Eric Wittenberg on University Presses
Thursday, October 27, 2005, 06:16 AM - The Craft of HistoryGiven my own disappointment with the way University of Nebraska Press handled my last book, And Keep Moving On: The Virginia Campaign, May-June 1864 (2002), I read with great sympathy Eric Wittenberg's telling critique of university presses. As a self-described amateur historian, Eric's sense of frustration is probably even more acute than that of an academic historian like myself. For someone in my position, even a book that sells poorly still gets me a (usually decent) merit raise in salary. In fact, from a purely financial standpoint that's the main reason for a professor to write books in the first place. The only time a professor is likely to make more money from royalties than raises is when she hits the jackpot on a major college textbook.
You might think that with many university presses using the high price points Eric laments, we'd opt instead for commercial presses. Sometimes you can do that--Knopf and Norton, for instance, have a certain amount of academic cachet. But for academics the university press is usually de rigueur because they are refereed, which is to say a manuscript must get the approval of two or more recognized experts in the field before the press will agree to publish it. Why a non-academic would opt for a university press, however, is just plain beyond me.
My History of War Textbooks
Wednesday, October 26, 2005, 09:02 PM - History of War in Global PerspectiveHere at Ohio State we're only midway through Autumn Quarter, but it's already time to order the textbooks for Winter courses. For me that means History 380: The History of War. This will make my third time teaching the course; each time I've chosen a different main textbook. In Winter 2003 it was John Keegan's History of Warfare; in Autumn 2004, Christon Archer et al., World History of Warfare. Neither proved wholly satisfactory, though both of them--especially the latter--were very useful in helping me prepare my lectures.
This time I'm going to try out Geoffrey Parker (ed.), The Cambridge Illustrated History of Warfare. I like the book myself and have heard good reports from others who have used it. My one qualm is that by design its real focus is western--i.e., European and North American--warfare, and I would prefer something with a global focus. (See my comments from Interrogating the Project of Military History, a predecessor to this blog.)
But I hope to compensate for that in my lectures and by requiring two other books:
Victor Davis Hanson, Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power;
and its antidote, so to speak:
John A. Lynn, Battle: A History of Combat and Culture.
For more on these two titles, see The Dialogues of War.
And what the hell; I'll make this blog required reading too.
Position at Norwich University
Tuesday, October 25, 2005, 11:25 PM - Building the FieldNorwich has reopened the search to find a permanent director for its online Master of Arts in Military History program. Please distribute this as widely as possible.
Northfield, VT 05663
From the main web site, select About Norwich, then Employment Opportunities (on the left), click on Faculty, then click on MMH Program Director.
Norwich University seeks an outstanding scholar/administrator to serve as Director of its new online Master of Arts in Military History program. (Please see this link for program information.) We are seeking a director at the Associate or Full Professor level who is a recognized scholar in military history. The MMH is a broad-ranging program covering a variety of fields in military history and outstanding candidates will be able to show familiarity with the academic discipline of military history and with the latest developments in the field. The directorship is a non-tenure track administrative position with limited graduate and undergraduate teaching responsibilities in the Department of History and Political Science. The initial term of appointment is for two years and may be renewed. The search committee will begin reviewing applications immediately for a July 1, 2006 start date. The search will remain open until the position is filled.
Qualifications: PhD in History from an accredited institution and solid understanding of graduate education in history. Commitment to the field of military history demonstrated in scholarly publication, teaching, research, and conference participation. Proven effective leadership/management experience. Evidence of success in teaching and advising students. Collegial on-line writing style. Experience in administration and in on-line education is a plus, but Norwich University has a strong support structure and will train the right person. We seek someone who is a scholar, but willing and able to learn the other essential duties of this position. Candidates must be a U.S. citizen or have permanent resident status when applying. Review of applications will begin October 15, 2005 and remain open until the position is filled.
Administrative responsibilities: Maintain and revise curriculum. Recruit, hire, orient, train, and manage qualified instructors. Organize academic events for the annual residency conference. Work congenially with staff, students, and colleagues. After curriculum and instructor management, the Director's most important role is as a communicator with a constant presence among online students and faculty. Be a leader; creatively manage staff, students, and instructors.
See http://www3.norwich.edu/grad/ for general information about online graduate programs at Norwich University.
Please send a letter of application referring specifically to this search, a curriculum vitae, one sample of published scholarship, and the names and addresses of three to five references who may be contacted by the search committee. Additional application materials may be requested at a later date. Application materials should be sent to: Military History Program Director Search, Human Resources, Norwich University, 158 Harmon Drive, Northfield, Vermont 05663, or submit on line at email@example.com.
Norwich is an Equal Opportunity Employer offering a comprehensive benefit package that includes medical and dental coverage, group life and long term disability insurance, flexible-spending accounts for health and dependent care, a retirement annuity program and tuition scholarships for eligible employees and their family members.
Employment Opportunities Home
Copyright 2000 by the President and Trustees of Norwich University.
First World War Literature Blog
Friday, October 14, 2005, 08:00 AM - Memory, Myth, and ImaginationDr. Stephen Ogden has created a blog (now well underway) for use in his English literature class at Simon Fraser University. The title:
First World War Literature: Rats, Gas and Shell-Shock
(Hat tip to Esther MacCallum-Stewart at Break of Day in the Trenches)
The White Man's Ballad - Pt 2
Sunday, October 9, 2005, 09:39 AM - Memory, Myth, and Imagination
Fahs, Alice, and Joan Waugh, eds. The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. Illustrations, notes, index. 286 pages. $59.95 (cloth) ISBN 0-8078-2907-2; 19.95 (paper) ISBN 0-8078-5572-3.
[forthcoming in H-War; published here with permission]
I once heard the distinguished historian Ira Berlin succinctly explain the difference between history and memory. History, he said, is open to discussion and disagreement. Memory isn’t. Civil War buffs may endlessly debate, for example, the reasons for the Confederate army’s defeat at Gettysburg. That’s no problem. But it is out of bounds to suggest that this was an army of traitors who fought and bled and died trying to keep three and a half million Americans in bondage. That’s sacrilege.
"History," said Napoleon in one of his ceaseless aphorisms, "is a fable agreed upon." If one substitutes for "history" the phrase "public memory," Napoleon got it exactly right. But a fable agreed upon by whom? And with what moral in mind? These are questions that in recent years have fascinated a growing number of historians, and perhaps none more raptly than those whose area of specialization is the Civil War, an episode called, with reason, the American Iliad.
The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture is a valuable new contribution to this dialogue. It is the fruit of a conference held at the Huntington Library in October 2003, which in turn grew out of a round table at the 1999 annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians entitled, "What Do Military and Cultural Historians of the Civil War Have to Say to Each Other?" (Not a lot, apparently, since only two of the essays in the volume were written by scholars with extensive publications dealing with the military dimension of the conflict.) According to the introduction, it "examines a variety of battles over the memory of the war during the last 135 years . . . recovers the racial and gender politics underlying numerous attempts to memorialize the war, provides new insights into how Lost Cause ideology achieved dominance in the late nineteenth century, and shows how contests over memories of the war were a vital part of politics during the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s." (p. 1) This covers quite a swath. It could have made for a scattered, uneven product, but the result holds together well.
The Memory of the Civil War can in many ways be seen as an extension of the thesis and argument in David Blight’s Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. In it, Blight deftly explored the construction of the dominant public memory of the conflict in the first half-century after the conflict. He suggested that initially there were three broad strands of memory: a white Unionist interpretation that emphasized the war as the salvation of a republic that Lincoln called "the last best hope of earth"; a white Southern interpretation that swiftly rejected slavery as having anything to do with the conflict and emphasized instead the defense of state’s rights; and an African American interpretation that stressed the conflict as the moment that not only destroyed slavery but also pointed America in the direction of human equality. The sympathies of Race and Reunion lay quite obviously with the third, "emancipationist vision." It did the best job of any work thus far in uncovering and elucidating that vision. It then went on to do the best job of any work thus far to show how white Americans buried that vision in the interests of creating a public memory that asserted the moral equivalence of the Union and Confederate causes.
The rejection of the emancipationist vision is one that both Blight and the essayists in The Memory of the Civil War deplore, and for good reason. It not only marginalized the African American experience, making them seem the passive recipients of freedom despite the fact that some 200,000 blacks served in the Union army and navy, it also helped to legitimate a white supremacist racial order that lasted until the 1960s. Yet the need for sectional reconciliation required some kind of synthesis of the public memories of the conflict, and since it would have been impossible to synthesize all three interpretations—the Unionist, states’ rights, and emancipationist visions—it seems predetermined that one of these would be cast aside. In retrospect, one might wish that that the synthesis would have been between the Unionist and emancipationist visions (with unreconstructed rebels perhaps forced to leave the country as happened to 125,000 pro-British Loyalists after the American Revolution). But given the common commitment to white supremacy in both the North and South, it is hard to imagine any such thing occurring, and the essayists in The Memory of the Civil War do not try. Instead they extend Blight’s argument in new directions and track it longitudinally into the 1960s, when, thanks to the Civil Rights movement, the "emancipationist vision" begins to reappear.
Some of the essays deepen our understanding of matters that are already reasonably well known (indeed, four of the pieces have been previously published). Joan Waugh, for example, underscores how, during the mid-1880s, Ulysses S. Grant composed his Personal Memoirs in such a way as to reject the already growing consensus that the North and South fought for different but morally equivalent visions of America. Gary W. Gallagher explores the ways in which three men: Robert E. Lee; his wartime subordinate turned hagiographer Jubal A. Early; and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Douglas Southall Freeman worked successively—and successfully—to entrench precisely that vision. Working from another angle, James M. McPherson performs a similar service in his study of how the Daughters of the Confederacy, United Confederate Veterans, and other Southern organizations worked tirelessly to embed this vision into school textbooks. David W. Blight’s essay exploring the origins of Memorial Day in the North and South is one of the key chapters in Race and Reunion.
Others I found more fresh, particularly Alice Fahs’s exploration of the Civil War as portrayed in the children’s literature between the 1860s, when the Northern literature emphasized motherhood and gave at least some respect to the African American experience; and the 1890s, when it had (in ways for which she does not really account) come to emphasize fatherhood and (in ways that are more fully explored) come to depict African Americans in the shuffling, yassuh, steppin-fetchit mode that would become the typical twentieth century white stereotype. The authors of children’s books, she argues, picked up on and faithfully passed along the emerging white vision of sectional reconciliation, in part because it gave such books a wider geographical market than they would otherwise have commanded. And she points out that while children’s literature is often dismissed as a "step-child" of adult literature, it is also an important conduit by which values—in this case, racial values—are transmitted from one generation to the next.
The caliber of all the contributions is uniformly high, but perhaps the best among a very good collection is Stuart McConnell’s concluding essay on "The Geography of Memory." It not only draws together the volume’s other essays but also moves us forward in the understanding of memory as a concept. "Having absorbed the postmodern lesson that we cannot surgically remove information from the story in which it becomes embedded without embedding it in some other story," McConnell writes, historians "are too often content to line the stories up next to each other, like pieces of a dream, without considering their interrelation. . . . Thus, where the Civil War is concerned there can be Northern and Southern memories, men’s and women’s memories, black and white memories, Republican and Democratic memories, all peacefully coexisting without much thought given to their connections." (pp. 258-259)
Better, McConnell suggests, to draw a cognitive map of the landscape of memory that "describes not just relations of cultural space but relations of cultural power" (p. 262), and to understand that each generation has its own distinctive map. "We may abhor the Victorians’ penchants for blind partisan politics, mawkish sentimentality, reactionary jurisprudence, or racist social thought," McConnell writes. "Yet these were the landmarks around which all late-nineteenth century Civil War memories arranged themselves." (p. 263) Over time, he continues, "the highly political Gilded Age gave way to a twentieth century that put ever more stress on commercial entertainment, consumption, and tourism. . . . [M]emory . . . came to be seen as a kind of entertainment (rather than, in the nineteenth century, a political weapon.” (p. 264) Understanding this shifting geography of memory, he concludes, “is to reimpose narrative on a sprawling democracy of versions." The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture is a significant step in this direction.
 See, e.g., Otto Eisenschiml and Ralph Newman (eds.), The American Iliad: The Epic Story of the Civil War as Narrated by Eyewitnesses and Contemporaries (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1947), and Charles P. Roland, An American Iliad: The Story of the Civil War, 2nd ed. (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2004).
 Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001.
Part 1 - Part 2
The Dark Soul of Colonel Mathieu
Tuesday, September 27, 2005, 08:23 AM - A Postcolonial Military History?Robert Farley, a post-doctoral fellow at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, University of Kentucky, reflects on one of the key characters in Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers (hat tip to Arms and Influence):
The first time I saw Battle of Algiers was during a security studies retreat at Cornell University. In the discussion following the film, one of the political science faculty surprised the room by suggesting that Lieutenant Colonel Mathieu was one of the most evil characters that he had seen portrayed on film. There was considerable disagreement on this point, and I was completely unconvinced. Mathieu appeared to me to be the picture of a professional military officer; on the wrong side of history, perhaps, but concerned primarily with his duty and by no means evil. That Mathieu clearly respected his opponents made him even more appealing. Later, we dismissed the professor’s argument as simply a re-assertion of the banality of evil hypothesis. I've probably seen Battle of Algiers 15 times since then, and each time I've had opportunity to rethink the argument. I have come to believe that the professor (Peter Katzenstein) was correct, that Lieutenant Colonel Mathieu is one of the most vile characters ever portrayed in film, and that it has nothing to do with the banality of evil. . . .
What's the Matter with History?
Monday, September 26, 2005, 09:56 AM - The Craft of History
Historian Richard M. McMurry speaks at the Fairfield Heritage Association's "Sherman Weekend" dinner on Friday evening.
McMurry; event organizer Joyce Harvey; master of ceremonies Lou Varga
John F. Marszalek, author of Sherman: A Soldier's Passion for Order
This weekend I was involved with an event commemorating the 125th Anniversary of General William T. Sherman's "War is Hell" speech. It was well organized and attended and I hope it generated a lot of funds for the Fairfield Heritage Association, an organization that runs, among other things, The Sherman House. On Friday night I attended the kick-off dinner and on Saturday afternoon talked about "The Civil War as an Interracial War" at a session devoted to "Race in the Civil War." Along the way I got to attend a brunch that featured an exchange on the March to the Sea and Carolinas Campaign between historians John F. Marszalek and Richard McMurry. Early Saturday evening I dropped in a pre-dinner wine reception held at the Sherman House.
All in all, it was a very pleasant couple of days, and really quite energizing, because it was just nice to be around so many people who were unguarded in their love of history. To me it contrasted sharply with the ambience within academic history. There the culture is very serious and even rather censorious.
I got to talking about this with John Marszalek at the Friday evening dinner. I said that while I could seldom pinpoint individuals who embodied this dour attitude toward history, it seemed everywhere in a kind of free-floating way. John agreed, though he added that once in a while you did see explicit manifestations of the attitude. He encountered it at times because of the commercial success of Sherman: A Soldier's Passion for Order. And he told me of the experience another prominent Civil War historian had early in his career when the History Book Club made the historian's first book one of its selections. The man was thrilled and at a faculty meeting mentioned it to a colleague, the way you do when you have a piece of good news you want to share. The colleague frowned slightly, thought it over a moment, and then said quite seriously that it was OK this time but that he'd better not let it happen again.
It was one more manifestation of an attitude I have already noted elsewhere. My class will be talking about it at today's session--I've asked them to discuss three articles:
James M. McPherson, "What's the Matter with History?" in McPherson, Drawn with the Sword: Rleflections on the American Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 231-253;
and an exchange between an academic and "popular" historian:
Leon F. Litwack, "Telling the Story: The Historian, The Filmmaker, and the Civil War," in Robert Brent Toplin, ed. Ken Burns's The Civil War: Historians Respond (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 119-140.
Geoffrey C. Ward, "Refighting the Civil War," in Robert Brent Toplin, ed. Ken Burns's The Civil War: Historians Respond (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 141-152.
The McPherson piece addresses the sharp ambivalence of academic historians toward history written for nonspecialists. Litwack's piece, to which Ward's is a rejoinder, implicitly suggests some of the dangers of an historical approach that caters too directly to a mass audience.
What Would Sam Do?
Sunday, September 25, 2005, 12:28 PM - The World After September 11
Once an Eagle, a novel by Anton Myrer originally published in 1968, has long been required reading for American officers. The edition in my personal library contains a special foreword by Gen. John W. Vessey, Jr., a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The US Army War College Fund underwrote the cost of adding it to the earlier "civilian" edition. The book is on the US Marine Corps Professional Reading list; this excerpt from the list explains its significance:
Thirty years after its initial publication, Once An Eagle has become a touchstone for the military professionals who devise and carry out our nation's defense. According to the New York Times, "Once An Eagle has worked its way over a generation into the mindset and lexicon of the American military." Named to the Marine Commandant's Reading List, it is required reading for all marines, is assigned to West Point cadets, and is featured in the United States Army War College's annual leadership seminar. Soldiers emblazon the protagonist's name--Sam Damon--across their tanks, and military officers at every level make decisions by asking themselves, "What would Sam do?"
Once An Eagle compellingly recounts the making of one special soldier, Sam Damon, and his adversary over a lifetime, fellow officer Courtney Massengale. Damon is a soldier's soldier, the consummate professional, decorated in both world wars for bravery under fire, who puts duty, honor, and the men he commands above self-interest. Massengale, the consummate political animal who disdains the average grunt, brilliantly advances by making the right connections behind the lines and in Washington's corridors of power.
I thought of Sam Damon this morning when I received an email from Maj. Robert Bateman, an Army officer and friend of mine who is posted in Baghdad. Bob periodically sends out circulars to friends and associates commenting on news items he finds striking in light of his current assignment. It would surprise me very little to learn that Bob thought of Sam Damon when he read an item in today's Los Angeles Times online. Here's Bob's preface to the article:
Articles such as the one I’ve pasted below are, obviously, very painful. It hurts when I read something like this, because I love my nation, my Army. I believe in both, and this quite obviously hurts them in an immediate, albeit shallow, way.The article itself is headlined, "Officer's Road Led Him Outside Army." It's by Richard A. Serrano and appears in this morning's Los Angeles Times:
But on another level, a more fundamental level, this is a story that demonstrates how good, true, and honorable are my nation and my Army, at the core.
War is an abomination. I happen to fall into the camp which believes that it is sometimes a necessary abomination, but that does not remove the first element. Because, however, I have no blinders about war, because I have some understanding of what is unleashed when men go to war, reports of bad things, such as that below do not surprise me. But how they are revealed in the American Army is almost unique in history.
This story is as much about the success of my Army, in creating good men and true, as it is about the abominations that occur in war. That we, as an institution, contain elements that led to the first event (the abuse), is not just not unique, it is more like the norm in the history of warfare. That we, as an institution, contain elements that do whatever it takes to make the institution adhere to its own stated values, well that is unique.
WASHINGTON — When Army Capt. Ian Fishback told his company and battalion commanders that soldiers were abusing Iraqi prisoners in violation of the Geneva Convention, he says, they told him those rules were easily skirted.
When he wrote a memo saying Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was wrong in telling Congress that the Army follows the Geneva dictates, his lieutenant colonel responded only: "I am aware of Fishback's concerns."
And when Fishback found himself in the same room as Secretary of the Army Francis J. Harvey at Ft. Benning, Ga., he again complained about prisoner abuse. He said Harvey told him that "corrective action was already taken."
At every turn, it seemed, the decorated young West Point graduate, the son of a Vietnam War veteran from Michigan's Upper Peninsula, whose wife is serving with the Army in Iraq, felt that the military had shut him out.
So he turned to those he knows best. He sought guidance from fellow infantry commanders and his West Point classmates, and learned that they agreed with him that abuse of prisoners was widespread and that officers weren't adequately trained in how to handle them.
Then, in a lengthy chronology obtained Saturday by The Times, recounting what he saw in Iraq and his numerous efforts to get the Army's attention, he wrote that "Harvey is wrong." He wrote that Army guidance was "too vague for officers to enforce American values." He concluded that violations of the Geneva Convention were "systematic, and the Army is misleading America."
This summer, after weighing the possible effects on his career, he stepped outside the Army's chain of command and telephoned the Human Rights Watch advocacy group. . . .
The American Way of Ignore
Friday, September 23, 2005, 08:37 AM - The World After September 11Willful Ignorance: How the Pentagon sent the army to Iraq without a counterinsurgency doctrine
Jason Vest, writing in the July/August 2005 Bulletin of Atomic Scientists:
In 1964, the old Asia hand Lucian Pye astutely noted that, despite a long and well-documented history of insurgent warfare in the world, governments that have faced insurgencies--or were once insurgents themselves--tend to be quick at forgetting their roots. For militaries, this loss of memory has not been passive, but rather reflects a conscious effort to marginalize insurgency studies. "They fail to acknowledge and codify their accumulative understanding of how to cope with insurrections," Pye lamented. "Thus each outbreak of insurgency seems to call for relearning old lessons."
Yet they rarely do. And nowhere is this more true than in the United States. Scholars and soldiers alike have often used the phrase "the American way of war" to describe not just a predilection, but a virtual strategic obsession, which holds that wars are fought by gathering the maximum in manpower and materiel, hurling them into the maelstrom, and counting on swift, crushing victory. While this approach may work against a conventional army, it's nothing short of disastrous when fighting insurgents engaging in unconventional guerrilla warfare. Thus far in Iraq, the U.S. effort, though not entirely devoid of successes, has been hallmarked by overwhelmed and underprepared troops effecting heavy-handed, large-scale roundups of civilians (in some cases errantly or overzealously harming them); or the destruction of large swaths of cities and towns. Meanwhile, cycles of insurgent attacks continue to effectively target current and newly recruited Iraqi police, soldiers, and politicians, as well as Iraqi civilians and U.S. soldiers.
U.S. ground forces are only now beginning to readjust their approach toward counterinsurgency warfare. But to many knowledgeable observers, it's looking like too little, too late. . . .
Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone
Thursday, September 22, 2005, 07:59 AM - The World After September 11Most Americans have seen the work of freelance photojournalist Kevin Sites (shown at left), even if they do not know his name. It was Sites who briefly achieved world fame or infamy in November 2004. While covering the U.S. assault on Falluja, he filmed a U.S. Marine killing a wounded and apparently helpless Iraqi insurgent lying on the floor of a mosque. Sites, who plainly had come to identify with the combat troops he covered, was dismayed by that turn of events and blogged a much reprinted open letter to Devil Dogs of the 3.1
Sites went on to cover the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. At the moment he has partnered with Yahoo! News "to provide a unique, multimedia perspective on some of the world's most troubled and dangerous places." The plan is to cover "every armed conflict in the world within one year, and in doing so to provide a clear idea of the combatants, victims, causes, and costs of each of these struggles - and their global impact." This journey will be reported on a new web site: Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone. The site is touted as "a forum for information and involvement. Users will not only learn about the scope of world conflict, but will find ways to be part of the solutions- through dialogue, debate, and avenues for action." The journey begins September 26.