Interrogating the Project of Military History

November 14 - The conference is over and if anything, it exceeded my expectations.  The panelists did a splendid job, the audience participated enthusiastically, and those who handled the logistical/administrative chores came through in fine style.  I'm particularly indebted to Beth Russell, the Mershon staffer assigned to the project, and to my graduate assistant, Jill Veerkamp, who performed her varied jobs with astonishing efficiency.  Coach Woody Hayes used to say, "You win with people."  This conference stood or fell on the efforts of those who chose to commit to it their time, intellect, and enthusiasm, and right now I feel like one tired but very lucky guy.

We videotaped the sessions and I took copious notes, and in the days to come I'll add as many details as I can to the conference web site.  But for now I'll just cut to the chase and say that, by the end of the fourth session, a consensus had emerged that 1) a truly world military history was a challenge worth pursuing, and 2) the best way to do so would be to create an organization of scholars committed to the enterprise.  We considered and quickly rejected the idea of working through an existing body such as the World History Association or Society for Military History--I was particularly impressed by how readily, even emphatically, both Jeremy Black and Geoffrey Parker dismissed the idea that the SMH would be of any help.  So that leaves me now with the task of figuring out what goes into the creation of such an organization, how to design it, and (not least) what to name it.

Although the specific project that suggested the need for it was world military history, the real purpose of the organization, everyone understood, would be to help military history develop as an academic field.  A number of other organizations already exist, and effective ones too, devoted to military history as it relates to public history, the national security community, etc.  But none so far has shown itself to be centrally concerned with the intellectual advancement of the field.  We have no equivalent of the Society for the History of American Foreign Relations, the Society for the History of the Early American Republic, Medieval Academy of America, and so on.

A few days ago Geoffrey and I were batting emails back and forth about what such an organization might be called.  Like most of our exchanges, it was serious but not without a sense of fun.  I suggested the Society for the History of Armed Coercion (SHAC), but, as a fan of the Austin Powers films, wondered if we might find a way to justify the acronym SHAG.  Geoffrey, the historian of Philip II who's a sex machine to all the chicks (at least in his own mind), came up with SHAFT:  the Society for the History of Armed Force and Technology.  I countered, weakly, with SHWAC--the Society for the History of War and Culture--but at the conference Geoffrey continued to champion SHAFT.  So, tentatively at least, I say, "Right on." Perhaps we'll invite Richard Roundtree or Samuel L. Jackson to be our first keynote speaker.

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