Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

I think I have not actually looked at my copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird in more than five years. I went looking for it this morning and could not even remember where I stashed it among my books. It took a moment before I realized it must be hiding on the top of the bookcases, in the “reference books I never read” section (distinct from my completely-separate history book collection).

But when it comes to Anne Lamott’s writing advice, I don’t have to pull the book from the shelves to remember what I learned from her as a sophomore in college: no matter what you do, simply write.

It’s a lesson I’ve been working on for more than a decade, a lesson that became all the more important as I started graduate school five years ago and began agonizing over every written assignment. Now that I’ve finished drafting all six chapters of my dissertation (!), I’ll tell you two things I’ve learned in no uncertain terms:

  1. I’m still working on this lesson (I expect it’s a lifetime-long sort of thing), and
  2. I could not have written this dissertation without embracing the “shitty first draft”.

The truth is that I am a perfectionist with my work. Or, as I like to think of it – I’m a recovering perfectionist, as this is something I’ve been working to overcome for the last five years. Perfectionism, as it turns out, gets in the way of things more than it actually helps. (As Lamott says, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor…and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.” Also, “perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness and life force.” (Lamott, 28).)

In my experience, five years of graduate school teaches you a lot about your writing habits, your strengths, and your weaknesses. I’ve learned that revisions are my bread and butter, and that facing the blank page is one of my greatest challenges (see: perfectionist tendencies). My solution? Conquer the Blank Page.

I like to think I’ve gotten very good at drafting. I can eliminate the blank page in fairly short order and transfer something from my brain to the screen. That something tends to be the worst writing you have ever seen, but as it turns out, it helps me get started. In a couple of hours, I can pour out about ten to fifteen double-spaced pages of the very early thoughts on a chapter topic. I do this, of course, by simply writing.

There’s no rhyme or reason to it. It’s not quite freewriting (I pay attention to grammar and spelling and all that). In a sense, it’s stream of consciousness, but some of it will appear more Faulkneresque while other parts sound like I’m actually trying to write a real academic piece. I don’t delete anything. I do tend to write “this is crap” at least once or twice every two pages, and the general tone tends to be “here’s what I’m thinking I need to do in this chapter…” – as if I’m talking to my best friend.

Before I know it, I have something. Something I can create an outline from and begin to make into a real chapter. Once I have a rough outline – which will change, and become more detailed as I continue to write – I divide the chapter into sections. Sections, you see, are far more mentally (and physically) manageable to work with than the prospect of an entire chapter.

Lynn Hunt wrote in a recent issue of AHA’s Perspectives:

Everyone who has written at any substantial length, whether prose or poetry, knows that the process of writing itself leads to previously unthought thoughts. Or to be more precise, writing crystallizes previously half-formulated or unformulated thoughts, gives them form, and extends chains of thoughts in new directions.

This is why the shitty first draft – Lamott’s term, not mine – is so important. If you haven’t written anything yet, how can you know what you’re thinking?

If that sentence sounds a bit like something out of Alice and Wonderland, my apologies. But as impossible as it may sound, it’s also absolutely true. Getting the information out of the brain and onto the screen (or the page, if you prefer) helps move you forward. Eventually, you’ll find you’re there, wherever and whatever “there” tends to be.

I become a bit obsessive when I sit down to write a chapter. Once I do my shitty first draft, I want more – I want to make it better. With five straight days of writing, I can take my shitty first draft to something more solid, more real.  After another three to five days, I realize I have something that will work. Something readable. Something advisor-ready.

I guess that sounds easy, in some ways. It’s really not – and getting to this stage has not been an easy process at all. Writing is really hard work for me, and the only way I can get through it is to keep writing – to trust what I’m doing and keep running down the rabbit hole to see what’s there.

And maybe more than anything, writing a dissertation has been all about learning to face and conquer fears. The fear that you don’t really have anything to say, that you’re not a good researcher, that people won’t understand you or will laugh at your work. Writing a dissertation is, in the end, about finding confidence in your abilities and your knowledge, and being able to take what you’ve written and give it to the world (even if that “world” is only your advisor, your committee, or your fellow grad students).

The blank page, then, is only the beginning. It gets way more fun after that.


The Five-Year Naval Career of Demi Moore

Twice in the 1990s, actress Demi Moore took up a brief Naval officer career on the big screen. Both films – one dedicated to the issue of women in the military, and one ostensibly not about women at all – generated a lot of attention. In 1992, Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men became a highly-acclaimed film, generating multiple award nominations at the Oscars, the Golden Globes, and a few other venues. Five years later, Ridley Scott’s G.I. Jane was far less critically-acclaimed (and Demi Moore even won a Razzie Award in 1998 for “Worst Actress” as a result of this film).

Both movies are post-Gulf War, although Sorkin’s was adapted from his late 1980s play of the same title (a story he ostensibly developed after talking to his sister, who appears to have been the inspiration for Demi Moore’s Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway). In the larger history of women in the military, the 1990s were big: you’ll find more books written on women in the U.S. military in the post-Gulf War years than perhaps in any other decade, and in addition, the Gulf War led to more changes in military women’s status and opportunity than had happened since the 1970s. The 1990s were also, of course, the era of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and increasing awareness of sexual harassment in the military following the 1991 Tailhook Scandal.

As I mentioned, A Few Good Women is really not about women in the military. It’s really supposed to be about Tom Cruise and his efforts to break out from his father’s shadow while pursuing a court-martial incident he doesn’t really want to take to court.

Yet, we begin with Lt. Cmdr. Galloway, the highest-ranking officer on the legal team, but also the most incompetent. This is theoretically because she’s just not a good trial lawyer – she’s an office lawyer. However, the first thing we learn about her is that she’s nervous and not confident in capabilities: the opening sequence, in fact, cuts from a line of Marines doing impeccable weapons drills to show Galloway walking across the grounds and trying to psyche herself up to ask to be defense lawyer for the case in question. It’s a striking contrast from the confident, well-groomed, and nicely-choreographed weapons handling. When she arrives at her destination, she blunders – and she’ll continue to blunder throughout the movie, always playing the misfit among the calm, cool military men.

The lawyer who does get the case is Tom Cruise’s Lt. Daniel Kaffee – a legacy guy straight out of law school who seems more like a flippant ass who has no interest in the people he’s representing. Despite this, he’s good at what he does.

Over the course of the film, we’re supposed to become more and more fond of Kaffee – he actually does has a heart, it turns out – and he’s really GOOD at what he does. He’s confident and he’s thorough. On the other hand, although Galloway works her way on to the legal team, she never quite gets the opportunity to look as good as Kaffee does, professionally: she blusters in the courtroom, and she utterly fails at her fact-checking, which causes a major setback for their defense.

In short: much of this film is about Cruise and Moore playing gender stereotypes: the confident male bravado and the nervous, not-as-strong woman who seems out-of-place in the nearly all-male military courtroom. With very rare exceptions, they do not deviate from gender expectations.

I was disappointed in how Sorkin wrote Galloway’s character. I simply don’t understand why we can’t have a confident senior female officer who’s competent. You could rewrite the screenplay to make her more confident and still leave her in a secondary legal role, and that would be fine – in fact, I have a feeling it would be fairly historically accurate. What I don’t understand is why your sole central female figure – and to top it off, your sole central military female figure – has to come across as relatively weak and incompetent.

But if Moore was stuck playing the military’s weakest link in A Few Good Men, G.I. Jane is a 180-degree turn. That’s the film where Moore plays – in a rank downgrade, no less – Navy Lieutenant Jordan O’Neill, who’s really good at her job (in contrast to Galloway) – so good, and so good-looking, in fact, that she becomes the test case for a new program to see if women can hack it in the most selective military combat programs. Hand-selected by Senator Lillian DeHaven, who supposedly is a feminist eager to revolutionize the all-male bastion of the military, O’Neill will become the first woman to train to be a Navy SEAL.

O’Neill, of course, succeeds. She does so by shedding her femininity, getting rid of all gender-based accommodations, and insisting that she be considered “one of the guys”. The central message seems to be that yes, women can do it (combat, Navy SEAL training, etc) – but they have to become as much like a man as possible to do so. Furthermore, the men will only accept a woman who can prove she’s virtually a man.

There’s a lot of commentary I could make on that. Yet, what struck me this time was the portrayal of feminism. DeHaven’s feminism is only skin-deep: when political interests dictate, she’ll backpedal and give up any interest she may have had in advancing women’s rights(and undermine O’Neill in the process, even bringing in suspicion of lesbian conduct). On the other hand, O’Neill very clearly notes at the beginning that she’s worried about the politics of it all and doesn’t want to become a feminist poster-child, so to speak. By the end of the movie, it’s rather clear to me who the “real” feminist is…and it’s not the one on Capitol Hill.

The main thing that troubles me in GI Jane is the powers-that-be angle, both in terms of so-called feminist efforts to advance women’s opportunities in the military and in terms of the apparent chauvinism of pretty much every military man in the movie. It’s crystal clear in this film that servicewomen do not hold any real value in the military – and they hold even less value for the politicians who see them as an opportunity to advance a supposedly feminist agenda.

I’m disturbed by this vision of “feminism,” and what it says about the status of feminism and women’s rights in the U.S. as of the late 1990s (and even into 2010). If DeHaven is supposed to be an example of feminism, who wants that? Not me – and I’m certain not any of the men and women I know who don’t identify as feminist themselves. (Rather, I’m sure most people I know would become even more skeptical of feminism, if that’s what they believe it to be.)

Women in the military do not tend to be a popular subject for filmmakers. As recently as 2009, as Tenured Radical points out, there’s even a trend towards erasing them from war stories altogether (not just in Hurt Locker, either: I’d also point to the marginalization of women’s contributions in HBO’s The Pacific earlier this spring).

In the end, this is why I found both film so troubling. Given the rarity with which women’s military experiences are explored in American cinema, it’s more than a little problematic to see such prominent filmmakers get it so wrong. In that process, I would suggest, they only perpetuate incorrect – and dangerous – stereotypes that will continue to affect how many Americans understand the modern U.S. military and women’s roles within it.

Between the Motion and the Act

What I’ve learned in the past few years is that the process of writing a dissertation is an experiment in itself. No one can really teach you how to develop your own research and writing processes. You can learn from examples of the craft. You can consult with advisors and other graduate students. But when all is said and done, you have to figure out for yourself just how things should work.

Through trial and error, you determine how to get the most out of your archival research and how to keep track of the materials you’ve gathered. Then one day – most likely a day when you still feel like there’s no way you are possibly ready to write the dissertation yet – you sit down and you start writing. You start to put the puzzle pieces together. You begin to doubt whether this really was a worthwhile subject to tackle at all, or whether you’ve done it the right way. You question whether your argument is really interesting at all, or just passé. And then, of course, you spend many hours fretting over whether you actually can write well at all.

But you keep writing. You keep writing because as you go, you discover new ideas and new questions and new answers. You learn how to piece together a chapter, and you learn how and when to give up on a chapter and start it again. And someday, in between all the writing and editing and reading and teaching and other activities – you wake up to find you have a couple hundred pages of something that’s starting to look like a dissertation….along with dozens of marginal notes from your advisor and pages of typed comments from your meetings.

And all of a sudden, you begin to realize that it’s all coming together and you’re reaching The End. The End, I’m beginning to learn, can be just as nerve-wracking as the beginning. You see, no one can really tell you how to finish the puzzle either. There will be Opinions on this from a number of faculty and graduate students, and there will be things you do to respond to their comments and criticisms. But when all is said and done, you learn to finish just as you learned to start.

A little more than two weeks post-West Point, I’m working on the dissertation again. The dissertation and I took a break in June, some much-needed time for me to soak up the new ideas at West Point and to let other ideas marinate for a bit.

By the middle of next week, I’ll have six chapters. Not perfect in any sense of the word, but six chapters that will, in a few months, form a coherent and completed dissertation. A week from now, I’ll have a draft of my intro and my conclusion, and I’ll be poised to move into revision stage – a phase of the dissertation process I’m still trying to envision properly, I think.

After so many years of wanting to be here, now here I am. I’m starting to learn the finishing now, at this odd place between the drafts and the polished prose.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

The Women’s Historian and West Point, Part III: On Being Cast as the Token “Where are the Women?” Person

(Click to view Part I and Part II in this series)

As we concluded our staff ride of Gettysburg about halfway through the seminar, the program leaders asked us each to share how we thought the staff ride experiences could help us in our teaching and research. When it was my turn, I broke it into two parts: as an American historian, I said, I thought there were a lot of things I could incorporate into my teaching, whether in surveys or upper-level classes. I think that this intensive study of a specific battle adds something to the experience of learning about big wars in American history.

But as a women’s historian, I continued, the staff ride experience had seemed utterly useless. After all, we dealt with only combatants’ experiences – and unless you want to talk about cross-dressing women serving as soldiers, then we’re essentially dealing with male experiences in the staff ride environment. All of the women were either in Gettysburg or behind the Confederate and Union lines as camp followers – and those were experiences we largely ignored, aside from a brief discussion of the impact of the battle on the local Gettysburg environs and people (in the aftermath).

I was pretty blunt. Note that I did not say that I found the experience completely useless – simply that from a women’s history perspective, the staff ride (as it had been conducted) was useless. Sure, I was going for impact with that statement. My main point was that gender was never a category of analysis during the staff ride, despite what I saw as a number of opportunities we had to discuss gender – not to mention the fact that when you’re talking about combat, gender analysis is always a useful tool (in my opinion).

(For example, at the top of the observation tower on Culp’s Hill, there was a brief discussion of soldier motivations – what motivates a soldier to keep moving forward in battle in the face of almost-certain death or bodily harm? Someone suggested that mid-19th century ideals of gentlemanly honor– I forget the exact wording – were reasons behind such motivations. In another example, there were several assigned roles for historical actors where it would have been absolutely fascinating to spend some time analyzing gender relations  and attitudes on the battlefield.)

If I had it to do over again, I’d make the same comment  – although a do-over, I would also have more time to think through my comments and add a little more to it. One of the instructors commented something along the lines of, “wouldn’t it be possible to engage with the absence of women on the battlefield as a topic?” And yes, absolutely – but we didn’t. And the civilian experience was out of the picture until the end, more or less, and was little more than a token mention.

This was probably my vocal high point. I’d also venture to say it’s probably the most memorable of my contributions in the minds of the other fellows.

What I realized by that weekend was that the topic of gender and women in particular made people fairly uncomfortable.

In many ways, I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn this. After all, I’m one of about two or three graduate students in my department who study gender seriously. It’s not like I’ve never encountered hostility to my subject matter before. But after five years in my department, a place where I know every grad student and they all know me fairly well, it’s become a bit of a comfort zone. Sure, I may be the token “where are the women” person (in other people’s words, not mine) – but at my institution, I’ve earned some respect in that position. It’s quite different to find yourself cast as that person in a group where you’re an unknown entity, where everyone brings in their own preconceived notions about various things – including the application of gender as a category of analysis.

I was mostly frustrated and bothered by what I saw as a complete sidestepping of gender as an issue. Obviously, gender – and women’s experiences in particular – is central to my own dissertation project: I tend not to read anything related to my dissertation without applying gender analysis to it – how is it relevant to my dissertation, etc. And that’s how I approached much of the reading for the Summer Seminar.  Perhaps, in part, then, my frustration stems from being unable to understand why anyone would purposely ignore or avoid a methodology that could offer very rich possibilities for historical study.

As I wrote this entry, a really interesting discussion and topic has emerged over at Historiann’s blog regarding methodology. It started as a discussion about a new biography on Betsy Ross, but here’s the part of the post I found most interesting:

As far as I can tell, the most innovative histories of the past decade have been written by historians who leave no archive unvisited, no book unopened, and no legend unexplored.  The promiscuity of possible sources and methods for reading and using them makes history very exciting to read and to write these days.  I don’t get the impression that there are too many historians out there who say, “you can’t do that” any more.  (I could be wrong–but those nay-sayers would be even more wrong, in my opinion.)

I think I may have found what seems to be the fundamental difference between me and a lot of the military historians I encountered at the West Point Seminar. Then again, this may be the difference between me and many graduate students I know. One of the beauties of women’s history as a field, in my opinion, is this very idea of openness towards being “promiscuous” when it comes to sources, of being creative about your approach to history.

I’ve never felt bound by disciplinary lines. My dissertation is predominantly women’s history, but I draw on policy history, military history, labor history – and several other types of history I’m sure I’m leaving out off the top of my head. I can’t write my dissertation effectively if I ignore these approaches. In fact, my dissertation has become only more inclusive of diverse methodologies since I began: I had no intentions, originally, to conduct oral history – and now oral history is highly important to my work.

This, then, is the perspective I brought with me to West Point – the idea that a scholar need not be bound by “fields”. I’m not advocating that we all embrace every methodology willy-nilly just because we can – purpose is certainly important. Yet every generation of historians adds something new to the study of history in both approach and subject matter (at least in theory). Why should we be afraid of embracing new methodologies or ideas when they can be the very things that help us perform better analysis and writer better history?

As I argued in Part II, I believe that this is the very solution that will make military history better and more robust, and give it the means to move into the twenty-first century and beyond. I don’t think that “traditional” military history is entirely dead, but I think it’s as good as dead if practitioners can’t begin to understand the role new approaches, techniques, and previously ignored sources can play in writing military history effectively.

For me, obviously, gender – and women’s history in particular – is one of those new essential approaches. I think that military historians who ignore gender as a category of analysis, whether they deal with operational or social histories of the military, do so at their own peril.

(I could perhaps acknowledge that there may, in fact, be instances when it would not make sense to engage with gender analysis. Operational military history – focusing on events, for example – often leaves little room to consider human experience and influence. Then again, John Keegan handled human experience quite nicely in The Face of Battle.)

At this moment, women comprise more than 14% of the United States military. We have active commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as engagements in other parts of the world. Now, perhaps more than ever, gender is an important issue in the military. The debates over Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell remind us constantly that social ideals about gender roles and expectations – in particular, the notion of who is fit to perform in combat and who is not – are particularly salient issues. (And even further, what does it mean when women are disproportionately discharged under this policy?)

Then, too, there are ongoing discussions of sexual assault in the military – and stories like the Fort Bragg Murders, where military men are suspects in the murders of military women and wives, should raise many questions about gender expectations in the armed forces and the culture that the military fosters in terms of sexual relations.

That doesn’t even mention the issue of sexual assault, which has been a highly public issue since at least the 1991 Tailhook scandal. (For more, see this article and this article.) Or the predominance of servicewomen’s reproductive health issues in the past half year, including General Cucolo’s announcement that pregnant women in the Iraq war zone could face court-martial; the early 2010 shift to provide Plan B contraceptives in military pharmacies worldwide; and ongoing efforts to expand servicewomen’s access to abortion services (for contraceptives and abortion, see this article).

Obviously, these are examples of the state of the current U.S. military and reasons why I think it’s vitally important for the armed forces to take a good, hard look at its history of gender relations, the integration of women, and the role that masculinity plays in creating military culture (yes, I’m looking at that recent McCrystal piece in Rolling Stone and responses to it– but I’d also recommend Christian Appy’s book on working-class soldiers in the Vietnam War, among other similar sources). However, just because I focus on more current issues doesn’t make gender and women’s history irrelevant to military history in older contexts. Rather, I think our new awareness of the relevance of gender relations in military operations should be exactly what leads military historians to rethink their attitudes towards gender history.

It’s been more than 100 years since the United States military first began to admit women to its ranks. In that time, the armed forces have never adequately dealt with gender head-on. We are perhaps more aware now than ever before of the roles that gender and sexuality play in our day-to-day lives, society, and our institutions (such as the military). Why not capitalize on this awareness to ask new questions about the topics and events that have previously only been explored through traditional military history?

From where I’m sitting, I’d say it’s high time to use that power knowledge for good.


I’d hoped to post Part III of my West Point series (Parts I and II here, respectively) today, but it’s not quite ready for public consumption. Unpacking this experience in blog form has been incredibly good for me in a lot of ways, so I think it makes sense for me to give Part III – some more specific reflections on being a women’s historian at the seminar – a little more breathing space.

Watch for Part III this week – hopefully Tuesday, but maybe as late as Wednesday.


The Women’s Historian and West Point, Part II: What I Learned About the Field of Military History

(Click here for Part I: Introducing the 2010 Summer Seminar in Military History)

I didn’t acknowledge my proximity to the field of military history until perhaps a year ago. This may seem very strange or shortsighted – after all, I’m writing a dissertation about women in the military. My brief explanation is that I’ve been trained primarily as a social historian. More particularly – as I’ll discuss in Part III of this series – I’m a women’s historian. As I’ve hinted at, there are a number of ways and reasons why women’s history and military history don’t always seem to go together.

So although I study members of the military, I’ve long been acutely aware that what I do is distinct from what I understood to be “military history”. I don’t deal with combatants. I can’t really tell you much about weapons. When I stepped into the Summer Seminar for the first day of classes, I had no idea what the Battle of Agincourt was or why everyone seemed to think it was important. Although I grew up visiting battlefields – three-plus hours at Little Bighorn, for example – tracking troop movements and battle positions was always the hum-drum part of history for me.

The levels of war – strategy, operations, tactics –have always been a central element of military history. It’s a very old field, particularly in comparison to social history. (In the Center of Military History’s A Guide to the Study and Use of Military History, for example, Colonel Thomas Griess dates military history’s origins as a field to at least the early 1800s, beginning with Jomini and Clausewitz (page 27).) The question of how an army fights and wins both battles and wars, and close interrogations of the great men who led those armies – these have long been the dominant areas of analysis for military historians.

These are the things we seem to think of most often when people talk about “military history.” And if you’ve seen some of the articles in the past couple of years, those on the fringes and outside of military history would tell you that military history is a dying field. (For example, in 2006 “Sounding Taps: Why Military History is Being Retired” and in 2009, “Great Caesar’s Ghost! Are Traditional History Courses Vanishing?”. Last November, Historically Speaking ran a forum with several prominent military historians, including Brian Linn, Dennis Showalter, and Robert Citino, all of whom I had the opportunity to hear at West Point last month. Articles available via Project Muse; limited access.)

The problem is that traditional military history is often perceived to be increasingly out of step with the field of history as a whole, at least since the social turn of the 1960s. At least, that tends to be the perspective of non-military historians looking in. That was also the perspective I had walking in to West Point. For my own part, I’ve gotten mixed perspectives from faculty about what my relationship to military history should or should not be.

But it’s not just about traditional military history anymore. These days, there’s also “new military history” – sometimes referred to as “war and society,” a phrase I don’t like for a couple of reasons. Technically, this is where I fall in the realm of military history, because new military history is all about things like the social composition of militaries, civil-military relations, relationships between people in militaries, and so on.

The social turn of history added new possibilities, then, for the field of military history – at least as I see it. What seems to have happened instead is that an intense battle emerged. On the one side, military historians who eschewed the idea of applying social history to military history became perceived as increasingly outdated and irrelevant (hence the articles on the state of the field in recent years). On the other hand, those who wanted to embrace new categories of analysis – like gender – ran the risk of becoming the black sheep in the military history world. Or perhaps just feeling like they’re the black sheep.

In my three weeks at West Point, I felt like I was surrounded by more traditional military history folks than new military history folks. “War and society” seemed, at least early on, to be little more than dirty words. (As one friend and former fellow put it, traditional military historians sometimes seem to think the “society” aspect of “war and society” has sidelined military history too much, which may be why the apparent.)

What I’m beginning to believe more and more is that military history is at a crucial juncture. From where I’m sitting, new military history holds the most promise for the field. Where it was once simply enough to look at levels of war and leadership and command, I don’t think that approach is adequate anymore.

Is the traditional approach to military history outdated and passé? Although it’s not my preferred way of doing military history, I’d say no. There’s still a place for traditional military history – although it may well be that these days, that sort of history is best left to the service academies, ROTC, and the armed forces as a whole. The traditional topics of levels of war, weapons, battles, and military leaders make sense as subjects for those participating directly in the nation’s defense.

Outside of the military, I think it can still be useful to convey many of these ideas and principles to the average college student. The staff rides I went on really helped me understand battles like Antietam and Gettysburg much better than I ever did: there’s a real difference between that sort of hands-on approach and looking at a map with arrows and reading a dry account of General So-and-So moving his left flank to position X. Sure, staff rides aren’t always possible – it helps if you actually live near a battlefield, of course. But the principle of engaging students in the details of a battle, as opposed to simply assigning 45 pages of reading – that’s one of the big takeaways for me. Military historians have an amazing potential to help battlefield history come to life (assuming they choose to use their powers for good, of course).

Perhaps even more importantly, there are ways that military historians think that could be very valuable to the rest of us. The type of analysis and thought processes that go into traditional military history were a very different experience for me, and I think it can be incredibly useful to learn to think and approach problems in new ways.

My own personal opinion, though, is that military history is much richer when it is not limited to the battlefield. New military history – this idea of thinking about the people, at all levels; of moving beyond combat and weapons; and so on –is where I see the most possibility and promise for military history as a field. While my second-year ROTC undergrad may be thrilled to talk about tactics, operation, and strategy, the future veterinarian will want to know why and how any of that has relevance beyond the classroom. My opinion is that, far from dying out or becoming irrelevant, military history should make the most of these newer analytical possibilities and discover where it could go next.

As much as I believe that this blending of new with old is the way to go, it’s an uphill road. There seemed to be little room to maneuver outside of traditional military history at the Summer Seminar.  My ultimate feeling by June 23rd was that to be someone who studies women within the military – someone who engages with questions about not just women, but also gender and the military – marks me as a person apart.

While the US military has moved towards understanding its military force much more thoroughly in the last 60-70 years, it has still only taken baby steps in some way. If the “war and society” aspect of military history is young in comparison with military history as a larger field, then adding gendered analysis to understanding the military is an even younger proposition. (as evidenced partially by the still-quite-small literature set on women in the military.)

What, then, do I do with all of this knowledge and perspective on the field of military history and my relationship to it? I’m still thinking about that, but check back Monday for my thoughts on being cast as the token gender studies person.