Aug 30 2007
David French has just applauded Victor Davis Hanson’s lament over the state of military history. I’ve already taken issue with Hanson’s condemnation of the current state of the field. In French’s posting, he refers to “the shrinking pool of true military historians.”
This is simply not the case.
The American Historical Association has actually produced some data. Using its guide to history departments, which lists faculty by specialization, the Association has tracked changes in the geographic and thematic interests of historians from 1975 to 2005. For those not familiar with the guide, faculty may choose three geographic and thematic areas of interest / specialization. I, for example, am listed as “Russia/ USSR, military, South Asia.”
In online tables provided by the AHA, more detailed than the information on offer in the January 2007 issue of Perspectives, we do not find a clear decline in military history. In fact, the absolute number of historians claiming expertise in military history has grown substantially. The table can be referenced here.
In 1975, 2.4% of the 4,367 faculty (hence, just over 100) identified as military historians. 29.9% of departments had a military historian on the faculty. Those Percentages fluctuated over the next 30 years, and in 2005 hit 1.9% of 15,487 faculty. That implies an absolute increase in the number of military historians to nearly 300. The proportion of departments with a military historian on staff increased to 35.2%.
Those figures aren’t perfect (they don’t include many small and community colleges, for example), but they’re the best we have, and they do not show military history in decline.
Now perhaps French meant to emphasize the “true” in his “true military historians,” i.e. operational history as opposed to the various permutations of war & society. If so, there is still no evidence to substantiate that claim. We have anecdotes about people studying, say, gay legionnaires, but neither one bit of data to suggest that there is more or less of this than there used to be, nor any figures to show that race / class / gender military history has displaced operational military history. The increase from 100 to 300 military historians in history departments tracked by the AHA makes for an awfully big tent.