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SMH recap

I have been waiting for Mark to post his impressions of the recent meeting of the Society for Military History in Frederick so I could then respond to them, but I guess it will work the other way around this time.

As always, I had a fun and productive time at the SMH. It is hard to think of a better location for the conference (OK, maybe Hawaii with a Pearl Harbor staff ride . . . ) than western Maryland, at least for us Civil War folks. The meeting kicked off with a panel in which Mark participated on teaching military history. All of the participants in the panel offered interesting talks, but I had a bit of a problem with just how much the experiences of the panelists were of relevance to the audience. The idea was for there to be perspectives offered by individuals who have taught military history at a high school, an undergraduate institution, a graduate school, and a professional military school.

A good concept, but I quibble with the selection of “representatives” from those institutions. The high school at which Lee Eysturlid, the high school teacher, works in Illinois has dorms for its students and an average SAT of 1400. A far different experience from what I and most people have in high school. The perspective on undergraduate military history was provided by Kip Muir, who teaches at the Virginia Military Institute. In ways that are too obvious to need description here, VMI is hardly a typical undergraduate teaching environment. (Kip did, however, teach for many years at a civilian university and offered some observations based on that experience.) Mark spoke on graduate education at Ohio State University—excuse me, The Ohio State University—which has five members of the faculty who specialize in military history. Again, this is hardly typical. The last participant was my boss, James Willbanks, whose presentation on teaching military history at CGSC was, of course, beyond criticism on every level known and unknown to man. Anyway, although all of the participants gave excellent presentations, it seems that if we really wanted insights of relevance to the instructor at the equivalents of P.S. 51, Faber College, or Ithaca University, a different set of panelists would have been more appropriate.

As for myself, I presented a paper on the Union high command during the Maryland Campaign, chaired a panel on 19th-century military education, and basked in the glory of being a member of the SMH Awards Committee during the awards luncheon. The best part of the last event was getting to sit next to Brig. Gen. Robert Doughty, my former boss at West Point, who received the award for best book in non-American military history for his Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War. Also at my table was James McPherson, who received the Samuel Eliot Morison Award for his contributions to the field of military history. I resisted the temptation, though, to lean over to him and say: “I am Dimitri Rotov”. (Just for the record, I am not. If I were, I suspect the citation the chair of the awards committee read to the audience upon giving the award to Professor McPherson might have been a bit different.)

Comments (4) to “SMH recap”

  1. Ethan has a reasonable point about the makeup of the “Teaching Military Hustory” panel. But session organizers often work on the basis of who they know and who they think will do a good job. It isn’t a perfect system, but I think it resulted in a session that served its purpose as a good “kick-off” to the annual meeting.

    I too had a good time at the SMH. Well, mostly: I was supposed to comment on a session that was originally slated for Saturday afternoon. It got moved to Saturday morning, which everyone managed to figure out except me. I missed the session. It was mortifying, although the moderator and session organizer graciously understood and forgave me. I was doubly sorry to miss the session because the presentations — which dealt with issues of gender in the Civil War — were uniformly strong and engaging.

    One reason I overlooked the time change is that I was focused on field checking Ethan’s Antietam battlefield guide manuscript (for our This Hallowed Ground series) and on both Friday and Saturday shuttled from Frederick to Sharpsburg. More on that in a future post.

  2. Uh oh.  Should I brace or just go limp? )

  3. Not to worry, Ethan. Basically I thought I’d do a post about the issues involved in writing a guide, especially that of figuring out the best spots on which to place a user. Do you want me to clear it with you first, or are man enough to handle whatever comes down the Hagerstown Turnpike? :-)

  4. I actually had a strange little third party interaction with Dr. McPherson.

    In late 1996 or early 1997, the Trenton Times , which paper knew me well as a reviewer and local arts organizer, asked McPherson what he thought about someone organizing a McClellan Society. His answer was on the lines of, Well, it’s certainly different. John Y. Simon, on the other hand, responding to an email, said roughly, With three Longstreet societies in play, I think we can afford a McClellan Society.

    Excellent prank idea, nonetheless!