Archive for November, 2007

Russia’s Great War

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

With the AAASS annual conference having come and gone, I’d like to extend my thanks to the dozen or so folks who showed up for the Russian Front lunch. It was a great success. We’ll aim to reprise the event at next year’s meeting in Philadelphia.

The big news out of the New Orleans conference involved Sunday’s heavily attended roundtable devoted to “Russia’s Great War in Global Perspective, 1914-1922.”

In contrast to the typical conference roundtable which brings academics together to jawbone this or that subject, Sunday’s gathering served as the informal launch of a new long-term scholarly project. The session’s chairman, John W. Steinberg, announced that he, fellow roundtable members (Anthony Heywood, Steven Marks, David McDonald, Bruce Menning, and Grayson Tunstall) and others have been hard at work laying the foundation for a major new research initiative devoted to re-examining Russia’s experience in the First World War. Steinberg, et al. then used the occasion to describe the broad outlines of the initiative and to invite participation from scholars as well as current (and future) graduate students.

According to the project’s directors (Steinberg and Heywood), “Russia’s Great War in Global Perspective” aims to produce seven volumes of new essays each dedicated to a separate theme concerning the War in the “East.” These are:

1. Military Operations

2. Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs

3. European Russia

4. Empire (Western borderlands, Caucasus, Central Asia)

5. The Far East

6. Central and South-Eastern Europe

7. Culture

The compilation of these volumes will involved perhaps as many as 150-200 separate contributing members drawn from scholars across the globe. Publication will be timed to coincide with the centennial of the War, Revolutions, and Civil War (2014-2022). [An eighth “virtual” volume incorporating the latest in new media technologies is also in the works.]

In short, it’s an immensely ambitious and important project; one that promises to fundamentally alter the way historians and laypersons understand World War I and to shape research agendas for the next hundred years.

You’ll be hearing more (perhaps, a lot more) about “Russia’s Great War” here at TRF in the future. In the meantime, kudos to these historians for thinking big about the twentieth century’s most important conflict.


Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

The 2007 national conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies will be held next Thursday through Sunday (Nov 15th-18th) at the Marriott Hotel in New Orleans, LA. If you’re one of the academics who regularly checks in here at TRF, AAASS is a well-known entity. If not, then I should let you know that AAASS is a non-profit scholarly society dedicated to studying the lands of the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia. Although historians make up its largest sub-group, AAASS is multi-disciplinary. Its members come from nearly every academic field including political science, language and literature, anthropology, sociology, economics, etc.

A glance at the conference program [.pdf version] reveals that the Big Easy meet will have more than one dozen panels and/or roundtable sessions devoted to military and diplomatic subjects. Highlights include panels on Soviet foreign policy; economics and defense under Putin; the militarization of Soviet youth; Soviet foreign relations in the 20s & 30s and the history of US-Russian relations. On Sunday, the conference wraps up with a roundtable session devoted to “Russia’s Great World War, 1914-1921.” A significant number of individual mil-dip papers will also be delivered as part of broader themed panels. In short, frontoviki in attendance should have plenty to do in between the weekend’s slate of NCAA and NFL games.

If you’ll be at the conference and haven’t already made plans for lunch on Friday, please consider joining me for an informal lunch with readers of and contributors to The Russian Front. We’ll meet in the lobby of the New Orleans Marriott next to the concierge desk at 12:30 pm sharp and decide where to go from there. (Like I said, it’s informal.)

Safe travels! And I hope to see you next week!


Military History is Not Dead Yet

Monday, November 5th, 2007

Following up on David Stone’s “Glass Half-Full” piece of 30 August, I submit the following conclusion to a commentary that will appear in a special January 2008 issue of The Russian Review devoted to the Russo-Japanese War. My piece is one of three commentaries written in response to three articles on the conflict, two of which are in the realm of cultural history. The other is by a social historian. As you can see, I had the same thought as David when I read Robert Townsend’s piece in Perspectives last January. I would be interested to know if there are any military historians in our field who do feel beleaguered.

None of the three essays directly addresses military history. This fact might well confirm the worst fears of its practitioners, who periodically lament their field’s decline. In a recent editorial, the Classics scholar Victor David Hanson lamented “the loneliness of the military historian,” a sentiment shared by Frederick Kagan in his essay, “Why Military History Matters.” The discipline incontestably suffered in North America as a result of Vietnam War-era distaste for armed conflict. However, a recent American Historical Association study demonstrates that between 1975 and 2005 the number of history departments on U.S. campuses with at least one specialist in the field has risen from 29.9 percent to 36.2 percent. The study of war has also benefited from the growing awareness among scholars that social, cultural, intellectual, and other disciplinary approaches not commonly associated with the former both enrich the former and enhances its legitimacy. In this regard, the three essays should encourage the military historian in the knowledge that she or he is not so lonely after all.

-from David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, “Rewriting the Russo-Japanese War: A Centenary Retrospective” The Russian Review 67 (Forthcoming in January 2008), 87.