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Prepared for Dr.

Stoneman, HIST388, George Mason University

A Review of What is Military History?


By Stephen Morillo with Michael F. Pavk ivic
Andrew Pedry
6/22/10
When you write your review, consider the following factors, though not necessarily in
this order: topic, purpose, main questions, scope, organization, sources, methodology,
assumptions, most important findings, prose, and target audience.

Morillo and Pavkovic’s What is Military History? serves as an introduction into

the general study of military history. Their work addresses the manifold types of

individuals that study military history and how they do it, explains the study in a

historical context, discusses the overarching frameworks used in the field, and briefly

describes some of the debates currently under discussion.

The authors identify three broad groups of people of study military history: the

interested public, professional warfighters, and academics. This book is addressing

individuals who wish to understand military history as a field of study, and thus is mostly

suited to a student or junior officer without extensive background in military studies. By

addressing the frameworks, concepts and language of the field the authors prepare the

reader to read other material in a more critical and contextualized light. This work would

be more helpful to young academics, which need a solid understanding of all angles of

the field in order to progress. Junior officers would find this book helpful through the

contextual framework that it offers for other works that they might come across.

What is Military History offers the reader a useful outline of the military

historian’s methods and sources in the Doing Military History chapter and in the

extensive Suggestions for Further Reading section. Morillo addresses differences in

presentation of historical material through narrative or theme and ties it in to a broader

discussion that addresses the nature of “publishing” in its broad sense. This material and

its discussion of mass-market, peer-reviewed, muli-media and internet publishing form an


important insight into the pros, cons, and differences of these methods of information

diffusion.

The chapter’s overview of sources was useful, with an important point made

about the challenges in translating and understanding military-themed material that was

written by non-military specialists or in dealing with military-themed material that was

translated by a non-military specialist. This difficulty can be compounded by the

problem of translator bias; when the primary source was translated the translator had

some pre-established expectations and biases. Like a scientist reading information into

datasets so a translator, particularly when faced with challenging passages, can (and

sometimes must) allow assumptions to effect the direction of translation. Programs of

military study receive a brief discussion, as do the major publishing sources for

scholarship in military history. Both of these topics form a good overview for the young

academic trying to find their way into this field of study.

A historiographical evaluation of military history forms a foundation of material

in the book upon which the issues and terms of later chapters are referenced. Morillo

traces the writings and study of military affairs from its inception in the ancient world to

modern times. The overview predominantly addresses the changing reasons for the study

of military affairs and the audiences for whom such study was addressed. This historical

overview highlights to the reader the central role of audience, purpose and authoring

cultural biases in the historical tradition of military study.

Morillo’s chapter on Conceptual Frameworks is the heart of this text. This

chapter addresses the broad frameworks that military historians use to understand and

interpret history. Morillo discusses the causative models of Great Man, contingency
history, social history and technological determinism. He also compares the universal

rationalist view and its assumption that a current ‘rational’ person can make analysis of

historical events based on an unchanging nature of ‘rationality’ and the constructionist

view which emphasizes the changing nature of ‘rationality’ as a reflection of social

norms. Morillo goes on to briefly define