[Cross posted at Birmingham “On War”]

An interesting question for this historian on a Monday morning; what do you call yourself?

If you look through listings of academics at a university you may well see the title Professor of…, but what does this mean? Is it accurate?

We have a tendency to caveat ourselves with descriptors as part of the race for jobs. For example, anyone looking at my output would almost certainly describe me as an Air Power Historian but is this accurate, and if it is, does it impact my prospects for the future.

On the first point I am not sure. One of my primary research foci is Joint Warfare; therefore, by default I have an interest in the interaction of the services. Yes my current research is on Air Power but will it always be so? I think not. There are plenty of areas that I would like to explore and not all are air power related.

However, there is an advantage of being defined in this way, primarily that in the case of air power you become part of small village of academics that all know each other and take and interest in each others work. For example, in the UK there are no more than 10-15 academics and perhaps about the same number of research students; a small field.

On the second point, what does this means for job prospects? Well if I am honest it will be difficult. I think I am limited to the few institutions that offer War Studies as a degree or the various military institutions such as Cranwell or the JSCSC; indeed I am willing to consider teaching in the US or another English-speaking country to widen my prospects. The job market is difficult at the moment and we must do all we can to show that we are flexible. Am I bothered by this? The answer is a yes and no scenario. No because any of these institutions would be an excellent environment to work in but yes because would it not be nice to not be caveated by your descriptor and have someone look at you and say that your ‘research’ does not fit our institution. Surely the fact that I am at the forefront of research in my area should be enough but I suspect this is not the case; or am I cynic.

Think about all the Military Historians who have described themselves as War and Society specialists and then look at there writing, do they fit that moniker?

So how do you define yourself as a historian? I am interested in hearing your thoughts.

BTW I prefer the term British Military Historian…


5 thoughts on “How do we define ourselves?

  1. I usually call myself a military historian. That’s where my background, training and publication record are. It also emphasises that I have specialist knowledge that non-military historians don’t have. Maybe a disadvantage of that is that it doesn’t put me in a small village because military history is a huge field, especially using the very broad definition that I prefer. I get more of a sense of community from being a horse historian, which is what I’d pick second after identifying as a military historian. Studying horses is a relatively small field and it crosses over into different disciplines like literary studies, art history and archaeology. Third I’m an English Civil War historian but again that’s a big field. I’ve mainly tended to mix with people who focus on the military side of the civil wars and not so much with religious or political historians. For the civil war period calling myself a British historian would be problematic. Although British perspectives are quite fashionable my civil war work has always been about England, so British would be a bit of a false universal.

  2. Gavin it is interesting that you define yourself three ways. I can see the advantage of defining yourself as part of a large and small village. While I try to avoid being defined as an Air Power historian I suppose it has an advantage much your definition of being a Horse historian i.e. it is a small village. That in itself can be useful because you know who to contact if you are searching for information on a specific topic.

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