Weapons of the Weak - Pt 2
Friday, April 1, 2005, 07:22 PM - Building the Field
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8 - Part 9 - Part 10
After Action Report
Thursday, March 31, 2005, 05:53 PM - Building the FieldI finally finished off and submitted my annual faculty activities report this afternoon. My department chair and I had a very pleasant twenty-minute conversation. He has yet to read Custer and the Art of the Blog , but it turns out he'd figured out its main finding on his own.
He told me that when, some weeks ago, I invited him to go take a look at War Historian , he actually went and did it. In fact he spent three hours doing it. He gave me a succinct, perceptive summary of the ways in which he saw how it functioned as an aid to scholarly production.
Maybe I just work in the only healthy history department in the United States. But I conclude from this exercise that the whole "ooh, beware how the academy will receive blogging" thing has been oversold. Sure, I had my "I got tenure" trump card in my back pocket, but this time I could definitely have left home without it. It was like bringing a howitzer to a quilting bee.
The academy basically cares about good scholarship, good scholarship, and good scholarship. It tends to forget that this requires creative acts and that people have different creative styles. But it is easily reminded. Most senior people, like most junior people, originally got into this racket for the same reason: to have fun.
My only counsel to anyone untenured who seeks to blog is this. If you are not prepared to be a serious--and buddy I mean a fiercely, junk yard dog serious--student of the blog, then just blog for recreation and make it clear that that's all you're up to. Nobody will much care. If someone does seems unsettled, just go ask them if this is indeed the case and then treat anything they tell you as a friendly exchange between two colleagues. Even if they insult you, misunderstand it as a compliment. If you feel really nervous, fortify yourself beforehand by reading a book: Getting Past No: Negotiating Your Way from Confrontation to Cooperation . (Indeed, as I tell my grad students, every academic needs to know at least the basics of negotiation theory.)
If you are truly interested in using the blog to write an article or a book, know that it can be done.
But know equally that it has a tendency to entice you off onto tangents.
Asked what advice he had to offer for a parent seeking to raise a child, Robert E. Lee replied, "Teach him to deny himself."
Lee could just as well have given the same advice to the serious, production-oriented academic blogger.
Custer and the Art of the Blog - Pt 8
Wednesday, March 30, 2005, 05:32 AM - Building the FieldIt finally dawned on me that the blog--which by now was what I really understood it to be--belonged under three major categories of my activities report. Using the report template, it figures under Section III. Forthcoming Work and Research in Progress, although here it makes the most sense to represent it as a book with the working title The Savage Realm: Reflections on the Future of Military History. In terms of progress on the manuscript, I know that the word count on the blog to date is well over 150,000 words, and if one assumes that even a third of that represents material directly relevant to the book, I judge the manuscript is comparatively well along.
The blog also figures into the self-evaluation of teaching requested under Section IV. Courses Taught, since I used the blog to comment on my own lectures for History 380. The History of War, and encouraged students to read these comments as a way to reinforce the material. The most direct examples are War By Other Means , which explains why the course included consideration of Gandhi and Martin Luther King; and Essentially, which allowed me to show students how the concept of "orientalism" could be used to revisit and reinterpret my use of the film Lawrence of Arabia to introduce Islamic warfare.
Most obviously, the blog falls under Section VIII. Professional Service, in sub-section H, the catch-all "List any other professional service not covered here." Under this heading I have included, in addition to the usual stuff--Manuscript referee for [name of press omitted] // Manuscript referee for [name of press omitted] // Tenure review of assistant professor in [name of department and university omitted] // Referee for article manuscript in [name of journal omitted] // Referee for article manuscript in [name of journal omitted]-- the following:
Maintained blog on the field of academic military history, December 2003 to date. Current URL: http://warhistorian.org/blog
(See attached memorandum)
The memorandum, of course, consists largely of the present post, Custer and the Art of the Blog, in its entirety.
I decided to place this aspect of my report online because, I have discovered, electronic media are supposed to be evaluated by direct examination of the medium. I decided to do this publicly because, I have also discovered, there is a certain amount of trepidation among the community of academic bloggers about how the profession will perceive and, mayhap, punish those who use this new medium. To pursue the Custer metaphor, this is in effect the part where I demonstrate that blogging requires the sort of guts Custer exhibited. So here I go, and I suppose one could say that metaphorically it is June 25, 1876, and I'm charging over a ridge in Montana. Except, of course, I'm not; and anyway I know what's on the other side of the ridge; and anyway I know I've got something Custer never had, namely tenure.
But being aware that annual faculty activities reports are a serious matter, and that my colleagues--you for starters but also my colleagues on the chair advisory and salary committees--will have to actually read this report and make decisions based upon it, and that your collective time is valuable, I have spent--I've kept track of this--eight hours converting this annex of my report to paper, relegating parts of it to appendices, and in general have tried to create as orthodox a product as I could manage. This is not very Custer-like, I admit, but then I'm not Custer but rather an associate professor in a first-class history department.
Here ends the memo. Again, thanks very much for your professional courtesy and generosity of spirit in permitting me to delay my report so long.
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8 - Addendum
Custer and the Art of the Blog - Pt 7
Wednesday, March 30, 2005, 04:03 AM - Building the FieldMarch 30, 2005
To: Kenneth Andrien
Chair, Department of History
The Ohio State University
From: Mark Grimsley
Re: Annex to Annual Faculty Activities Report for 2004
Ken, many thanks for permitting me to delay the submission of my annual report by two full months. It is one of many testimonies to the collegiality of this department that it has accorded me so much time in which to try and make sense of this (initially quite accidental) experiment in blogging.
I began to keep a sort of online intellectual diary in mid-December 2003. At first it was online only in theory--it wasn't linked to anything, not even my home page--but after a week or so of experimentation I revealed its existence to a few friends and then, when that seemed to be okay, to the subscribers of H-War. I installed a "web counter" that kept me abreast of the number of hits the diary received, but I did not really care that much about the number of readers. My purpose was primarily to model a spirit of intellectual curiosity for my graduate students, who were the only readers who concerned me; and secondarily to "think out loud" about the state of my principal field of specialization, military history.
Over time I came to find that keeping the diary was pleasant, even somewhat addictive, and I saw that it had the potential to become a significant distraction from conventional scholarly production. I decided that I needed to think seriously about the promise and pitfalls of the medium. Gradually I came to see that the diary could serve a couple of purposes. It could remain an intellectual diary, to be sure, but it could also serve as a way to rough out a draft of a book I began thinking about as long ago as 1994. The book was to be a consideration of the proper intellectual scope of the field of academic military history. The working title for the book was The Savage Realm.
To see if this "dual utility" concept held water, I applied it to an article I was asked to write for North and South magazine. For eleven days I composed diary entries on the subject of the article, I would guess for a couple of hours each day. Then, when I had enough material--around 7,000 words--I found that I was able to edit the entries into the finished article in about four hours.
All in all, I judged that I had written the piece faster, better, and had more fun doing it, than would have been the case had I chosen to do so conventionally. The fun part definitely mattered to me, since I agreed to write the article only because I owed the magazine editor a favor. The article itself was what the editor requested, an assessment of Robert E. Lee's generalship during a particular Civil War campaign, but by agreement with him I also used it to introduce a general audience to counterfactual theory.
This experiment convinced me that I could use the diary as a way to compose The Savage Realm--or more precisely to produce the equivalent of what I used to call "working papers" on a given writing project. I began arranging the entries by themes corresponding to ideas for chapters. Impressed by the way the medium seemed to enhance productivity, I thereafter widened the scope of the subject matter considered in the diary so as to encompass every aspect of my work as a military historian. At the end of spring quarter, though, I suspended the diary in order to spend the summer writing in a more ordinary fashion. This turned out to be a mistake, because my productivity actually declined, but I did not yet have the complete confidence in this unorthodox way of getting words on paper that I later acquired.
I resumed the diary when I returned to teaching autumn quarter. The more I experimented with the form, the more ways in which I found it to be a fairly flexible medium, and as my Mershon conference on the history of war in global perspective approached, I used diary entries as a way to write rough drafts of memoranda to participants, of my opening remarks, of my comments on specific sessions. For some reason the online diary entries seemed to produce very easy, fluent prose that could with little trouble be revised to suit almost any purpose. The one problem was that I found the purely mechanical aspects of keeping an online diary to be more time-consuming than I liked. Therefore in early December 2004 I started using a software program specifically designed for such diaries, which of course are more usually referred to as web logs or blogs.
This turned out to be, unexpectedly, a fateful decision. Because the original diary was, after all, online, I knew that anyone could read it, and I knew from the hits on the web counter and from occasional emails that a few people actually did. In retrospect I think that the knowledge of a readership was much of the reason I found it easier to compose diary entries than to write conventional drafts. But with a handful of exceptions I had no idea who the readers were and didn't much care. I was pretty sure they did not include my graduate students, who were the only audience I really cared about. Indeed it seemed to me that the diary's original purpose, to model a spirit of intellectual curiosity, had been a flat failure.
In mid-January of this year, however--just about the time my annual faculty activities report was coming due--the number of hits on the diary abruptly rose from about 30 per day to around 150. The change to a regular blogging platform made my online diary recognizable to blogging search engines as a blog, and all of a sudden I realized that my online diary, which to be sure I had previously labeled as a blog, had in fact actually become one.
Frankly I found the change bewildering at first. It was as if I'd been writing at my desk, alone, only to turn around and find that dozens of people were peering over my shoulder. I also discovered, because by this time I had installed a more sophisticated web counter, that these150 daily readers were also rummaging through everything I'd written all the way back to December 2003. Furthermore, they were asking questions and making comments and in general behaving as if my online diary contained consequential ideas, opinions, even something verging on scholarship--not altogether surprising when I considered that they were, in effect, reading an early draft of The Savage Realm. That's the main reason I had to ask for an extension on the deadline for my annual report. It seemed clear to me that the diary, which until then I'd never dreamed of including in the report, probably belonged there.
But where? And how to translate the diary experience into the vernacular of the profession?
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8
Weapons of the Weak - Pt 1
Tuesday, March 29, 2005, 11:36 AM - Building the FieldI have been promising for over a month now to account for my new optimism about the prospects for military history as an academic field. I hinted at it, some, in Breakfast with Denny . But this is the post series where the explanation begins in earnest.
It's interesting to compare the voracious growth of academic blogging with the general stodginess of H-Net , an online project created over a decade ago to facilitate electronic exchange among scholars in the Humanities. If you've never checked out H-Net, you should, and you should marvel at its conceptual and technical sophistication and marvel even more at the truly heroic labors of the editors of its various discussion groups, called lists. "H-Net lists," notes the site introduction, "reach over 100,000 subscribers in more than 90 countries. Subscriptions are screened by the list's editors to promote a diverse readership dedicated to friendly, productive, scholarly communications."
The introduction continues, "Each list publishes between 15 and 60 messages a week." Well, sort of. On many discussion lists, "friendly, productive, scholarly communications" turns out to mean a diet of announcements and queries with little or no actual discussion, because you can lead an academic to H-List but you can't make him post. One of the very few exceptions to this rule is H-War , whose senior editor--there are several--is a member of the OSU Mafia and whose book review editor has so far graciously refrained from reminding me that I owe her a book review. (Note to Janet: It's underway.)
I counted the number of H-War messages for the last week of February 2005, a typical week, and they totaled not 15 or 60 but 120, thank you very much. If you want to know the reason for H-War's dynamism, I suspect that it owes to three main factors.
First, unlike most H-Net lists, this one includes quite a few who are either non-academics, or retired academics, or sort of adjunct academics, which is to say it is less infected than most lists by the general tendency of academic culture to regard internet exchange as a distraction from, rather than a component of, the true academic vocation.
Second, again unlike most H-Net lists, it has over time become a genuine online community in the best sense of the term.
Third, there is a certain joyousness to H-War. These are plainly people who enjoy the study of history and don't mind letting on that it is fun.
Nevertheless, it must be said that H-War focuses only intermittently on the issues of military history as an academic field. Periodically the editors will organize colloquia on this subject or that, and a few invited guest historians will weigh in, and a bit of discussion may or may not ensue. But the most "natural," in the sense of self-sustaining, discussion threads are driven by the interests of those who actively participate, day in and day out. By and large these people either do not think or care much about military history as an academic field or else have discovered that, important as it may be, the state of the field makes for poor conversation. The best online discussion threads often center on things that people can read and respond about immediately, off the top of their heads, during spare moments of the day. It is one of the limiting features of the medium.
Thus when I discuss H-War among academic historians--and this usually occurs in person, over a beer, not a keyboard--the most frequent comment I hear is puzzlement that the threads focus so relentlessly on seeming ephimera like the origins of the phrase "Gott Mit Uns," which used to figure on German insignia; or the glories of the Sherman tank. Basically we have only ourselves to blame, because by and large we "lurk," which is to say we just read what others say and don't initiate or respond to exchange ourselves. (Not altogether unlike you, my comment-averse reader. Yes, that "add comment" link is for you, too.)
Still, once in a while an academic military historian will initiate a discussion thread designed to create an academic exchange on an academic issue. It actually sort of works, in the sense that the regulars will set aside, for the moment, the mystery of "Why No Company 'J' in the US Military?" (an actual, vigorously active thread), and consider, well, whatever the hell you ask of them.
Up to a point.
Last year I experimented for several months with trying to coax more academic discussion out of H-War. (My swan song, if you care to read it, was "'Tanks' for Your Response" .) By and large I think I always got at least a couple of replies to anything I wrote and occasionally much more. But the most important thing I ever posted on H-War got absolutely no response at all. . . .
From December 13, 2003:
Originally Submitted Subject: COMMENT: An Insurgency Succeeds
I continue to be fascinated by the frequent hand-wringing on this net concerning the marginalized place of military history in the groves of academe. (If you are in any doubt of this, conduct a search of the discussion logs using the keywords "political correctness," "politically correct," and "PC.") The clear implication is that it should not be so; that most history departments should have at least one permanent tenure-track slot in military history. Leaving aside the issue of why military history is so indispensable that a department of, say, 15 regular faculty should have such a historian, let me point out that women's history was [once] just as marginalized. True, there were women in the academy, but they were hired to teach in traditional fields. They could develop and teach the occasional course in women's history, but to do more than that required grass roots activism.
Recently I noticed that the faculty of the Department of Women's Studies here at Ohio State have placed online a history of their 25-year struggle to create the department. I suggest reading it "against the grain" as a lessons-learned account of how a marginalized field can succeed in acquiring a permanent place in a university environment. The history can be found at A History of Women's Studies at Ohio State.
I'm perfectly serious about this exercise, BTW.
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8 - Part 9 - Part 10
Rules, Even in War - Pt 1
Tuesday, March 29, 2005, 12:06 AM - An Antiwar Military History?Some years ago, Robert Fulghum wrote a simple credo that became famous: "All I ever really needed to know I learned in kindergarten." I suspect that many Americans of my generation could say, with equal sincerity and even greater accuracy, "All I ever really needed to know I learned from Star Trek ."
My next entry in the Encyclopedia of War and American Society concerns General Orders 100, better known as Lieber's Code. Published by the U.S. War Department in the middle of the Civil War, General Orders 100 has the distinction of being the world's first official set of ethical guidelines concerning military conduct in the field. When I first began thinking about the entry, a snatch of Star Trek dialogue ran through my head. "There are rules, even in war."
At first the words were comforting. It took me a moment to think of the context. The phrase was spoken by Leonard McCoy, chief medical officer of the Enterprise. That checked--of the three principal characters in the series, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, McCoy was the one who most closely embodied humanity.
But then I realized that the episode in which he uttered them was "Day of the Dove." In it, an alien entity that feeds on violent emotion provokes combat between the Enterprise crew and a crew of Klingons and then harvests sustenance from the resulting fury and hatred. The "rules even in war" utterance occurs at a point where McCoy, treating a crewman wounded in a melee, looks down at the hapless man and snarls, "Those filthy butchers. There are rules, even in war. You don't keep hacking at a man after he's down."
There may be rules, even in war. But here the rules are invoked not to restrain the violence, but to justify a sense that the enemy is demonic and restraint would be folly. A bit later in the episode, when Kirk and Spock first awake to the reality that a malevolent entity has created the crisis and forms the real threat, McCoy is outraged to hear them suggest the wisdom of a truce with the Klingons.
"A truce?! Are you serious? I've got men in sick bay, some of them dying, atrocities committed on their persons. And you talk about making peace with these fiends? Why, if our backs were turned they'd jump us in a minute. And you know what Klingons do to prisoners. Slave labor. Death planets. Experiments. While you're talking they're planning attacks. This is a fight to the death, and we'd better start trying to win it!"
In the episode, Spock's logic and Kirk's determination carry the day. A truce is, heroically, arranged, and together the Federation and Klingon crewmen literally laugh the alien entity off the ship. But thinking again on "rules, even in war," I couldn't help but wonder if McCoy's exploitation of the phrase to legitimate slaughter carried the real truth of the drama. When I picked up General Orders 100 and read them again, it was with new eyes.
Left: McCoy in a different episode ("A Piece of the Action") cradles a weapon he would dearly love to have had available in "Day of the Dove."
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6
Monday, March 28, 2005, 06:56 AM - Building the FieldI've been ill for the past week and away from the blog, from email, from everything most of that time. I'm starting to dig myself out of the backlog of work. I don't have time yet for an extensive post, but I can offer a few items found around the blogosphere:
From Sign and Sight: Art, Essays, Ideas from Germany:
Not a living soul around
A tour of First World War battlefields and burial grounds in Eastern Europe. By Andrzej Stasiuk
All this is most clearly visible at the beginning of November, when the memorial candles are burning in the deserted valleys, and there's a smell of tallow on the wind. I have no idea who lights those candles. Whenever I arrive on the first or second of November with my own lamps, those ones are already burning, in Czarne, in Dlugie and in Radocyna, which stretches right up to the Slovak border. In each cemetery there are two or three little flames dancing in the wind under soot-blackened glass. It's hard to get here, and no one lives in this area. There used to be some Ukrainian, or rather Lemko villages here, but between 1945 and 1947 the communists quite simply displaced them, moving some of them to the Soviet Union and others to the west of Poland, to places the Germans had been evacuated from earlier on. This was a distant and relatively weak echo of the great Stalin-era deportations.
For the complete article, click here.
Reading List from Military Law & Justice .
The Liberals Against Terrorism Reading List. The general theme is articles, books, and ephemera that in some way touch upon terrorism, liberalism, and/or the Democratic party.
Robert "KC" Johnson, "In Defense of Old-Fashioned Political History". An article with fairly obvious relevance to academic military history. (Hat tip to Cliopatria)
I recently bought a DVD of Tae Guk Gi - The Brotherhood of War, a much-acclaimed Korean film about the Korean War. My opinion of it tracks pretty closely with this review in the Washington Post .
UPDATE, 11:00 A.M.
Oddly enough, one of the things you find too rarely in military studies are invaluable diagrams like Edward Tufte's just-published Graph of Confederate Troop Strength, 1861-1865 . It's based on the famous graph, done long ago by Charles Joseph Minard, of the Grande Armee's troop strength during the Russian campaign of 1812. (Hat tip to Civil War Bookshelf) .
Breakfast with Denny - Pt 3
Saturday, March 19, 2005, 12:04 PM - Building the FieldThe waiter poured me a second cup of coffee and got Denny a refill of his soft drink. Our conversation turned to academic politics. We both knew that politics has shaped and constrained the field of military history in a variety of ways.
On the one hand, it has fostered an environment in which military history is, by and large, unwelcome in the academy. There are exceptions, of course. My department has a graduate program in the field, and one can point to a few others scattered about the landscape. A few PhDs trained in the field get hired to teach, say, American or European history but are permitted to teach courses in military history. (In fact, I don't know of any who aren't.) But few departments feel a need to have a specialist in military history and military historians are arguably at a disadvantage when they apply for positions for which they are otherwise qualified.
If one is running a search in, say, "modern European history," it makes as much sense intellectually to consider a specialist in military history as to consider one in political, social, or cultural history. In Denny's opinion, however, a specialist in military history often runs into the "black marble." That is, most members of a given department will feel that So-and-so would make a good addition to the short list, or should be a finalist, or should get the job. But they know that Professor Newleft hates all things military, and in a small department--which most history departments are--collegiality is an important consideration. So Professor Newleft gets to cast a figurative black marble. The search goes on to choose someone more palatable to everyone.
On the other hand, politics has constrained the field of military history from within. Many military historians have a view of the field that is bounded, whether they realize it or not, by their own political views. Most military historians are comfortable with the defense establishment and uncomfortable with the antiwar community. That is a political, not an intellectual choice. Most military historians emphasize the European and North American military experiences. Again, that choice is driven politically, not intellectually. Most military historians do not take into account gender, or race, or class; often they feel antagonistic toward these categories of analysis; and these omissions are also driven by one's political comfort zone.
Even if one examines the internal politics of the Society for Military History, one finds that a large percentage of the membership is composed of active duty officers or public historians who work for the defense establishment, in some way, shape, or form; and who have created an organizational culture in which the development of academic military history has become, de facto, a sideline issue. As I will show in future posts, that state of affairs shows signs of changing. Nevertheless, the enthusiasm or reluctance with which the SMH membership embraces a commitment to grow the field of academic military history will be driven, in no small measure, by its political preferences.
A heartening thing about my conversation with Denny was that he and I have contrasting views on partisan politics--he is politically conservative, I am moderate or liberal, depending on the issue--but that we share a common intellectual vision of the field. It needs to broaden out. It needs to integrate itself better into academic history. It needs a greater emphasis on the military experience of regions beyond Europe and North America. It needs to examine all aspects of war, not just those congenial to a traditional view of the field or to the defense establishment. It needs to reach out to include scholars whose work includes a military dimension but who do not think of themselves as doing military history. It needs, in short, to realize its promise.
I have gotten much derision in recent years from military historians--mostly novices in the field, to be sure, but military historians nonetheless--and many admonitions from colleagues in other fields to abandon the sinking ship of military history and re-package myself as a mainstream American historian. On the whole, I have received little countervailing encouragement to remain in the field. My breakfast with Denny was one of the most heartening conversations I have had in years.
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3
The 2005 SMH Annual Meeting: A Photo Album
Saturday, March 19, 2005, 10:28 AM - Building the FieldI brought a digital camera to last month's annual meeting of the Society for Military History . You'll find a sampling of photos here. If you know the names of people not identified in the photos, send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I'll update the captions.
Letters from Baghdad
Friday, March 18, 2005, 11:56 AM - The World After September 11Reader's Digest has a running series called "My Most Unforgettable Character." If I had to limit myself to just one, as the title implies, it would have to be Wick Murray . But if I could enlarge the number a bit, I'm sure that prominent among them would be Bob Bateman.
Captain Robert L. Bateman turned up in our applicant pool back in early 1996, one of several officers each year who apply to our program because they have been tapped to be instructors at one of the service academies, in Bob's case, West Point. Bob showed up that autumn along with another James Fischer, another West Point-bound captain. Jamie Fischer fit the usual profile of our active duty officer students, which is to say that he was very smart, very organized, and a superb ambassador for the armed forces.
Bob, on the other hand, was Bob. He was smart, but loud. Organized, but loud. And he was a superb ambassador for the armed forces only if you liked your ambassadors, well, loud.
I was not a big fan of Bob in his first year here at Ohio State. But then in the autumn of 1997 I had a bout of ill health, and Bob, for all his bombast, turned out to be one of the most sensitive, humane students I have ever had. Many people stepped forward during that time to help me out, but Bob was particularly solicitous, almost doggedly so, and I came to realize that Bob was one of those rare types of people: the three o'clock in the morning friend, the kind you can turn to at any time and for any reason.
You don't find many such people in life, and you'd have to be an idiot to pass up on a friendship with one if fate gave you the opportunity. So he and I have been friends ever since.
Bob is now Major Robert L. Bateman, and a seasoned author as well as an active duty officer. He is currently posted in Iraq , from which he writes a regular series of Letters from Baghdad . They're well worth reading: lucid, intelligent, discerning. And very much Bob.