Slimming Down For Summer

We’ve plunged headlong into summer now, which means everyone’s suiting up and hitting the beaches. Getting a “summer bod” has been on the minds of many since pretty much just after New Years. For humans there’s just one simple step to achieving a perfect beach body: take your body, and put it on a beach. Done and done. For my thesis, however, it wasn’t quite as easy. It was hitting the Normandy invasion beaches (specifically the American sectors, Omaha and Utah), and it definitely was not ready.

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As I have previously discussed, my thesis is as ambitious as it is complicated. I knew this from the beginning. I also knew that as time went on and I accumulated information, common themes would emerge across both wars and the story I’m attempting to tell would coalesce around them. That was the whole point, after all. The only question was, what would these points be? It seemed like a bit of catch-22: I couldn’t know what commonalities I would find before doing the research, but I also didn’t want to go into my research locations with a subject as massive “infantry” and waste valuable time accumulating information irrelevant to my topic.

Pending any radical discoveries during research that send me marching off in a completely different direction, my eventual presentation is going to be a comparison of how infantrymen experienced their war, suggesting that any common themes I would find would emerge from breaking down the basic facets of combat and analyzing how marines and soldiers reacted to them. This might seem like an obvious leap to make, and it is, but if you’d asked me several weeks ago what the brass tacks of my research project were I would have shrugged and said, “the infantry experience in the world wars.” I had, to that point, neglected to do what Voltaire demanded and define my terms.

And articulating what I’m looking for makes all the difference. My project isn’t to explore what war is, it’s to explore how certain men experienced two very specific wars, and I already have all the information I need to establish those parameters. The study I’ve already done in my field allows me to pare down my argument to such buzzword-esque war topics as leadership, morale, environment, facing the enemy, post-war occupation, etc. This meant that as I entered archives, memorials, and museums I could keep an eye open for stories that addressed these topics. It also provided a flexible framework for my paper that could accommodate the discoveries of research and adapt to new pieces of information that did not fit into these categories.

Looks like we’re ready for the beach.

Comments

  1. mssmith01 says:

    Very interesting intro! I will be honest, I had no idea where you were going with that to be gin with but it was a pleasant surprise! Now that you have narrowed down your thesis, where will this lead you in terms of searching for relevant information? Does it make a lot of previous information obsolete? It sounds like everything is moving in a nice direction. Good luck!

  2. Monica Cronin says:

    Thanks! I’m trying to keep my posts as broadly accessible as possible – I know military history isn’t everyone’s thing.

    Narrowing my topic in this way doesn’t make any previous information obsolete. Rather, it gives it a new focus and applicability within my paper. It definitely has adjusted how I’ve approached information within archives, which has been the bulk of my most recent research and will be addressed more thoroughly in my next (and last) post. Instead of trying to track down individual units, which had been my original goal, I’ll now be searching through any unit correspondence that reveals information about these specific topics. For example, where I had originally planned on using the 29th infantry division for my WWII work because they’d entered at Omaha and gone all the way through to occupation, when I got to the U.S. Army Historical and Education Center archives here in the States I had no qualms about using a particularly touching account from the 102nd division even though they had entered as a replacement unit sometime in August or early September after D-Day. This account clearly addressed how infantry perceived the differences in leadership in the field compared to directives coming from the rear echelons of command, and I hadn’t been able to find anything equally as frank in the materials I had for the 29th division. While this direction I’m taking means my paper will have a different fundamental structure than I had originally intended, it’s going to be much more detailed and informative.

    Thanks for your interest!