10 miles away from where John Brown spent his childhood in Ohio and I wasn't aware of this until a few years ago, as it wasn't that well advertised; some heroes are more embraceable than others I suppose. This has been changing in the case of this town (Hudson) recently, at least so I've been given to understand. George Shaner National Archives ----- For subscription help, go to: http://www.h-net.org/lists/help/ To change your subscription settings, go to http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=h-war -----