Military History Conference

I went to the annual meeting of the Society of Military History this year, because it was in the DC area, if way out in Crystal City. It was good to see and talk with people, especially a particular outside reader of my dissertation, who I was glad to run into. The book display was also interesting, because I discovered titles that the same publishers had not shown at the AHA meeting in January.

Less interesting were the panels, which are actually the main event of conferences. The problem was not the quality of scholarship but rather the fact that I have a low tolerance for being read to. Continue reading “Military History Conference”

Dissertation on Internet Archive

Uploading one’s dissertation to the Internet Archive is certainly not for everybody, because publishers will not want to publish something that one can get elsewhere for free. Nonetheless, I took this big step after initially just making it available on GoogleDocs and Dropbox, where I had the freedom to delete the file. After careful consideration, I have concluded that any articles or book I write will be substantially new pieces of scholarship, not just recycled, even when I draw heavily on my empirical findings and analysis. Continue reading “Dissertation on Internet Archive”

When Experts Are Forced to Talk to Outsiders

Teaching undergraduate students forces me to deliver narratives and explanations to people who do not share my professional assumptions about how the world works and the way history should be told. It challenges me to think about how I can retell old stories with a different vocabulary. In the process I might even learn something. This is especially likely to happen when students ask me questions or express strong feelings about a major event. I last noticed this phenomenon in the fall, when I had my students visit the Holocaust Museum and discuss their experience in the course’s online forum. I got to thinking about it again today because of an article about innovation in the New York Times last month. Innovative Minds Don’t Think Alike, by Janet Rae-Dupree, points to the benefits that can accrue to experts when they open themselves up to the perspectives of outsiders. Continue reading “When Experts Are Forced to Talk to Outsiders”

Historians Speak about the Profession

Producing Knowledge

Mills Kelly of Edwired responds to the notion that the historical profession is about writing and therefore about publishing in traditional academic print media:

It seems to me that the essence of scholarship is the circulation of knowledge and the discussion of that knowledge among both peers and other interested parties. How is knowledge circulated? Print, the Internet, a museum exhibit, film, radio, are all methods for circulating knowledge and all of them require some sort of writing–even if that writing doesn’t result in yet another monograph or journal article. Just as one example–this blog had more than 75,000 unique visitors in 2007. If I’m lucky, my book will sell 1,000 copies. So how is more knowledge circulated?

Teaching Survey Courses

In The AHA Guide to Teaching and Learning with New Media, John McClymer makes an interesting point about one major difficulty of teaching introductory history classes:

I routinely begin our explorations of topics by asking students to come up with questions. There are several reasons. The most important is that it legitimates confusion. All learning begins in puzzlement, but teachers and students routinely connive in the illusion that students understand the causes of the French Revolution and any number of equally complex developments. The first and second year students in my “Modern Europe and U.S.,1815 to the Present” do not. This is not a failure on their part or mine. A good undergraduate math student can learn to integrate equations in a Calculus I course. An equally good history student cannot master the causes of the French Revolution in an introductory history course.

This blog post originally appeared on Clio and Me on this date.

Historians and Politics

Yesterday I wrote about the present in this blog about my work with the past. What possible justification could I have for doing that? (I mean besides the obvious point that this is my blog.)

I wrote about outsourcing military functions in Iraq not because I possess special knowledge of the subject, but because my expertise in history makes me frame the issue in ways that are different from what I find in the media. I do not possess any special insight into what we should do about the Iraq War now, but I know that there are some issues from past wars that I am not seeing raised today. Historians are on solid epistemological ground when they raise such issues.

On the other hand, I find the American Historical Association’s official condemnation of the war last year problematic. An organization of historians has no business claiming expertise in making war and peace. Instead I wish it would devote more attention to the study of war and society in the past. Then its individual members could participate in the framing of debates about war and peace in our own times, if they so desire.

This blog post originally appeared on my old history blog, _Clio and Me_, on this date.