Interrogating the Project of Military History

December 17. Yesterday the English Department voted to offer the position in Latino/a Studies to Marco.

Which means I no longer have to call him Marco.

He's actually Michael Hames-Garcia, currently at SUNY-Binghamton. He received his PhD five years ago from Cornell University and his first book, Fugitive Thought: Prison Movements, Race, and the Meaning of Justice, is being published next spring by the University of Minnesota Press. But he's already got a substantial record of publication. More importantly, his work has both what historian Philip Shaw Paludan likes to call the quality of "mind"--a sort of intellectual wakefulness--and also a distinctive voice unusual in a writer his age.

So anyway now begins the kabuki dance. We try to woo Michael to our fair university while the administrators at Binghamton show him all the kingdoms of the world at a glance in order to keep him. You never know how these things will come down. The academy is, generally speaking, a buyer's market. But for the truly gifted it's always a seller's market. Michael's now in the catbird seat, and not for the last time in his career, either.

Naturally I'd like to see Michael come here. In my case, it goes well beyond the usual wish that, having invested time and effort in a search, you want a successful outcome. It's mostly a matter of having run across someone from whom your own intellectual and human journey could benefit. That doesn't happen all that much.

What else? (An hour working on this blog sure goes by fast.) Well, I've started reading Frantz Fanon's Black Skins, White Masks. I defy anyone to read even the first page and not get hooked. And, after a byzantine process, I enrolled yesterday in Spanish 101. I figure I can use all the Spanish I can get when I go back to Honduras, but besides that, I'd like to get a grounding thorough enough that I can eventually do research in Spanish as well.

Lastly, I got an email from Brian Sanndberg in response to one I sent him the other day after meeting Michael Hames-Garcia. Brian is one of John Lynn's PhDs and one of the few military historians I have ever seen permit postmodern techniques to inform his work.

Here's my initial message:

Hi Brian,

I see you were off to Italy in 2002-2003, but I assume you're back now.

It's been quite a while since we were in touch.  I'm writing now for several reasons.  First, my own research and intellectual development have at last carried me to the point where I understand--or at least begin to grasp--why you suggested I read Said, Foucault, Bourdieu, etc.  I dutifully bought all the books but never had a clue why they might be relevant to my work on race and war.  I wasn't totally lame--over the years I have become conversant with critical race theory and whiteness studies--and as far as I can judge I could write a perfectly good book based on those conceptual frameworks alone. 

But I begin to see how military historians usually accept uncritically existing patterns of dominance and subordination, hierarchy, etc. These patterns strike them as natural, and they tend to react with befuddlement,  resentment, and resistance whenever someone challenges the validity of those patterns. Thus the major intellectual movements that have emerged in recent decades to mount such challenges--neo-Marxism, post-modernism, post-colonialism, subaltern studies--are dismissed with the label "political correctness." And military historians don't even begin to understand how the project of military history, so long as it refuses to interrogate structures of power, appears to scholars who have embraced these movements as reinforcing those structures.

So anyway:  thanks.  I guess.  You could have just told me all this, you know. :-)

Second, I see you're interested in getting beyond the Eurocentric metanarrative of military history (it almost sounds like I know what I'm talking about.)  Me too.  I've started teaching a course called The History of War [ http://people.cohums.ohio-state.edu/grimsley1/h380/syllabus.htm ] that tries to do this--I say "tries" because it'll take me several iterations to really get there--and the Mershon Center has given me funding to organize a conference on "The History of War in Global Perspective." [ http://www.mershon.ohio-state.edu/Projects/Individual%20Projects/grimsley.htm ]  The conference will be held on November 12-14, 2003.    Pradeep Barua, John Lynn, and Geoffry Parker, among others, will participate.  I'd love it if you'd want to get involved as well.

Third, we both have extensive web sites and seem to enjoy working on them (I know I do).  How about if we pool our talents to create something that would be of general benefit to military historians, particularly something that interrogated the traditional approaches.  For instance, we could do something like this online Dictionary of Anthropolgy [ http://www.anthrobase.com/Dic/eng/index.html ], save that ours would deal with military history, and, in addition to the "traditional" terms, would also show the relevance to military history of emerging cultural approaches.

I could go on, but I'll wait to hear back from you.  Hope you're well.

Best,

Mark

And Brian's reply:

Ciao Mark,
 
Again, great to hear from you!  I read your lengthy e-mail yesterday evening with much interest! 
 
I am actually writing to you from Italy, using my European University Institute e-mail account, which I still use as my principal one (although the Millikin one is still good for another semester).  Life is great here in Italy, but I am definitely following a somewhat bizarre path through academic posts.  Millikin is in the middle of a huge financial crisis, so I applied for a number of posts last year, landing a new postdoc at the Medici Archive Project in Florence.  So, am doing research on Medici dynastic documents from the 16th and 16th centuries dealing with military history and French history.  I am still on leave from my post at Millikin, but will not be going back, since the Medici post is for 3 years.  Afterwards, I will be looking for a tenure-track position in the States again.  So, there you have the short story of my recent academic adventures.
 
The experience in Florence has been great so far!  I have learned Italian, done research on Italian documents, given a research presentation in Italian.  Who would have ever imagined?  The EUI is a great intellectual environment, and I have enjoyed working with students and colleagues there over the last year and a half.
 
As for the particulars of your message:
 
1.  I could not agree more with your observations on military historians' need to seriously "interrogate structures of power"!  Well put.  I think that we could usefully promote such a vision in JMH and other military history forums.  Maybe we could begin with a reading exchange or bibliography?
 
2.  The new conference you are organizing on "The History of War in Global Perspective" sounds fantastic.  I would absolutely love to be part of it!  I enjoyed your previous conference on "Civilians in the Path of War" very much, and have the book on my shelf.  The only possible stumbly block would be the problem of flying over from Europe, since I will be in Italy in fall 2004.  But, I do hope that I can participate!
 
3.  The website development idea also sounds great!  I haven't had time to update mine in a while, and actually have no way to update it at Millikin, since I am in Italy.  Perhaps there is a way to re-locate my website or a portion of it onto the OSU system?  Or, if not, we can just develop new pages to fit with your already-existing site.  I will check out this Dictionary of Anthropology site to get some ideas from it.
 
Again, great to hear from you, Mark!  I look forward to hearing your ideas on how you might like to proceed with these ideas!
 
By the way, if you are coming to Europe at any point, let me know!  You can have a hide-a-bed in Florence anytime.
 
Ciao,
 
Brian
 
Brian Sandberg
Jean Monnet Fellow, 2002-2003
Department of History and Civilization
European University Institute
Brian.Sandberg@iue.it

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