How do we define ourselves?

[Cross posted at Thoughts on Military History]

An interesting question for this historian on a Monday morning; what do you call yourself?

If you look through listings of academics at a university you may well see the title Professor of…, but what does this mean? Is it accurate?

We have a tendency to caveat ourselves with descriptors as part of the race for jobs. For example, anyone looking at my output would almost certainly describe me as an Air Power Historian but is this accurate, and if it is, does it impact my prospects for the future.

On the first point I am not sure. One of my primary research foci is Joint Warfare; therefore, by default I have an interest in the interaction of the services. Yes my current research is on Air Power but will it always be so? I think not. There are plenty of areas that I would like to explore and not all are air power related.

However, there is an advantage of being defined in this way, primarily that in the case of air power you become part of small village of academics that all know each other and take and interest in each others work. For example, in the UK there are no more than 10-15 academics and perhaps about the same number of research students; a small field.

On the second point, what does this means for job prospects? Well if I am honest it will be difficult. I think I am limited to the few institutions that offer War Studies as a degree or the various military institutions such as Cranwell or the JSCSC; indeed I am willing to consider teaching in the US or another English-speaking country to widen my prospects. The job market is difficult at the moment and we must do all we can to show that we are flexible. Am I bothered by this? The answer is a yes and no scenario. No because any of these institutions would be an excellent environment to work in but yes because would it not be nice to not be caveated by your descriptor and have someone look at you and say that your ‘research’ does not fit our institution. Surely the fact that I am at the forefront of research in my area should be enough but I suspect this is not the case; or am I cynic.

Think about all the Military Historians who have described themselves as War and Society specialists and then look at there writing, do they fit that moniker?

So how do you define yourself as a historian? I am interested in hearing your thoughts.

BTW I prefer the term British Military Historian…

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One response to “How do we define ourselves?

  1. This deserves a comment I suppose. Not easy as I consider myself primarily a trench rat who sees military history from the bottom up. However here is a piece I produced earlier today at the request of ARRSE’s writers club, upon request:

    “I wrote ‘Making of a Legionnaire’ published by Pan Macmillan, amongst other titles of dubious literary value. Mostly higher end non-academic military history stuff. A former undergraduate student of mine mentioned that this book had inspired him to actually join the Legion (I told him that he could not have read it too closely then) – he didn’t spend long there in the event and the experience led him to take up a degree in War Studies and he now works in a co-ordinating capacity for a US based PMC, so I’m not sure whether the book had a positive effect or otherwise. Like the slim-hipped whores outside the Legion base in Aubagne, such books look pretty and make decent money.

    “My occasional forays into more academic work, such as The Oxford Companion to Military History (ed. Richard Holmes) for which I was a ‘major’ contributor (never achieved that rank when I was in!) is consistently given five stars by Amazon (and that’s four more than Richard when he was in). It did earn me a distinction in the form of the Times literary editor, the lovely Erica Wagner, singling me out as deserving of special mention for my entry on sexually transmitted diseases and the military, a writing career high for me.”

    So am I a military historian? Well looking around me, probably not.

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