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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Why Military Historians are Awesome

I recently got a nice card in the mail from Texas A&M announcing the well-deserved appointment of Brian Linn as the Ralph R. Thomas Class of '21 Professor or Liberal Arts.  Linn is the current President of the Society for Military History, and in addition to being a great historian, is also a great human person to be around.  We both first met when I was doing research for my dissertation at West Point.

I recently saw Linn at the George Marshall Lecture at this year's OAH meeting in Washington, and while we've exchanged e-mails, we haven't seen each other in person since I was a graduate student.  His greeting to me was something along the lines of, "When I saw you last, you were this young punk doing research in the archives..."

What makes military historians awesome (in the academic sense of the term) is that Linn meant that greeting as a compliment, and I took it that way.  Academics can be really stuffy people sometimes, with large touchy egos oversensitive to slights and the like--there is nothing necessarily bad about this, but it can really put a crimp on certain types of friendly human interaction, like good natured joshing and the like.  I've always thought military historians have less of this problem, partly because of the connections between the field and the actual American military, which has a high tolerance of mutual mockery and insult given in good fun, embedded in an ethic that encourages group cohesion and team effort.

I've always thought that the necessarily solitary nature of work in the humanities, what Perry Miller likened, if I remember correctly, to closing the door of one's study on the world and acting as a lone wolf, also had the negative side-effect of breeding a certain degree of social maladjustment, which helps explain the strangely contentious nature academic politics can take (something we are thankfully free from for the most part in my own department).

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