Interrogating the Project of Military History

April 14 - Since my last entry I completed the counterfactual Lee assessment, which I'll post on this site when  it's published in early May.  As I suspected, the blog entries turned out to be an effective way to block in the article.  When the time came, I was able to write and revise the 6,000-word piece within a few hours.

By way of explaining the dearth of entries since April 2:  I also finished my taxes, took care of several administrative tasks, and prepared for my first exam in Spanish 102.  (Which sucked, thanks for asking.  On the positive side, I now know, in exhaustive detail,  how to go clothes-shopping in a Spanish-speaking country.)

The administrative tasks included writing up descriptions of the courses I'll be teaching this fall.  One is that undergraduate course on the History of War (see Entry 27.  The other is:


5 Cr. Hrs.

This is the first half of a two-quarter research seminar.  Students will conceptualize, research, write and revise a publishable manuscript of article- or chapter-length.  The manuscript will focus on a significant historical issue within the military experience of the United States, broadly conceived.  Papers that engage with issues of race and racism are particularly welcome.

In History 873A, we will discuss the principal theoretical perspectives concerning racism, and read a few of the major historical works that employ them, with particular attention to how issues of race and racism have affected the American military experience.  We will also address such practical matters as identifying a research problem, crafting a research strategy, framing an argument, organizing time, dealing with creative blocks and procrastination, and understanding the publication process. 

Time                             Meeting Days                              Instructor


 Assigned Readings (tentative)

Joan Bolker, Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day:  A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Dissertation.

Richard E. Delgado and Jean Stefancic (eds.), Critical White Studies:  Looking Behind the Mirror.

George E. Dowd, A Spirited Resistance:  The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745-1815.

Audrey Smedley, Race in North America: Origin and Evolution of a Worldview.

Bernard C. Nalty, Strength for the Fight:  A History of Black Americans in the Military.


A grade of "Progress" will be assigned for History 873A.  A final grade for both segments of the seminar will be assigned at the end of History 873B.  Seventy-five percent of the final grade will be based on the completed paper.  The remaining 25 percent will be based on class discussion, critiques of student drafts, etc.

Prerequisites and Special Comments

Students should formulate their paper topic in close consultation with their faculty adviser.


There's a lot here to discuss.  I'll start with the purpose of the seminar.

Every research seminar is essentially an advanced practicum in doing history.  Because I think it's silly to pretend academic history is divorced from creativity (though God knows some of us strain mightily to give that impression), I plan to devote attention to the muses and wraiths that haunt the creative process.  But because this is also an intellectual experience, it only makes sense to get participants on the same intellectual page, at least enough so that they can meaningfully read and critique each other's work.

There's no set way to do this.  The most obvious method--and the one implied by the seminar title--is to focus on a discrete region of space and time.  The seminars I took as a grad student were organized that way.  Both worked out fine.  One,  in modern British history, yielded a conference paper on Anglo-French relations in the Salonika campaign of 1915-1918.  The other, in nineteenth century American history, became the nucleus of a chapter in my eventual dissertation.

The course focus can be topical: For years my colleague Allan Millett conducted a research seminar in which each student researched and wrote about the Ohio National Guard.  And why not? You can get at any number of issues through the lens of the National Guard experience, and the Ohio restriction meant that the core archives were within a few miles of campus.  By the time Allan put a bullet in that particular topic, alumni from the "National Guard seminar" had published at least a score of articles in Ohio History and similar journals.

Finally, the focus can be conceptual, which is the approach I've adopted.  Such a focus gives students a chance to select a variety of topics while keeping certain basic issues in common.  I selected race and war for three reasons:

I happen to know something about it.

It has enough breadth to give students a lot of room in which to discover a worthwhile historical problem:  from colonial times to the present, from the "sharp end" of war to the workaday world of the peacetime military.

As a corollary, it offers plenty of scope for students in other fields besides military history.

I haven't absolutely required papers to deal with race.  As is the case in many research-oriented departments, at any given time about a third of our faculty are off-duty thanks to grants, fellowships, and similar tickets to ride the gravy train.  In the meantime students have to fulfill a set list of requirements, including a two-quarter seminar, and I can easily imagine a student with a good topic and a compelling need to complete the seminar requirement.  In such cases it would be churlish to bar them from the course.

Aside from such instances, however, I expect seminar participants to find a historical problem that involves issues of race.  It shouldn't be hard.  Issues of race are so fundamental to the American experience that they appear in almost any possible topic:  it requires almost willful blindness not to find a racial angle somewhere.  Hell, most American wars--the one going on at present, for example--were fought between opponents of different races.

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