Is there a need for an academic series on air power and aviation history?

Ok, a straight forward straw poll for some research I am currently doing. In essence, do you think that there is a need for an academic series on air power and aviation history that is produced by a publisher who markets books at a reasonable and accessible price? I know some people can be put off by the word academic, but what I am referring to here is high-quality and well-researched works published in a series that adheres to consistent standards.

In my mind such a series would publish works of original historical research in the area of air power and aviation studies as well as studies from related fields such as law, politics, ethics, international relations, archaeology, and museology. The works would cover all aspects of air power and aviation in the 20th and 21st centuries. Books published would be at aimed at scholars, postgraduate and upper-level students, whilst still being accessible enough to appeal to a wider audience of educated lay readers.

Any feedback and comments would be much appreciated.

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17 responses to “Is there a need for an academic series on air power and aviation history?

  1. Aren’t there libraries full of airpower history already? That said, there is a great deal of hagiography masquerading as history, so perhaps a series of high quality works would be helpful. I would expect that most of your followers will vote “yes”, but then they are like-minded folks.

  2. There is a demonstrable lack of scholarly airpower history. Much devolves into 1st person narratives or purely technical aircraft dissections, (the term used earlier, hagiography, is spot on) but there is precious little available that equates to work done for the sea and land arenas.

  3. Absolutely and it needs to be done by those not affiliated with the USAF or USN. These major stakeholders in defense budget battles would only sully the quality of the work.

  4. You recently divided readers of military aviation histories into paddlers, swimmers and divers, with academic air power historians being divers. I doubt that there enough divers to support such a series, so its works would have to appeal to some swimmers. The paddlers are probably happy with uncritical biographies of aces and books extolling the virtues of particular aircraft.
    I agree with Bryon that a poll on your blog is likely to produce a biased outcome. Even a significant minority against would probably mean that it is uneconomic.

  5. Bryon,

    There are, but I would suggest they are variable quality. As you quite rightly say, there is a lot of hagiography with people repeating myths. I agree that many people might say yes tot he poll, but they are also the intended market so I guess it is a case of swing and roundabouts.

  6. Bill,

    I quite agree. The loss of the Frank Cass Studies in Air Power series left a big gap in the market, which potentially, a new series could fill.

  7. John,

    I agree that the military should be kept out of this, but that shouldn’t exclude academics working in PME.

  8. Ray,

    Sustainability is an issue, but, hopefully, if the volumes produced are interesting enough and marketed in the right way at the right price, then, in theory, this shouldn’t be a problem in my opinion.

  9. Martin,

    You are right, I did use that terminology, but why shouldn’t work produced by ‘divers’ be made available at an affordable price to those other audiences? The advantage of doing this would be to help improve the standard of popular histories. One of the key criticism leveled at academic publishing is that it places up to date research out of reach of the general reader who would be interested. If we as ‘divers’ want to have true impact then our research needs to be made more accessible. This is possible if the right publisher is willing to work on such a project. I also disagree that a the minority suggest that it would uneconomical. The military history field is vast and such a series would, arguable, fill a gap that currently exists.

  10. I voted yes but I think ‘need’ is possibly too strong: I certainly think that such a publication would be useful is expanding and understanding perceptions of air power. Possibly due to the nature of the last few decades of conflict I feel that the lion’s share of attention has gone upon the land warfare community and it falls upon the air power community to claw back some territory. It’s my experience that we are very good at telling air power related stories – still an effective means of communicating air power – but less proficient at balanced analysis of airpower issues. I especially like the idea of exploring elements of other disciplines like law, etc, in an air power context.

    I would prefer an electronic format – as much I as like the good old-fashioned coffee table tomes, e-versions are logistically simpler these days especially if a global audience is targeted.

    I do not see why the military should be excluded from submitting work: the submission either meets the standard or it does not; a propensity for bias and favour is certainly not the sole realm of the (currently serving) military member.

  11. This is not my usual field so cannot comment generally. However, from a First World War in Africa perspective, we (academics and enthusiasts) are desperate for detailed studies (political, social, military and technical – how planes were adapted etc) on the air war in that theatre. The only person to have done anything close and that is only through some great articles is Peter Dye on Britain’s involvement in East Africa. For the remainder we rely on first hand accounts of soldiers and pilots and the odd comment in a general book on one of the campaigns. The Belgians and Germans both participated with aircraft in their various campaigns, albeit in different ways to the British. From what I’ve read and picked up so far, I think there is rich mining to be had on this front.

  12. A dedicated history on Air Power may go some way to address the constant misinformed argument for getting rid of the RAF and distributing the assets and needs into the other two services.

  13. Ross. I voted ‘Yes’, but then I am one of the addicted flock and no plutocrat. A few thoughts, however:

    Why does the series have to be in book format/length? An electronic magazine, admittedly at the other extreme to a printed book, would be cheaper and could showcase research that did not run to book length.

    More than one conversation with young, academic historians has highlighted the need to be published by ‘certain’ houses, all of them expensive and generally selling few copies on that score, in order for careers to bloom. Your series would need to sit well within that landscape and mindset.

    That said; it would be quite wonderful to be able to dive into new affordable, quality, well-researched material. I suspect that this would also be the case for the currently less involved reader, who is not looking for an academic qualification or career.

    One makes a journey in these matters (or at least I did). From Biggles to Air Power Theory, if you like; embracing related material (Air Power in Film/Psychology/Leadership Theory) along the way. The need for academic rigour to underpin the material is almost a side effect, but your appetite for it grows. You simply buy “better” books as time goes by, whether you eventually write academically yourself or not.

    Thus, at a decent price, the market could be bigger than you think.

  14. Adam,

    The issue of publishing with ‘certain’ houses is important. However, it is clear that this is artificial constructed. It all relates to the Research Excellence Framework here in the UK and it is suggested that certain publishers produce higher return for budding scholars. However, I cannot find a list of these publishers. What is important is peer review. Thus, this would be an important element of any potential project such as this.

    As for the online magazine idea, well, that is a discussion for another day…

  15. As I have a research interest in aviation history I’ve recently begun searching (i.e. Googling) for a university – with a track record of sustained interest and achievement in this field – where I could complete my Phd.

    To my surprise, I haven’t been able to find one. While there are places teaching undergraduate courses (e.g. University of Western Ontario’s History of Aviation course # 2814F), there appear more the exemption. This sobering exercise helps me understand by Ross has had to pose his question.

  16. Mark,
    It depends what you want to study but there are a number of universities with specialists in air power history both here in the UK and across the pond. Actually, the RAF Museum have recently advertised two collaborative PhD with institutions here in the UK. It is not as bad as it was once.

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