Interrogating the Project of Military History

October 20 - Jacqueline Campbell,  professor at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, longtime friend, and, incidentally, author of a terrific book, takes issue with my substitution of "master" narrative for "meta" narrative.  She has a good point--actually a trio of points:

If, as you have said before, language has real power to shape our thoughts (a sentiment with which I agree) there are inherent problems with using the term "master" narrative.  The word master implies control and/or ownership.  Hence a master narrative suggests that, even if we add a global perspective, it will not fundamentally transform the field but merely expand it.  Here is the difficulty.  Including different perspectives, divergent voices etc. is of minimal consequence if we don't tackle the intellectual challenge of how this transforms the field.  If we add spices to a recipe doesn't it change the entire flavor of the basic ingredients? 

The second point is inevitable but nonetheless astute:

The other aspect of course concerns the gendered implications of the word "master." Now I know that many in your field have an inherent reluctance to even consider gender as a useful category of analysis in military history so I am not going to spend a lot of time on that.  One step at a time.

That probably gives me too easy a pass on what is arguably a critical point:  the way in which military history is not merely Eurocentric but androcentric.  (Yep, it's a real word, though it says something that I had to look it up to make sure.)

But giving me the pass allows Jackie to move on to her third, central point:

"Meta" as a word means development and transformation.  Surely the idea is to make military history a dynamic field of investigation.  Metanarrative (for me) suggests that the inclusion of other voices will result in a story that reflects a dialogue between these voices thereby increasing the opportunity for future development and change. It is for these reasons that I see the use of "master" as a step backward rather than forward. It allows some diverse voices in, but then reintroducing an overarching and implicitly static framework.

Jackie sees as well as anyone "the huge challenge of complicating our interpretations and yet still producing a coherent narrative--which I firmly believe we need."  But invoking a term like "master narrative" implicitly encourages an attempt to pursue a new objective using an outmoded means that really doesn't fit the task.

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