Many programs in military history will start students off with A Guide to the Study and Use of Military History or a survey of work such as Men in Arms. The problem is the former is dated, missing roughly 30 years of advancements in an ever-changing field. The latter is merely a survey work, leaving out any analysis of the field of military history.
Luckily, Stephen Morillo has produced What is Military History?, a short (164 pages, 124 pages of content), to the point overview of the historiography of military history, including its origins, evolution, and controversies. This is the first book every aspiring military historian should read, as Morillo addresses practical questions such as who reads military history and why.
After the introduction, Morillo provides a short overview of how military history started in ancient times and evolved through the ages. Here, he covers the Greeks, Romans, China, Islam, Byzantium, others. He transforms his narrative into a period focus with the Enlightenment, and nineteenth- and early twentieth-century. Finally, he dedicates the rest of the overview to the last 50 years of military history. This chapter is especially useful, as budding historians need to understand that the style of history that drew them to the field may be as old as three centuries, and possibly outmoded.
The third chapter breaks down the conceptual frameworks of how people write about military history, focusing on causation and military minds, the latter of which is “the most common and often historiographically dominant approach…in modern developed countries” (49). In discussing tactical histories, Morillo breaks down the levels of military action, followed by the art of war and practice of war. He continues the discussion by reviewing cross-field subjects such as anthropology.
The fourth chapter is one of the most useful, even to those who are knee-deep in the field, as it focuses on current controversies such as military revolutions, counter-insurgencies, and the “western way of war.” These and other concepts will inevitably appear in undergraduate curriculums and Morillo provides the guiding light to the topics without the emotion.
The final chapters focus on how to do military history, as well as the future of the field. Again, these chapters are superb for anyone considering the field. Finally, Morillo provides a slew of recommend reading.
This book is short, cheap, and worth every penny. Anyone considering military history as a field should buy it and read it.
By Scott Manning
Online Learning Tips, Student Contributor