Synopsis of the "Teaching
Military History to Undergraduates" Session
[Posted on H-War, January 16, 2004]
Janet G. Valentine
My schedule prevented me attending many sessions, and most of those David [Sibley] will cover in his reports [to H-War subscribers]. However, I thought I'd offer a synopsis of "Teaching Military History to Undergraduates: A Roundtable on Methods, Challenges and Opportunities." Chaired and conceived by Michael A. Ramsay of Kansas State University, the panel included Dale L. Clifford, University of North Florida, Ohio State University's John Guilmartin, Patrice Olsen from Illinois State University, and Lori Lyn Bogle, USNA.
Before I go any further I should add that any mistakes in interpretation of the panelists' remarks is mine and not H-War's. Also, I encourage discussion of their conclusions, but requests for additional information or materials should be addressed to the professor concerned at their university.
Clifford was first to present her paper, entitled "The Integration of Military History into the Curriculum." Inspired in part by the periodic discussions on H-War lamenting the condition of military history in the academy, Clifford designed an on-line survey asking members of the moderated history department chairs discussion list sponsored by the AHA to indicate whether the history department offered military history surveys, the areas the surveys covered and enrollment levels. She also asked about specific period courses (i.e. World War I, Vietnam), whether the courses were primarily military history, war and society or non-military. Moreover, she requested respondents indicate whether the faculty teaching the military history courses were tenure-track, non-tenure track, or part-time. Although the final sample was small, it was, according to several statisticians, statistically significant.
Ultimately, she was able to conclude that military history survey courses are alive and well. A substantial majority of the responding departments offered such courses, most of which enrolled at or near capacity. Furthermore, 77% of these courses are taught by tenure-track faculty. However, most of those faculty consider military history an outside field. In addition, pre-twentieth century courses are generally considered non-military, while the twentieth century surveys are typically seen as war and society.
Next, Guilmartin offered personal observations on teaching undergraduates military history in a presentation titled "The Role of Military History in the Historical Discipline with Particular Regard to Undergraduate Education." As he sees it, the current generation of undergrads are more insulated from military service, war, and lethal violence than previous generations, obligating professors to expose students to war as a historical phenomenon, and providing them the theoretical framework needed to understand its significance. To do this, historians must reintegrate military history into non-military history courses, but must also take care not to overemphasize "drums & trumpets." Rather, defining war broadly as "socially sanctioned armed violence for a political purpose," Guilmartin suggests presenting war as a political (intellectual) and social phenomenon.
Olsen's paper, "Secrets, Spies, and Scandals: Approaches to the Teaching of Foreign Intelligence." According to Olsen, more historians need to offer such courses because the political scientists and business faculty who are currently teaching them do a poor job, typically teaching them within a narrowly defined parameter. Foreign intelligence courses are integral to educating students to be good, informed citizens, and are increasingly important since 9/11. Beginning with teaching specific vocabulary and the precision of tradecraft, Olsen then moves to case studies, discussions of the uses and abuses of intelligence, the arguments over whether or not operations should be undertaken, and then requires them to design covert operations (no assassinations allowed) so that they will understand the limits on US power and the potential blowback.
Commentator Bogle discussed the challenges she faces teaching midshipmen at [the U.S. Naval Academy]. As with many undergraduate populations, students there are not always as sophisticated as professors would like. Furthermore, not all of the students are sympathetic to the academy's mission. Professors must also quickly establish credibility, but in military academies that includes reassuring the predominately conservative students that one respects their traditions. She recommends the knowledgeable use of jargon. Convincing midshipmen that social and cultural military history is valid is not always easy, but Bogle has discovered that having women in the course helps. There must, however, be more than one woman. She also frames social and cultural history around the ideal of citizen-soldiers and the conflict between perceptions of military service as uplifting or, alternatively, corrupting. Additionally, midshipmen are generally willing to acknowledge and discuss the significance of race in military service and war, but resist studying gender. Bogle attempts to counter this by approaching the subject through concepts of masculinity.
This was an interesting, well-attended panel that sparked substantial discussion.
Janet G. Valentine
H-War Book Review Editor
Return to Entry 6.