Conference Program


85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky


Title: Vice Presidential Panel - Mars and Power-Point: Teaching Military History in the Modern Classroom
Abstract: This session will bring together three practitioners in the teaching of military history to share a variety of "best practices" for attendees to discuss and ideally take away to enhance their own teaching. This will be accomplished through a combination of material at the heart of the presenter's research and practice and through original and creative use of pedagogy. The three presenters bridge the space covered by instruction that ranges from elite high school students to the broad range of collegiate classrooms. The ultimate intent of the session is to continue the SMH's effort to combine outstanding scholarship with a burgeoning effort to also include effective teaching.
 
Lee Eysturlid, IMSA
Participant's Paper Title: Ideology and Technology: Understanding Technology Choices through Ideological Preference, 1930-1945.
Participant's Paper Abstract: This presentation will look to introduce research done on the choices made by a wide spectrum of ideologically driven states as concerns specific military technologies in the lead up to World War II. The focus will be on the rational process that a government enters into when making choices for armaments that must suit its internal political beliefs and its "world view." The point here being that the type of government is more important than the types of technology available. The presentation and research resulted from STEM oriented student interest in the "why" of how seemingly inane or nonsensical choices are made for weapons and systems. Blending ideological imperatives with technologies available make an understanding of these choices possible, and generate extensive discussion concerning historical realities and present day issues as concern the same issues. The presentation will look briefly at these choices as made by the major fascist (to include Nazi Germany), Soviet and democratic (France, Great Britain and the United States) states.
Stephen Morrilo, Wabash College
Participant's Paper Title: The Battle of Hastings and Historical Theory
Participant's Paper Abstract: The notion that histories have theory behind them is foreign to most students, and finding examples that illustrate the way theoretical perspectives such as "Great Man" history (as opposed to, say, Tolstoyan randomness or Structured Contingency, the view presented here) are imbedded in particular accounts of an event is often particularly difficult. This paper will present the Battle of Hastings as a useful example for teaching how Theory can work in the writing of history.

Hastings makes a good case study partly because it is an iconic and relatively well-known "decisive" battle. This paper will argue, however, that the usual militarily-based measures of the decisiveness of a battle are inadequate to express the historical impact of Hastings relative to other battles with similar surface results: militarily decisive battles may be considered as a dime-a-dozen category. What did they really decide beyond the battle itself? To explore this question, I will attempt a definition of "historical decisiveness" in terms of how particular events, including battles (where this analysis will focus its efforts) alter the "possibility space" of future developments, in effect shifting the broad constraints within which normal paths of historical development take place. Decisive battles will be portrayed as battles "without which not x", where x is a set of developments with world historical significance ? a definition that in fact excludes most run-of-the-mill "decisive" battles.

This theoretical approach allows a more concrete exploration, suitable as a teaching exercise, of questions of causation and the "structure" of history, which I will focus further by considering how Hastings looks different from such a "structured contingency" theoretical view versus how a "Great Man" view focused on William the Conqueror makes it look.
Peter Lorge, Vanderbilt University
Participant's Paper Title: Teaching Strategy East and West
Participant's Paper Abstract: Strategy exists on two planes, the abstract, and the culturally and historically situated reality. The process of teaching strategy therefore provides an ideal nexus for confronting received ideas about culture. Are there, in fact, culturally distinct "Ways in Warfare," or is real strategy acultural, functioning as universal human wisdom? Teaching strategy across cultures immediately resolves into a West versus China comparison because there are functionally only two highly developed intellectual lineages of strategic thought. The Western tradition runs from Vegetius through Machiavelli and on to Jomini and Clausewitz. China's tradition starts from Sunzi (Sun Tzu) and continues through a commentarial tradition, culminating in the formation of The Seven Military Classics in 1084, and the Sunzi with Eleven Commentaries in the 13th century.
Teaching strategy must also overcome the reluctance of students to think rationally about goals and means, and to subordinate emotion to the logical pursuit of success. While some students find it easier to learn strategy from works outside their culture, others can only find rationality within their own culture. A course that studies both Clausewitz and Sunzi, perhaps comparatively, inherently asserts that these are equivalent works belonging to the universal category of strategy. Separate courses that deal with the respective traditions of Western and Chinese thought assert that culture is more important.
David Silbey, Cornell University
Emily Swafford, American Historical Association