Military History Alive and Well at Austin Peay State University
If the study of military history is on the decline, you can’t tell it at Austin Peay State University (APSU) in Clarksville, Tennessee. This 10,000-student, liberal-arts university has a blossoming MA in military history that is catching the eye of students both near and far. Indeed, this program is now only four years old, but it has nearly 50 students and is producing more than enough graduates to meet the standard of six per year established by the Tennessee Board of Regents when they granted approval of the program in 2006.
Some of the students are part time. Some of them are online students. Some are full-time, traditional graduate students straight from undergraduate work. And some are active duty military personnel pursuing the MA in military history on scholarships from the military.
One factor that has figured prominently in the success of the program is that APSU is located next door to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, one of the largest U.S. Army bases. The U.S. Army urges all officers to earn a graduate degree as they move up in rank. By offering evening and online classes, APSU is making such degrees available. The program’s first graduate was Army Captain Joseph Harrison, a West Point Officer with a keen interest in history. APSU is also home to one of the top ROTC programs in America. The ROTC cadets take military history classes alongside some of the graduate students because all the operational military history classes are dual level. On occasion, the ROTC program brings in students who already hold a BA or BS degree. They earn the gold bars of a second lieutenant and an MA at the same time.
The dominant approach is what is often termed “the new military history,” because it stresses the relationship between war and society. Actually, this approach is not new. The late nineteenth and early twentieth century historian Hans Delbrück practiced this sort of history. He argued that military history is integral to world history.1 The very nature of the APSU faculty as a whole helped determine the approach. Faculty members with fields in classical, diplomatic, or other traditional fields were asked to develop military courses building on their existing expertise. They rose to the occasion, and the program now boasts military history courses that cover the full sweep of history from antiquity through the end of the Cold War. Hans Delbrück would be quite pleased with the courses listed. These include: Warfare in the Classical World; Medieval Warfare; The Military Revolution and the State; Navies and Empires; The U.S. Military and Society; The Battle for God: Jihad, Herem, and Other Theologies of War and Peace; Unconventional Warfare in History; The History of Airpower; The Samurai Tradition in Japanese History; The Military in Nontraditional Roles; European Military History 1789–1945; Cold War Political-Diplomatic Issues; and specialized courses on the various wars in American history. All students are required to take Research Methods, Military Historiography and Criticism, and Philosophical Perspectives on War and Justice: War and Ethics.
On the other hand, operational military history has not been neglected. The department had one pure military historian (the adjective “pure” is used here simply to designate a faculty member who adopted a “traditional” military history approach that more narrowly focused on operational matters such as tactics and strategy) when the program was conceived, and he taught operational military history. That historian has since retired, but he was replaced by another pure military historian, and he teaches essentially those same courses that cover U.S. military history from the Revolutionary War through the Vietnam War, and European military history from 1789 through 1945. These operational courses are dual level. They are lectures with both undergraduate students and graduate students. Graduate students do extra work. They read more and write scholarly book reviews. In addition, they are held to a higher standard in terms of longer research papers and the quality of writing. This arrangement allows graduate students to study the nuts and bolts of operational warfare if they so choose. However, most of the graduate classes are seminars with students taking a prominent role in discussing the topic at hand and, oftentimes, being responsible for leading the discussion under the tutelage of the professor. In such classes, every student gets the opportunity to lead on a rotating basis. Since there are always some students who are also either active-duty military or veterans, they bring personal insights and wartime experiences to the classroom. The “fog of war” is more than just an academic expression to students who have been in battle.
In addition to that one pure military historian, the department hired two additional historians with strong backgrounds in military history. And one of the more senior members of the department with an MS degree in library science as well as the PhD in history with a subfield in military history stepped up to teach research methods and a course on WWI. All four of these historians have completed the West Point Summer Seminar on Military History.
The department that offers this MA in military history at APSU is the Department of History and Philosophy. Two philosophers teach in the program. One offers courses that show the connections between religions and war. The other who teaches the core course on war and ethics does specialized research on just-war theory for which he received a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship in 2004. It was conducted at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland.
Rounding out the faculty are several adjuncts who contribute mightily to the program by teaching a full complement of graduate courses on line. One of the adjuncts is a retired army officer, who is a former faculty member at both the U.S. Air Force War College and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. One of the adjuncts is also a graduate of the West Point Summer Seminar on Military History. Another is a practicing military historian for the Department of the Army. All of them have PhDs.
The entire program is coordinated by the Chair of the Department of History and Philosophy. He is a retired army officer and a former West Point professor with a PhD in European history. An internal Graduate Council provides guidance.
The program calls for 36 semester hours of graduate work and offers both thesis and non-thesis options. There are three core courses: Research Methods; Military Historiography and Criticism; and Philosophical Perspectives on War and Justice: War and Ethics. The Research Methods course is taught entirely online because there are so many electronic sources available, and it is to the student’s advantage to learn about these sources and how to access them. Students are asked to take this course as early as possible in their program of studies because they can use it throughout the program. The Military Historiography and Criticism course treats a host of military philosophers, critics, and practitioners who have helped shape the way we understand and study the military and military history today. Sun Tzu, Xenophon, Vegetius, C.W.C Oman, Machiavelli, Maurice of Nassau, Gustavus Adolphus, Montecuccoli, Vauban, De Saxe, Frederick the Great, Napoleon, Jomini, Clausewitz, Mahan, Helmut von Moltke the Elder, Hans Delbruck, General Gallieni, J.F.C. Fuller, Sir Basil Liddell Hart, Giulio Douhet, and Billy Mitchell are all treated during the course. The War and Ethics course contrasts just-war theory with realism and pacifism, and then focuses on the history, nature, and application of principles of jus ad bellum (just recourse to war) and jus in bello (just means in war). Michael Walzer’s modern classic Just and Unjust Wars is analyzed along with supplemental readings regarding pressing contemporary moral issues in the ethics of warfare, such as those surrounding preemptive war, humanitarian intervention, terrorism, and torture. Every student takes these three courses. As mentioned above, the Research Methods course is offered only on line. The other two core courses are offered on an alternating basis, conventional classroom and on line.
An internal Certificate in Security Studies requires completion of four of six electives: Cold War I, Cold War II, The Battle for God (which addresses how religions have figured in war), The History of Unconventional Warfare, The History of Special Operations, and The Military in Nontraditional Roles. Four of these six courses are offered both in a conventional format and on line. Indeed, it is possible to earn an entire degree on line, although most courses are in the conventional classroom.
The department maintains a web page at www.apsu.edu/cogs/programs/mil-history that describes the program, and lists the 32 courses in the curriculum, with a four-year matrix depicting when each course will be offered and if it is offered in a conventional or online format.
Every effort is made to foster academic growth and an appreciation for the significance of military history as a part of the big picture and its value to military practitioners. Feedback from graduates indicates that this is happening.
When quizzed if understanding military history makes us better citizens, Assistant Professor Cameron Sutt commented, “Since we live in a volatile world, it is incumbent upon us to understand the role the military plays in society and international relations.”
When asked about his decision to expand his specialty of classical history to teach military history, Professor George Pesely responded, “It was the natural thing to do. After all, the Greeks invented military history.”
When given the opportunity to say how studying just-war theory fits into the MA program, Associate Professor Jordy Rocheleau asserted, “My course in just-war theory makes students explore the application of moral concepts to war, encouraging them to think beyond the simple use of force and giving them practice in critical thinking and argumentative skills.”
Associate Professor David R. Snyder summed it up best when queried about how military history compares with more popular fields. He explained, “You can’t even begin to understand the big picture, the totality of things, unless you understand the powers that create and sustain states.”
Dewey A. Browder is professor and chair of the Department of History and Philosophy at Austin Peay state University. He earned a PhD in European history at Louisiana State University, and he studied military doctrine and history at the U.S. Army Command and General staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas and the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.
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