Few things on this site have been a blog post outside of news posts and updates. But I feel so inspired on this rare occasion of taking leave from work. In my previous Unplugged post, I talked about the dangers of alternative history in media outside of the exposure component. Here, I highlight one of those elements, while also building on what has made history a passion of mine.
Now, I will begin by saying, there are fundamental reasons that pushed me into the field of history. However, I find those a bit personal to my own identity, and as thus I won’t share them here. That is not to say however, that the subject matter I’m about to dive into had no weight in my decision. I will also add that this is perhaps the only time a piece of modern fictional media that is not privy to military history will ever make an appearance outside of my Alter site. Nah, scratch that – I’ll just paint a picture for you instead.
My dear readers, imagine a scene if you will for me for just a moment.
Time begins. Time ends. A civilization is born. Another falls. It’s the end of a town, a nation, a civilization, maybe even the world. How many times has such a thing happened? The observation of history is something no one person can do. But the grand scale of it. Through all of its twists and turns, all of the noise, all of the chaos, there is some kind of almost intimidating beauty in it all. Those of you playing the game should have already put together at least two pieces of this puzzle by now. The hint is in the slug line of this site.
If we are all instruments and composers of our own melodies in history, then it is the historian who is the conductor that gives us our queue and keeps the score that keeps the rest of the symphony on track.
This is what I found a bit romantic, terrifying, and mesmerizing about history early on. It is also why I had to wrap my mind around something a bit more tangible as a mission and application of history. What its definition is; simple is the study of everything from the moment time began to the moment time ends. As simple as it is to write that, thinking about the vastness and endlessness of it is truly daunting. However, it’s that daunting perception that owes validity to the specialized study of history, and the various methods different historians use in the field.
A more palatable and much more realistic definition is that history is the study of the past for use in the present to prepare for the future.
So, when you think about history and how bland you think it might be, consider that history makes everything, defines everything, encompasses everything. Everything is anything that ever is, was, and will be. How cool is that?
My fascination with history has had a rather strange journey and has seen an odd transformation. While I had wanted to be involved in the military from a young age, the concept of military history took years to be instilled in me. Without seeming like a religious recruiter, my first fascination with history began trying to grasp the Old Testament. Y’know, Sunday School stuff – uplifting content for your kindergartener. I tend to see things in synesthesia. Everything BC to me has always been shades of orange, yellow, and gold. There’s a certain mysticism associated with it too.
As time went on, I started to transform that interest into things like Americana, and social history – which was the bulk of my interest at my first year of university. This was mostly because of concern about how narrow I perceived getting into government was. My third year of undergraduate, I transferred schools, and that is also when my focus in history went from social and public history to almost exclusively military.
This was not easy. In fact, it was extremely difficult, not because of the subject matter but because of the stigma in academia for military history. By and large, military history has a nasty association in most liberal arts schools. I do not understand why this is the case, but the fact is that there are very few programs for military history, and most institutions have difficulties fitting military historians into the programs outside of them looking at social components. Many military history programs are found at the graduate level, but even finding exclusive programs at this level is difficult.
I was lucky enough to have instructors at my second school that nurtured and worked to help me through an otherwise non-conforming field. My instructors at the first school I attended were largely anti-military and would only look at military history through the lens of absolute imperialism or colonialism. It was not possible for them to approach the subject matter unbiased. In fact, I had one instructor flat out tell me what my political affiliation is supposed to be, telling me I didn’t believe what I said I did. This is not the norm, but it is something that exists.
So what color is military history to me, you might ask. I’ve seen early history as brown, late-nineteenth century and World War I as grey to light blue, World War II as dark blue, and all history since different shades of greens and blues. This is apropos for nothing, full disclosure.
The journey has been odd.
In 2010, I took a job at an electronics chain in town. There was a total of four stations outside of the local stations that were acceptable to have on our TV’s. Usually we rotated between National Geographic, Home & Garden, CNN, and History. History was mostly limited to just American Pickers and Pawn Stars. It was, however, great exposure and made for great entertainment while waiting in between customers. When I finally decided to go back to school in 2012, history was the natural place that I was drawn to.
My first year of undergraduate education was riddled with reorientation of what school life was like. I worked full time while attending school full time, was in a mental abusive relationship, and constantly had self-inflicted fears of failure. My first research project I gave to a class was German Influence on American Aviation, something which I am coincidentally still putzing with today. One of my instructors was a typical historian, who had done everything and had numerous stories to tell, but he had no energy or emotion to impart those stories. The first semester saw my lowest GPA of any of my college years, but I managed to stay above 3.0 which I had established as my “dead-by” number.
My second year of undergraduate, I spent mostly just trying to drive forward while taking a student worker position in the schools’ College of Arts and Sciences. I worked for the head of the department who was a woman that imposed all her beliefs onto her students and was staunchly anti-military. That goes a step further when you consider that she was a pro-communist Cuban-Revolution sympathizer who hailed figures such as Che Guevara, a man responsible for numerous anti-progressivism crimes in Cuba. During this year I spent many evenings attending distinguished speaker audiences and fielding meet-and-greets. The two people that stood out the most to me were Dan Rather and Robert Gates, both of which I had the opportunity to pitch questions to. However, it was also here where I became massively disenchanted by public history and began more to favor political science and military history.
My third through fifth year at my second school saw a pivot in my schooling experience. I spent much of my time relearning methods and understanding cause and effect of historical events. I was blessed with having the privilege of having a military historian instructor for all but two of my semesters, who helped me hone my uniquely needed writing style. It was late in my third year that I adopted Art History as a second major, and by the end of my fourth year I had added Museum Studies. My last year was difficult though, I can’t lie about that. While I had supportive instructors (save for my communications instructor who had no clue how history worked), the need and demand of my profession and niche was specialized enough that it was difficult to deviate to what was necessary. As a result, while I could have easily landed a 4.0 in my last semester, I fell just one decimal shy.
What was lucky for me was that just before my last year started, I got hired as an intern with a path into my dream job. It’s something that far too few people can do, and I was not about to let it slip by. The requirements to maintain the position were the same as my requirements I had set for myself, which made the adjustment to the program relatively easy. It’s worth noting that I maintained a part-to-full-time schedule of work throughout my entire academic career in undergraduate (full-time in graduate).
Military history in a military setting requires certain nuances. One of the things I remember my supervisor telling me is something that I still have trouble with to this day. “You aren’t an academic anymore, you’re a professional. Stop writing like an academic and start writing like you’re reporting the facts.” Of course, what this is describing is that brushstrokes can go miles but getting to the point is what is necessary. Write with purpose, rather than simple persuasion. “If they have questions, they’ll ask.” If you need to make it relevant, make it relevant. Otherwise, don’t waste your time mentioning it at all.
With this in mind about military history, it leads to something else that is relevant if you’ve monitored social media in recent times. Some historians (especially older historians) have real issues understanding the difference between relevance, simplification, and alteration. The first two of these are genuine tools that can be used to help non-historians or people who are not familiar with the field understand history better by catering to interest and understanding. The last item is a real threat to history, but not necessarily more than it ever was. Alteration is the revision of history for the furthering of an agenda regardless of the historical record providing evidence to substantiate the claim.
Relevance is a tool that we use daily at my job. It is the art of taking a historical event and placing it over the events unfolding in the present to draw upon the lessons that can be learned from analog events in the past. It is the fundamental meat and guts of the idea that “history is the study of past for application in the present to prepare for the future.” However, there are some historians and figures who think that this somehow cheapens history, and that history is to be subject matter that is only to be taken at face value and studied rather than applied in real world scenarios. “Remember it and just don’t do dumb things in it.” Easy to do, unless you draw the lines that show how history repeats. If you can’t show the process, how can you ever hope to identify how something repeats in history? The short answer is that you can’t.
Simplification is a tool that we also use daily at my place of work. It is the art of taking key items from historical events and driving them home, so an individual remembers them. It is asking the question “what do I really want the audience to take away from this?” It might be a parallel to something happening today, or it may be a lesson learned from the event of the past. It might be to understand how we got to the present or how history changed by a decision. Regardless, it’s the catering of the subject matter in such a way that you deliver a planned and concise message without having to worry about whether that message is retained. To some historians, however, this is seen as bastardizing history in a way that it ignores the surrounding subject matter. Likewise, some historians take issue with this claiming that it creates an unfair environment for the historical subject as we apply rules of the present on a past event. This is sometimes true, but it is generally only true when the individual is practicing other negative historical methods such as alteration, in which case alteration is a much more severe case than the simplification is.
For those of you who have stuck around this long, thank you! I have a few parting pieces for you (and for those of you who skipped around for a TL;DR). You will learn history regardless of whether you think you will or not. You already know it. You’re already part of it. You’ve already contributed to it. Regardless of what you do in the next minute, hour, day, year, decade, you will be part of it. It’s the record that you were here, and there’s a record of everything that you touch or interact with.
Give it a chance. It’s fascinating, and there’s something for everyone. Even you. I promise. Don’t forget, we won’t.