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Reviewed by:
  • What is Military History?
  • Ronald L. Spiller
What is Military History?. By Stephen Morillo with Michael F. Pavkovic . Malden, Mass.: Polity Press, 2006. ISBN 0-7456-3391-9. Notes. Index. Pp. vi, 150. $19.95.

The simple title and the plastic action figure on the cover of this small book belie its contents. This is more than a student reader; it is an exceptional introduction to the study and craft of military history for any reader. In little more than one hundred pages of text Morillo and Pavkovic provide a set of definitions for "Military History," and discuss historiography, conceptual frameworks, current controversies, "doing" military history, and the future of this aspect of the broader study of History.

The authors define military history broadly as "any historical study in which military personnel of all sorts, warfare, . . . military institutions, and their various intersections with politics, economics, society, nature, and culture form the focus or topic of the work" (p. 4). They also discuss the military historian's multiple audiences: popular, academic, and professional military. This holistic definition is particularly refreshing and useful. As the authors write, "military history, like all history, is a dialogue between past and present" (p. 7). Stitch-counting buffs and History Channel aficionados, professors and students looking for the next book or dissertation topic, and service personnel looking for new lessons and models do not fragment the craft. The synergy produced by the interaction of these multiple interests strengthens the craft. Not only are these different interests and interpretations not mutually exclusive, "most, in fact, are complementary and the more we have the more nuanced is our understanding of the past" (p. 9).

The discussion of historiography is as refreshing as the discussion of subject and audience. Combined with their twelve pages of suggestions for further reading, the authors provide an excellent, broad, and basic historiographical foundation for both students and general readers. They also provide the academic professional an opportunity to surface and reconnect with a broader military history perspective. The authors conclude that the lines separating popular, professional, and academic military history are, in fact, fading, "recreating in some ways the dynamics of the less specialized military literature of ancient and medieval [End Page 543] times, but reconstructed around the standards and methods of professional academic historians" (p. 43).

Subsequent discussions of conceptual frameworks, controversies, "doing" military history, and the future of military history live up to the high standard of the first two chapters. Although the authors acknowledge that military historians have often been resistant to new concepts and methodologies, "The influence of social and cultural history and the expansion of the field . . . through war and society studies have added significantly to the military historian's methodological toolkit" (p. 61). On-going controversies—from the debate on revolutions in military affairs to the question of Western exceptionalism—strengthen the study of military history, and "show military history to be a vital and changing piece of the larger historical profession" (p. 96).

Although aimed at a student audience, this is not just a book for undergraduate or graduate students. Well-written and clear without being simplistic, it is a worthwhile book for any person with an interest in the study and craft of military history.

Ronald L. Spiller
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
Edinboro, Pennsylvania


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 543-544
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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