Interrogating the Project of Military History

November 15 - SHAFT does not yet even formally exist, but it already has a fan:  Lance Blyth, a PhD student at Northern Arizona University whom I met at the Society for Military History (SMH) back in May.  Lance dropped in on the blog yesterday and wrote an email of congratulation on the conference, adding that the idea of a new association appealed to him.  I also heard from Geoffrey Parker, who enjoyed what he termed my "AAR" [After Action Report] in Entry 60 but wished to remind me that it was only the SMH about which he felt skeptical regarding the idea of partnering up.  He did not feel at all that way concerning the World Historical Association (and indeed Jerry Bentley, who edits its journal, warmly responded to my request for names of potential conference panelists).  Geoffrey also noted the extensive time commitment involved to get a new organization up and running, not by way of saying SHAFT wasn't a good idea--after all, he named it--but more by way of implying that he'd like me to gain promotion to full professor within his lifetime.

I wrote back, "Concur.  . . . I think it makes sense to approach building SHAFT in stages, and at this early stage we might frame it as a somewhat informal network of like-minded scholars.  As far as possible we would exploit existing conferences, associations, journals, etc., gradually building up our own as circumstances might warrant."

That would not be an unusual approach.  See, for example, the early history of the Berkshire Conference of Women's Historians, which today is one of the most significant associations in academe.  Or one could point to two organizations in which panelists at the just-concluded conference play considerable roles:  the Chinese Military History Society (formerly the China Military Study Group), founded by David Graff and others; and De Re Militari:  The Society for Medieval Military History, whose president is Stephen Morillo and whose journal is co-edited by Cliff Rogers.  The latter is particularly noteworthy for its substantial trove of internet resources for the study of medieval military history, Medieval Warfare Online.

It seems to me that the immediate job is a) to extend the network of scholars with an interest in furthering military history as an academic field; b) develop a web presence for SHAFT--modest at first, but growing over time; and c) organize one event that people can count on occurring on an annual basis.  The Society of Civil War Historians, for instance, has an annual banquet and plenary session each year that "piggy backs" on the annual meeting of the Southern Historical Association.  We could do the same at meetings of the World Historical Association.  The upcoming WHA conference is being held in Africa--Ifrane, Morocco, to be exact--and it seems appropriate to note that there is a film called Shaft in Africa. On the other hand, the conference takes place in June 2005, barely seven months away.  It might be tough at this point and from this remove to make local arrangements.  So perhaps we could have a small event (or conference panel) in Morocco but organize a larger event here in the States, perhaps in tandem with a well-established regional meeting like the Ohio Valley History Conference, which for planning purposes has the twin advantages of being nearly a full year away and under the coordination of Jeff Roberts, a grad school friend of mine and member of the OSU Mafia.

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