Terence Zuber, Military History, and Culture

I recently noticed that the English translation of Der Schlieffenplan: Analysen und Dokumente, edited by Hans Ehlert, Michael Epkenhans, and Gerhard P. Groß, is now available from the University Press of Kentucky under the title The Schlieffen Plan: International Perspectives on the German Strategy for World War I. Interestingly, Terence Zuber, who sparked much of the debate on German war planning prior to the Great War, declined to allow his chapter from the German original to be included in this English translation.1 It wasn’t his best piece anyway, far more peevish than usual, and there is plenty of his work on the supposedly nonexistent Schlieffen Plan already available in English. Be that as it may, if Zuber’s thesis about Schlieffen’s war planning has been conclusively disproven, the assumptions underlying his work have received less attention.2 That matters because his work on Schlieffen continues to be widely read and discussed, having made a big splash when it first came out. Moreover, he continues to write and publish books on German military history.

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German Scholarly Monographs

At the end of his English-language review of Anne Sudrow’s long book (in German) about the shoe in National Socialism, Neil Gregor has some choice remarks about German academic publishing, particularly dissertations and the second advanced dissertation (Habilitation) that would-be professors in Germany have to write.1 Of course, he does not mean all or even most scholarly books in Germany, but as an editor and historian, I do have to deal with the tendency he describes rather a lot. I’m sure translators will feel Gregor’s pain too.

Inevitably, there are sections in an 800-page book where the reader’s spirits flag, and where one wonders whether some editing down might not have improved the readability of the book at little cost to the comprehensiveness of its argument. No self-respecting German Ph.D. monograph would spare its reader a fifty-page discussion of the state of research, Fragestellung, and methodology; a suitably earnest discussion of the definition of a shoe is also, of course, a must. Yet life is short, and the half-hour I devoted to mastering the different kinds of shoe polish available to consumers in the 1920s is a half-hour of my life that I will not get back.

On the other hand, scholarly monographs, like shoes, have their own product history—they can no more be seen as isolated objects, standing outside of time and space, than the things with laces that we wear on our feet. In that sense, any such critical remarks are as much a comment on the academic habitus that consistently produces such books as it is on the book itself. The culture of subsidy which permeates German scholarly publishing, combined with a scholarly environment which places such emphasis on thoroughness, can all too easily permit indulgence. Rather like the German manufacturers this book describes—ambivalent about their customers, and irritated by their habits—one often feels that German academic authors ought to take their readers a bit less for granted. Who knows, they might then, like those shoe manufacturers this book brings to life so superbly, even produce objects that can compete without subsidy in the marketplace.

Keep in mind, Gregor begins the review by stating that Sudrow’s book “is one of the most interesting things I can remember reading,” and the bulk of his piece shows he means this. He is not criticizing Sudrow in the above comments, but rather particular weaknesses in an otherwise excellent academic system. I’m quoting him here because he made me laugh, recognizing, as I did, Gregor’s pain, but cognizant that the production of such pain is not a monopoly of German academia.

Why Atrocities?

I study European history, so why did I post about Sand Creek earlier today? And why excerpt seemingly gratuitous violence? I have no expertise in U.S. history, but I am interested in the history of violence per se, which can reveal a lot about peoples and cultures at a given point in history. Further, the U.S. Civil War has some important structural similarities to the Franco-Prussian War, and perhaps to other European wars in the mid nineteenth century.1 Given the causal relationship between the U.S. Civil War and the expansion of violence against Native Americans out west, there might be a case, for example, to include France’s nineteenth-century colonial conflicts in such a comparison. However, my main interest relates to cultural taboos—or lack thereof—about specific kinds of violence against specific categories of people, assuming those people have not been perceived to violate any important taboos themselves. Continue reading

Sand Creek

In the New York Times, Ned Blackhawk reminds us, “It’s the 150th anniversary of one of the most appalling massacres of Indians ever.”

In terms of sheer horror, few events matched Sand Creek. Pregnant women were murdered and scalped, genitalia were paraded as trophies, and scores of wanton acts of violence characterize the accounts of the few Army officers who dared to report them. . . .

Sand Creek, Bear River and the Long Walk remain important parts of the Civil War and of American history. But in our popular narrative, the Civil War obscures such campaigns against American Indians. In fact, the war made such violence possible . . .

See the full article here. There are more details in the Smithsonian Magazine, and a few sources from the time here.


Hat tip: @myHNN and @wcronen.

Digitized Resources for World War I Research

At Portal Militärgeschichte, Markus Pöhlmann reports that a joint German-Russian digitization project has made available a substantial number of World War One–era German military documents at the Russian defense ministry’s central archive. There is also a digitized collection of the German secret services from 1912 to 1945.

Additionally, the multi-volume Der Weltkrieg 1914-1918 (The World War), published by the Reichsarchiv in excruciating detail, is now available digitally thanks to the Upper Austrian State Library in Linz. As Pöhlmann points out, this work continues to be essential for operational history because it was written on the basis of documents that were largely destroyed in World War Two.

Finally, the Austrian-Hungarian counterpart has been digitized in Linz too: Österreich-Ungarns letzter Krieg 1914-1918 (Austria-Hungary’s Last War).

Housekeeping

I have closed my old blog, Clio and Me, and I will be slowly migrating select material to this blog. I will keep the original dates of the migrated posts, point out where I first published them, and update any outgoing links as necessary. I will also add the category Clio and Me, but I will probably not carry over old comments, unless something strikes me as still especially relevant in this new context.

I hope the slow migration does not cause havoc with subscriptions.


Update, November 24, 2014: I am doing the same kind of housekeeping (or curating) for my old blog about writing and learning English, Language for You. But I am not bringing much of that over here, because most of those posts were only short grammar and language tips for my ESOL and history students.

‘Not a Military Historian’

At a recent lecture on the Great War, Roger Chickering said, “I’m not a military historian.”1 The phrase stuck in my mind because he said it two more times during the course of the lecture and discussion. I’m sure he was trying to avoid letting the discussion get sidetracked by narrower debates about military operations, which was fair enough in the context of his talk about a series of common structural elements in Germany’s, France’s, and Great Britain’s wars. Nonetheless, his words bothered me. Continue reading

Miscellany

Although this blog would seem to indicate otherwise, I am still alive. Here’s what I’ve been up to besides my usual not-blogging:

Archive Seminar

Someone else will be doing the GHI’s archive seminar next year. Part of me wishes I was still doing it, because I enjoy working with the students, and I was looking forward to rethinking part of the program. At the same time, I need all the time I can get at the GHI for editing at the moment.

Editing

I’m finishing up the editing for a translated monograph by Annelie Ramsbrock called The Science of Beauty: Culture and Cosmetics in Modern Germany, 1750-1930. It has been a challenge in terms of making the translation more accurate and readable, while at the same time working to keep my inner control freak in check.

Research

I have been revisiting my Groener project, but most of my reading is on gender and war in the middle decades of the nineteenth century in Europe as part of a handbook project. I’m enjoying this work, and I’m managing to do it because I’m not teaching this semester—probably not next semester either.