One of the recurring themes I’ve noticed discussions about the future of the Humanities is that of public engagement and how those who study the humanities have to make the public care about what we do, often coupled with handwringing about how much better the sciences are at making the public feel that what they do is valuable and interesting, I’d like to take a moment here to ask the uncomfortable question, do we want the public to care? Or rather, are we willing to make the changes necessary to our disciplines to make them engaging to a broader public?
I’m very fortunate on this front. My specific subfield, military history, is great at public engagement. People love stuff dealing with war, and military historians are well positioned to sell serious books to a broader public audience. Many of the biggest scholarly books on military history have also sold very briskly. James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom sold like hotcakes (unrelated: what is a hotcake and why are they so popular?) and John Keegan’s The Face of Battle, probably one of the most important works of military history in the past century, was a best seller. Both are available at just about any major chain bookstore you can find, and you’ll see copies in most used book stores as well. There’s a crummy TV channel devoted entirely to military history, and half of what the History Channel puts on that’s still about history is about war. Military history has great public engagement, is what I’m saying. What military history doesn’t have is any real academic presence. I was told, although I’m not in a position to verify this, that last year there were three tenure track positions listed in military history for the entire United States. Many of the
Source: War is Kind