Interrogating the Project of Military History

October 22 - The colleague who raised  the concerns outlined in the previous entry was Christopher A. Reed,  a specialist in the history of modern China, author of Gutenberg in Shanghai:  Chinese Print Capitalism, 1876-1937, and recently selected to be the new editor of Twentieth Century China.  He joined the faculty in 1997, just before the senior professor in the field, Chang Hao, unexpectedly retired.  That left Chris in the unenviable position of holding down the field for several years until the department finally made a senior hire, Cynthia Brokaw.  That was fortunate.  China was once a country that rivaled the Roman Empire in size and power, handily exceeded it in population, and maintained that level of world prominence into the modern era.  As of this writing it harbors 1,298,546,934 people , a burgeoning economy, and the best prospect of superceding the United States as the world's next preeminent power.  You definitely need two faculty to handle China.

Of course, one could make the argument that a few more historians of China might be nice, given that according to the History Department web site, twenty-six faculty members cover some aspect of the United States experience.  In fact, if you tally up the faculty connected to a given geographical area and place the numbers on a map of the world, the result looks like this:


Click the map for a closer view

I've drawn a loop around Europe and North America (excluding Mexico and the Caribbean, which somehow don't quite count as part of "the West").  All in all there are 45 history faculty on Ohio State University's main and regional campuses who deal with these parts of the world.  The rest of the world, comprising a handy majority of its land and population, get twelve.  Actually thirteen:  I just noticed that my colleague Carter Findley is counted only as an Islamicist and is not assigned a geographical region (though he focuses on the Ottoman Empire).  Then again, one must add Hasan Jeffries to the Americanists--he somehow appears only in African American, not modern U.S., history.

Granted that this is a rough-and-ready way to size up the department, the emphasis on the western historical experience is so overwhelming that the most determined of quibblers would have to acknowledge the imbalance.  Which I think provides some needed context for Chris's email, which, with his permission, I offer in full:

Date: Thu, 21 Oct 2004 18:49:38 -0400
From: "Christopher A. Reed" <reed.434@osu.edu>
Subject: Mershon conference
To: grimsley.1@osu.edu
Cc: brokaw.22@osu.edu, bartholomew.5@osu.edu, brown.113@osu.edu,
PhilipCBrown@netscape.net, dale.1@osu.edu, sikainga.1@osu.edu,
findley.1@osu.edu, hathaway.24@osu.edu, kostebek24@yahoo.com

Hi Mark,

I'd like to compliment you and your fellow organizers on your upcoming conference at Mershon, which I learned about yesterday via your email. Since Cynthia and I are now taking the final steps needed to launch a conference in early November ourselves, I know that this kind of undertaking requires a huge amount of effort.

As interested as I am in the topic of your conference, I am writing to open a dialogue and ask if I have missed something (someone?) in your program? According to your overview, "The purpose of the conference is to explore how the field of military history can transcend its Eurocentric origins and become truly global in the intellectual understanding of its subject matter. This involves an expansion not only of geographical coverage but also a recasting of the conceptual frameworks employed to understand war."

On the list of participants, the only scholar with a non-Western research agenda seems to be Professor Pradeep Barua, whose publications, as listed on the Mershon website, focus on the British Raj's armies. Basing myself solely on a talk that John Lynn gave at OSU five or six years ago, when I still had to teach a survey of south Asian history, I recall Lynn discussing the "military revolution" that occurred as the British introduced a professionalized, rationalized military order into the subcontinent. Given the fact that Prof Barua works on British India, it is hard for me to understand how he can help your assembly overcome "Eurocentrism."

In particular, I find it odd that you have no one who can speak to the long pre-modern south or east Asian (not to mention Ottoman or African, two other fields well represented in this department) traditions in warfare. Having such a person(s) might give you a run for your money in searching for an alternative to the Western way of war and means of studying it. This omission is particularly striking in light of the creation in my own field, seven or eight years ago, of the Chinese Military History Studies group led by David Graff at Kansas State. Graff himself is the author of "Medieval Chinese Warfare" and "A Military History of China," among other works, and he leads a fairly sizable group of specialists in Chinese military history, including Ralph Sawyer, the prolific translator of pre-modern Chinese military texts, Robin Yates at McGill, Peter Lorge at Vanderbilt, etc. No doubt others in south Asian, pre-modern Japanese, Ottoman, or African history could suggest other specialists.

Perhaps I have misunderstood the purpose of the conference but I just do not see how your group can claim to be seeking a way out of Eurocentrism when your assembly lacks scholarly representation from anyone working in languages and histories OUTSIDE that tradition.

I hope you will circulate your reply among the others whom I am copying and that we can all open doors onto other aspects of this fascinating topic.

Thanks for your attention,

Chris Reed
--
**********************
Christopher A. Reed
Associate Professor of Modern Chinese History
Chief Editor, Twentieth-Century China
Editorial Board Member for Asia, Book History
The Ohio State University
Department of History
230 West 17th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
USA

History Office tel. (direct): +1-614-292-0853
History Dept. fax: +1-614-292-2282
email: reed.434@osu.edu
Book site: http://www.ubcpress.ca/search/title_book.asp?BookID=2987
 

My two responses are given in the previous entry.  So far I can't claim to have heard the squeak of opening doors.  Those who were copied in the email--Cynthia Brokaw (modern China), Jim Bartholomew (modern Japan), Phil Brown (early modern Japan), Stephen Dale (south Asia), Ahmad Sikainga (sub-Saharan Africa), Carter Findley (Ottoman and Islamic), and Jane Hathaway (ditto)--haven't weighed in, at least not to me, and even Chris has so far written only:

Date: Fri, 22 Oct 2004 12:51:47 -0400
From: "Christopher A. Reed" <reed.434@osu.edu>
Subject: Re: Mershon conference
To: Mark Grimsley <grimsley.1@osu.edu>


[Mark Grimsley wrote:]

BTW, since we're carrying on this exchange in a more or less public way, I would like to post it on my blog.  Here's the address:
http://people.cohums.ohiostate.edu/grimsley1/dialogue/postcolonialism/resistance.htm

Please let me know if it's OK with you if I do so.
 

Mark, I've looked at your blog and it's okay with me to put my email up there. When it comes to having regional specialists address your concerns from a military or global point of view, I suggest that you contact David Graff at Kansas State and invite him and/or his organization to reply.

Chris
--
**********************
Christopher A. Reed
Associate Professor of Modern Chinese History
Chief Editor, Twentieth-Century China
Editorial Board Member for Asia, Book History
The Ohio State University
Department of History
230 West 17th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
USA

History Office tel. (direct): +1-614-292-0853
History Dept. fax: +1-614-292-2282
email: reed.434@osu.edu
Book site: http://www.ubcpress.ca/search/title_book.asp?BookID=2987
 

 

In fact, reading this email over again it seems more like a dismissal than a contribution to dialogue.

As far as it went, I liked the idea of contacting David Graff, having read his co-edited book,  A Military History of China (or more precisely, having raided it for some of my lectures in The History of War), and having looked over the impressive accomplishments on his web page.  But I really didn't know what constructive purpose would be accomplished by asking him to critique the rationale by which the conference panelists were selected.  It seemed better to invite Prof. Graff to campus at some point.  Then, by happy coincidence, I discovered I had more money in the conference budget than I thought--enough to bring Prof. Graff to the conference assuming he could make it on three weeks' notice.

A photo from David Graff's web page.  Presumably he's the man in the blue plaid shirt.

That left only the question of whether Prof. Graff had an interest in world history--again, not all historians do, and it seemed impulsive and perhaps unwise to bring in someone who might, for all I knew, consider world history merely a fad.  I needed to get a read on this matter, and fast.  I called Prof. Graff on campus.  No dice.  I called him at home.  No answer.  Finally it dawned on me that one of Prof. Graff's colleagues is Mark Parillo, an OSU Ph.D. and therefore a member of the dreaded OSU Mafia.  Mark happened to be home, and lost little time in telling me that Prof. Graff taught world history and was a proponent of it, and that in any case he was sharp and a super colleague.  I had already composed an email invitation to Prof. Graff and hit the "send" button as soon as I heard this.  No danger, then, of inadvertently subsidizing a scene such as this one:

From yesterday's H-World Digest, describing a conference session in which Victoria Clement, an OSU history grad student, gave a paper:

Thanks to panel organizer Scott Levi, the WHA sponsored a very successful discussion on  the place of Central Asia in World History at the Central Eurasian Studies Society meeting in Bloomington, Indiana last weekend. There were 42 audience members, many of whom came up to tell the panelists how much they enjoyed it.  Thanks to one comment from the audience regarding the dangers of the "current world history fad," the panelists had an opportunity to defend the field with a zeal equivalent to that with which they defended the contents of their presentations.

Now I'm just waiting to hear those three little words.

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