Old versus €œNew€ Historiography

Below is a piece I wrote for a class I took in World History for my BA in which I had to analyze the differences between Rankean history and the influence of the Annales school and what has come after.   If I remember right, I got an A on this assignment even though the professor thought I was a little too disparaging of the postmodernists.   I am disparaging of postmodernism in general, that is probably one reason I have chosen not to pursue a career in Academia as I had once aspired to do.

The main difference in the debate, if it is a debate, between old and new historiography seems to be politics and its place in academic or scholarly work as well as the usefulness of other disciplines to historical scholarship.   The Rankean or scientific historians of the old historiography would like to see historians as group distance themselves from politics contemporary or otherwise and focus on trying to make their histories be as fact based as possible while only presenting opinions in their interpretation of events.   The new historiography, represented by the historians of the Annales School or sometimes claimed by the postmodernists and deconstructionists of the Foucault or Derrida schools seems to want to insert politics into history at every opportunity.   Indeed, the postmodernists take is almost that politics is inescapable and if that is so then why not wallow in it and abandon any hope of objectivity or neutrality?  The Annales School however is more rigorous in its application of logical thought to history and instead seeks to develop a synthesis of history and other disciplines and does not focus as much on politics as the postmodernists do.

More after the Jump…Old versus €œNew€ Historiography

The Military Revolution?

I saw this piece (Warfare of the Future) on RCP today and it got me to thinking about the Nature of Revolutions in Military Affairs (RMAs) in general. I dont think there are a whole lot of people out there that are not in the military in into to military history that are very conversant with the idea of a RMA. The idea was first proposed by historian Michael Roberts in a series of lectures in England in 1955. It has gained currency among the current crop of thinkers in the worldwide defense community, especially think-tanks and weapon makers. The RMA is the current killer-app of defense thinking.

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The Actual Writing of a Thesis-Part 2

I rediscovered the importance of an outline over the past few days of working on my thesis. Idiot me did not do an outline as I have one for all my papers in the past both undergrad and Graduate level. I have no idea why I thought i could tackle a project as large as Master’s Thesis with only a Table of Contents to use as a guide. I say rediscovered because I started writing and after about 20 pages I realized I have essentially been wasting my time because I tend to ramble when I do not have something to keep me focused.
After I realized I was rambling I stopped and took a brief break to figure out what I was doing wrong and how I could fix it. That is when it struck me that I don’t have an outline. It was definitely a V-8/face palm moment. I then settled down and decided to write an outline.

More after the Jump…The Actual Writing of a Thesis-Part 2

Decimation

This is a curious word and does not mean today what it meant to the Ancient Romans who coined the term. Merriam-Webster defines decimate as:

DECIMATE; transitive verb
1: to select by lot and kill every tenth man of
2: to exact a tax of 10 percent from
3a : to reduce drastically especially in number
b : to cause great destruction or harm to

It is 3a and b that is more commonly used today however, it is definition one where the word came from. Specifically the Roman military practice of decimation in which mutinous or cowardly units were sentenced to be decimated. This was never a common punishment, most extreme punishments are only effective if they are both extreme and rare. There are a few instances in recorded sources of a unit being decimated one of which is the Legio III Augusta which was decimated in A.D. 18 after allowing one of its subunits to be annihilated in battle.

More after the Jump…Decimation

The Actual Writing of a Thesis

I am about 20 pages into writing my thesis and it is killing me.   I generally really enjoy writing, especially writing about history.   I have studied my topic for about 3 years now and actually visited the battlefield twice.   I find myself wanting to hurry writing the introductory chapters so I can get to the good stuff.   It is getting increasingly difficult for me to motivate myself to write, I suppose I will struggle through it somehow though. Writing my thesis is exciting and boring at the same time. The best comparison I can think of is sitting on a screen line in Iraq overwatching a … More after the Jump…

WW II Tanks Panther-T-34 visual comparison

Was talking about WWII tanks at work today and while looking at pictures of the various tanks the visual similarities between the German Panther and Soviet T-34 Jumped out at me. The top photo is of a Panther and the bottom photo is a T-34.   I have always read that the Panther was developed specifically to counter the threat of the T-34 but it never hit me how alike they looked.   They have a similar turret, glacís plate, commanders cupola, even the tracks looks superficially similar at a glance.   It just started to make me wonder if the German designers of the Panther had a captured T-34 … More after the Jump…

The Albigensian Crusades

Most everybody has heard about the Crusades. Generally, what people mean when they speak of the Crusades is the series of wars fought between Christianity and Islam. However, within the whole area of Crusading one particular episode sticks out, the Albigensian Crusade. The first Crusade waged wholly against fellow Christians, if not the last. It is also significant for a phrase that originated during the Crusade that has remained in use since that time and last but not least, it was the impetus for the founding of the Inquisition.

More after the Jump…The Albigensian Crusades

Bread and Circuses

I was driving back to the office from an appointment today and heard on the radio that there were demonstrations in Athens this morning in sympathy with the Italians against proposed austerity measures.   I immediately started to reflect on the number of demonstrations/riots in Europe in the past few months because of budget tightening measures necessitated by the rapidly failing social states of Europe.   The first phrase that came to my mind was how angry people get when there bread and circuses get reduced which got me to thinking of where the phrase Bread and Circuses came from.   The phrase comes from the Roman playwright Juvenal who wrote … More after the Jump…

Today is the Day

Well, today is the day my final theses class starts. I have already looked at the syllabus and am very curious how this is going to go. I have exactly 16 weeks to submit a proposal, get approval, write a draft, make revisions, and submit a final thesis for defense. I have been looking forward to this for at least 4 years and working towards it for the past 3. I guess I am both nervous and excited. Nervous because I am not quite sure if my proposal will be accepted without some major reworking and excited because I am getting ever closer to being done with college.   At … More after the Jump…

What is Military History?

This is  probably a topic I should have tackled a few months when I started this blog; I have come to realize that i am in the minority when it comes to military history and my view of what it should be.   I guess the best way to describe myself is that I am a macro-historian and not a micro-historian.

What is Military History is a pretty good question from my perspective.   The definition determines how military history is written in the first place and to what uses it is put.   Modern military history arguably began with the reformers of the Prussian Army after 1805 and the creation of the Prussian staff system and most importantly the Prussian Kriegsakademie.   In its infancy, modern military history served a very simple purpose, to prepare military leaders for war by instructing them in the successes and failures of past military leaders.   The Kriegsakademie excelled at producing what would today be known as drums & trumpets type military history.  Â 

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Clausewitzean Ideas of War and how they Relate to Present Conflicts

Clausewitzean Ideas of War and how they Relate to Present Conflicts

As I am getting ready to begin the final class for my MA and complete my Thesis I have been re-reading Clausewitz and his ideas and theory of War.   One of the things that that has struck me the most and made me realize how much Clausewitz is misunderstood is the way in which his most famous quote from the book about how “War is the continuation of policy by other means”[1] is completely taken out of context in most history.

If you read his book further, and I assume that most generals, staff chiefs, and even military historians have then it is clear that this quote is just a starting point given the numerous caveats and expansions on that simple statement in his theory.   Indeed, the very section that this quote heads explains what he means in a very concise and unambiguous manner; it is worth quoting in full.  

“We see, therefore, that war is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means.   What remains peculiar to war is simply the peculiar nature of its means.   War in general, and the commander in any specific instance, is entitled to require that the trend and designs of policy shall not be inconsistent with these means.   That of course, is no small demand; but however much it may affect political aims in a given case, it will never do more than modify them.   The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be considered in isolation from their purpose.”[2]

More after the Jump…Clausewitzean Ideas of War and how they Relate to Present Conflicts

Learning a Language

I was thinking this morning about how important learning a second language is to good scholarship. It hit me because I was not required to learn a second language for my undergrad, I wish I had been. My chosen historical specialty is 18th – 19th century Prussian history. It is kind of hard to see how I could do any really good research without learning German and maybe French. Luckily, I am married to a German woman and had no choice but to learn German if I want to talk to any of my in-laws since most of them don’t speak a lick of English. How could I expect them too since they all live in Germany?
Learning German has stood me in good stead the longer I have been studying history and especially in conducting research for my thesis. I have made several trips to archives in Germany and Austria conducting research for my thesis and these trips would have been completely wasted with no knowledge of German. I probably would not have made them in the first place.

More after the Jump…Learning a Language

Why Military History

I ran across this piece by Jay Luvaas again today and it got me thinking about why I like Military history and if it is a worthwhile pursuit.   My short answer is that I don’t know why I like it and yes it is. The long answer is that I guess I like military history because war is the most extreme pursuit man engages in.   Extreme sports such as base jumping, free diving, mountain climbing, etc have nothing on the sheer rush and danger of engaging in the single most dangerous thing man has come up with; hunting our fellow man.   I have personally been to combat but … More after the Jump…