Problems in historiography

Military history has for a long time occupied an uneasy position in the field of historiography. It has never altogether disappeared but it has nevertheless come very far down from its earlier heights. Ancient or traditional historical accounts from Homer to Clarendon focused on military and political history to the exclusion of almost everything else. Modern historians, however, are apt to focus on the sometimes neglected because unglamorous causes of history at the expense of traditional set-piece battle descriptions and campaign narratives. This is on the whole a good development. Historical scholarship has broadened to include far more than the government-level narratives that characterized the work of early historians.  Historians now look deeper beneath the surface for explanation, with the result that modern scholarship has overthrown outdated and incorrect interpretations and is producing an ever more sophisticated understanding of history. But while a small number of historians continue to produce first-class works of military scholarship, the discipline of military history on a whole has become unfairly neglected. An unfortunate side-effect of this neglect is that the public’s considerable appetite for military history is now filled almost exclusively by a wide range of popular works. While many of these works are excellent, others lack the rigorous scholarship demanded by the academy. The whole field of history suffers as a result.

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Currents in military thought

In previous posts I haven’t really explained the real subject of my thesis, which is the state of military thinking in Britain in the ‘20s and ‘30s. This is because it’s such a massive subject and it’s very difficult to summarize. But my thesis doesn’t make much sense out of context, so I’ll give it a try.

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The T.E. Lawrence Myth

Over the course of this project, I’ve gotten to know an awful lot about T.E. Lawrence – and this is almost incidental, since my project is more properly about the course of military thinking in the ’20s and ’30s, and not about Lawrence the man. But Lawrence is legendary, and anything tangentially related to him is apt to lead to the myth surrounding the man himself.

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Progress and process

After two months of eating, sleeping and reading, the summer and my little project are finally drawing to an end. What has been done: a large stack of books read wholly and in part (including Lawrence’s absurdly prolix Seven Pillars, which I have read so that others don’t have to) from which there has grown a forest of sticky notes. What remains: one week and 12,000 written words.

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(Military) ideas have consequences

I’m happy to find that my interest in T.E. Lawrence’s military writing puts me in pretty good company. No less than David Petraeus is a devotee of Lawrence, whose famous work The Seven Pillars of Wisdom is one of his favorite books. Here’s an excerpt from another article:

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