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How do you define nation-states?

I would certainly agree with kotov. I would argue that the US and USSR were never nation-states when you think deeply about how they were formed. Both had to acquire land, although by different means. The United States bought a lot of vast, empty land (with some exceptions to the Mexican Cession and Texas) and people had to migrate to these lands from the East Coast, carrying the American culture with them. These lands were eventually formed into states with similar government framework as existing states. The way the United States became a country was very much unlike Germany or Italy.

I'm sore kotov can explain USSR a bit better than I can articulate.

I define a nation-state broadly as a discrete area in which the most legitimate actor is the formal government. Almost all people who live in the discrete area are citizens (except those who the formal government explicitly, consistently exclude) who are bound together by shared, overlapping imagined communities. The two main points are the formal government which interacts with people/governments outside national borders (and, less importantly, with its own citizens), and that generally most people feel like part of the national community.

So the US conquering new territory up until the 20th century doesn't negate my definition because gaining new territory which may not fit the criteria above doesn't erase the existing nation-state. Having qualified actors other than the national government (such as local government or informal authority figures) doesn't negate my definition as long as the national government has the final say. Also having some people in the national boundaries who are not citizens doesn't negate it, because most people are. And even if many people disagree about a certain national policy/cultural value doesn't mean the nation-state doesn't exist, because as long as a majority of people agree with a given group of ideas that define their nation then it exists. For example, most Americans would agree that the US is exceptional, that independence is a good value, that hard work brings rewards, that Jesus Christ is the Lord, that the military should serve at the pleasure of the President with certain checks from the legislative branch, etc. Having other cultural ideas floating around doesn't undermine this either because the US explicitly values multiculturalism (unlike Germany, in which people whose great-grandparents who emigrated from Turkey are still called "Turkish" rather than German).

I don't think saying that just because it didn't happen just like it did in [insert favored test country here] then it must not be true. There are many paths to the same end.

Also: the American west was in no way empty and Anglos moving out there were not "migrating" but conquering. Get thee to some Patricia Limerick.

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It's still a fuzzy thing. Historians have yet to grasp the exact definition or it or exactly how to conceptualize it. Some historians get very annoyed when it's used interchangeably with "Internatio

It doesn't always happen that way, but I would say it is a safe generalization to argue that people usually study the group with which they identify with; i.e., women often study women's history, Jews

the graduation rates for first-generation college students from PhD programs is dismally low. i think first gen-GRADUATE students (so they've had relatives go to college, but not grad school, before t

Even Russia today isn't a nation-state. There are over 100 different languages and ethnicities in the Russian Federation. In the USSR, there were closer to 200; some of the states that formed from the former USSR are nation-states, like Estonia and Armenia, however, some, like Kazakhstan and Ukraine aren't.

I suppose the basic issue is that I don't agree that multilingual/multicultural nations are not nation-states. I think nation-states can have even vibrant sub-cultures and still be nation-states, though perhaps that's because I'm American. Though I suppose I would draw the line at people killing each other over politics, which would take Russia out of the nation-state category (but not the USSR if it effectively suppressed separatist opposition, like Tito did in Yugoslavia). So the US, then, would not have been a nation-state before 1865. But it may have been after the post-Revolutionary scuffles died down and before people started killing each other over extending slavery - I don't know, because that's not really my era.

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The USSR was most certainly not a nation-state. A polity occupying one-seventh of the planet's surface, it inevitably included hundreds of distinct ethnic groups. The exact number has always been debated by historians, partly because the number itself was used as a political tool by the Soviets, but most Western scholars agree that the USSR was home to somewhere between 150 and 200 non-Russian peoples. As a result, the USSR (and present-day Russian, too) does not qualify as a nation-state (which tend to be much smaller, both in terms of geography and population). I would consider, say, Iceland or Mali or Laos to be nation-states, although those are also generalizations.

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The USSR was most certainly not a nation-state. A polity occupying one-seventh of the planet's surface, it inevitably included hundreds of distinct ethnic groups. The exact number has always been debated by historians, partly because the number itself was used as a political tool by the Soviets, but most Western scholars agree that the USSR was home to somewhere between 150 and 200 non-Russian peoples. As a result, the USSR (and present-day Russian, too) does not qualify as a nation-state (which tend to be much smaller, both in terms of geography and population). I would consider, say, Iceland or Mali or Laos to be nation-states, although those are also generalizations.

Mali has upwards of 60 ethnic groups. You'd be hard pressed to identify a nation-state anywhere if we define it on the basis of ethnic, linguistic and cultural homogeneity.

I define a nation-state broadly as a discrete area in which the most legitimate actor is the formal government. Almost all people who live in the discrete area are citizens (except those who the formal government explicitly, consistently exclude) who are bound together by shared, overlapping imagined communities. The two main points are the formal government which interacts with people/governments outside national borders (and, less importantly, with its own citizens), and that generally most people feel like part of the national community.

Agreed!

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Well, its fairly clear that the idea of a nation-state is a rather difficult one to define.

It does seems to incorporate a discrete geographical area, with a discrete populous with a set, fairly well defined relationships to a government, and (perhaps) a set of cultural commonalities, particularly a uniting history and language. However, even the best examples of a homogeneous nation-state are just less stratified and diverse-- it's a matter of degree and not of kind, I think.

Of course, any time a laundry list definition is put to the fore any concrete example will fail to live up to all of the tenants of the definition. Even the more ideal candidates-- someone said Iceland-- wouldn't be a "perfect" nation-state by the list I put forward. Just language is deeply problematic. Even in comfortable Western European countries, there are bitterly fought linguistic battles between the hegemony of cultural and political capitals, and the periphery. The UK and Spain are obvious examples, but France is a hodgepodge of regional languages-- including Basque and Celtic enclaves, as well as minor Romance languages and of course the Arabic minorities.

It seems to me that it's important not to idealize the nation-state, and this is where I see professional history coming in and shaking things up. I think that it is interesting that the modern apparatus of History has sort of matured with modern nations and are largely supported by them-- both financially, and through archival and other records collections. And historians have both constructed and deconstructed national mythologies and master narratives, and help both consciously and unconsciously to shape national identity.

I don't want to discount the work done by historians working in transnational, interregional, and global frameworks, on the contrary, I would like the vision and prescience that is needed for such a framework to be utilized by historians of more traditional (and I use that word unhappily) fields and methodologies.

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the graduation rates for first-generation college students from PhD programs is dismally low. i think first gen-GRADUATE students (so they've had relatives go to college, but not grad school, before them) are only 10% of PhD holders in the humanities/social sciences. the number for first-gen COLLEGE students getting their PhD is even lower. first-gen students tend to be women and minorities, which is why you'll see fewer women and minorities on faculty.

for me, as a first-gen college student, i know that i could lead a happy and full and valuable life if i decide to leave my PhD program. this isn't the only thing i could do, it's never been expected that i'll go to grad school somewhere for something. i know that for many of my colleagues with parents who hold masters or PhDs, it wasn't a matter of if they were going to graduate school, but where and for what. that sort of culture or expectation just isn't fostered in first-gen college kids.

but it's not just white anglo-saxon protestant males studying "the minorities." i'm female, jewish, canadian, my parents are english and hungarian, my father's side of the family spent the 30s and 40s in concentration camps and ghettos, and in the 50s fled to north america as refugees during the '56 revolution. there's a lot of deep, complicated, interesting history just one generation removed from me, and i study.... afro-indigenous populations in caribbean central america. i do study gender a bit, but i focus on men as much as women, so i study one identity category to which i belong.

there's a professor applying for a job at my school who is chinese-american and studies germany. i think that's pretty cool, but of course everyone asks him how he managed to get interested in germany (which i also get asked constantly about central america). fuck. the same way that WASP kid got interested in japan. why is he allowed to go so far outside of his ethnic or gender or racial category and no one bats an eye, but if someone sufficiently "ethnic" (i.e. not a WASP) studies something they're not, everyone expects them to have some sort of personal history that connects them to their topic. it drives me nuts, i actually find it kind of offensive. which is why the comments in this thread by some posters about how "most" people study what they are, or don't study what they aren't, really got under my skin. how come my "ethnic" last name gets me the third degree about why i study what i do but no one blinks an eye when a "johnson" or a "smith" or a "charles" studies french colonial africa or native american history?

I'm not sure how accurate this really is - I'm a WAS(no P) studying a language that I have no connection to, and the first question I'm asked by people in Germany is always "So why on Earth are you studying German?" I generally answer that it's just something that interested me, various authors, philosophers, etc. and that I have no "personal" connection to it, neither through family nor early childhood experiences, which is usually confusing to people. I think that the general assumption exists that one studies things towards which one is personally inclined, either through early childhood affinities (oh, he always did love to play the piano, even at age 4) or through "heritage" of a particular legacy (his father and his father's father were doctors) or whatever. I'll agree that this position is relatively intellectually bankrupt, but I dispute that no one bats an eye at a white kid from Oklahoma who just loves the Vedas and learning south-east Asian languages. I don't think that anyone takes it for granted that a WASP studies Japanese stuff; people generally have very boring conceptions of what motivates someone to study something and are presumably confused when a facile understanding of academic interests is threatened.

In addition, I'm not convinced that identity politics was particularly good for the sort of "naturalness" of studying other countries and cultures; a number of publications stress the "roots" element, the anglo-imperialist element, the valorization of non-Anglo cultures as being transmitted through mother's milk and barrios that lends a unique personal insight into those cultures. Presumably, people who accepted these (undoubtedly essentialist) claims to some extent have a harder time reconciling that with an academic "tabula rasa" one.

Next time someone asks you why you're studying such and such a subject, explain that cosmopolitanism is traditionally the boon and the burden of the upper-classes and if they have to ask they'll never understand.

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the graduation rates for first-generation college students from PhD programs is dismally low. i think first gen-GRADUATE students (so they've had relatives go to college, but not grad school, before them) are only 10% of PhD holders in the humanities/social sciences. the number for first-gen COLLEGE students getting their PhD is even lower. first-gen students tend to be women and minorities, which is why you'll see fewer women and minorities on faculty.

for me, as a first-gen college student, i know that i could lead a happy and full and valuable life if i decide to leave my PhD program. this isn't the only thing i could do, it's never been expected that i'll go to grad school somewhere for something. i know that for many of my colleagues with parents who hold masters or PhDs, it wasn't a matter of if they were going to graduate school, but where and for what. that sort of culture or expectation just isn't fostered in first-gen college kids.

but it's not just white anglo-saxon protestant males studying "the minorities." i'm female, jewish, canadian, my parents are english and hungarian, my father's side of the family spent the 30s and 40s in concentration camps and ghettos, and in the 50s fled to north america as refugees during the '56 revolution. there's a lot of deep, complicated, interesting history just one generation removed from me, and i study.... afro-indigenous populations in caribbean central america. i do study gender a bit, but i focus on men as much as women, so i study one identity category to which i belong.

there's a professor applying for a job at my school who is chinese-american and studies germany. i think that's pretty cool, but of course everyone asks him how he managed to get interested in germany (which i also get asked constantly about central america). fuck. the same way that WASP kid got interested in japan. why is he allowed to go so far outside of his ethnic or gender or racial category and no one bats an eye, but if someone sufficiently "ethnic" (i.e. not a WASP) studies something they're not, everyone expects them to have some sort of personal history that connects them to their topic. it drives me nuts, i actually find it kind of offensive. which is why the comments in this thread by some posters about how "most" people study what they are, or don't study what they aren't, really got under my skin. how come my "ethnic" last name gets me the third degree about why i study what i do but no one blinks an eye when a "johnson" or a "smith" or a "charles" studies french colonial africa or native american history?

I'm not sure how accurate this really is - I'm a WAS(no P) studying a language that I have no connection to, and the first question I'm asked by people in Germany is always "So why on Earth are you studying German?" I generally answer that it's just something that interested me, various authors, philosophers, etc. and that I have no "personal" connection to it, neither through family nor early childhood experiences, which is usually confusing to people. I think that the general assumption exists that one studies things towards which one is personally inclined, either through early childhood affinities (oh, he always did love to play the piano, even at age 4) or through "heritage" of a particular legacy (his father and his father's father were doctors) or whatever. I'll agree that this position is relatively intellectually bankrupt, but I dispute that no one bats an eye at a white kid from Oklahoma who just loves the Vedas and learning south-east Asian languages. I don't think that anyone takes it for granted that a WASP studies Japanese stuff; people generally have very boring conceptions of what motivates someone to study something and are presumably confused when a facile understanding of academic interests is threatened.

In addition, I'm not convinced that identity politics was particularly good for the sort of "naturalness" of studying other countries and cultures; a number of publications stress the "roots" element, the anglo-imperialist element, the valorization of non-Anglo cultures as being transmitted through mother's milk and barrios that lends a unique personal insight into those cultures. Presumably, people who accepted these (undoubtedly essentialist) claims to some extent have a harder time reconciling that with an academic "tabula rasa" one.

Next time someone asks you why you're studying such and such a subject, explain that cosmopolitanism is traditionally the boon and the burden of the upper-classes and if they have to ask they'll never understand.

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people really ask an anglo-saxon why on earth he or she would study german?

i get your point but i still disagree with it. in my experience, many academics assume that a white anglo-saxon's academic interests are either 1) biographically related to them, or 2) cosmopolitan interest. for the non-white non-anglo-saxon non-christian, cosmopolitanism is rarely, if ever, assumed to be the source of one's interests. and while i appreciate the jovial nature of your closing quip as a comeback to people who question why i do what i do, it's a bit presumptuous to associate cosmopolitanism largely with the upper classes and a bit grubby to attack someone's presumed class status.

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The USSR was most certainly not a nation-state. A polity occupying one-seventh of the planet's surface, it inevitably included hundreds of distinct ethnic groups. The exact number has always been debated by historians, partly because the number itself was used as a political tool by the Soviets, but most Western scholars agree that the USSR was home to somewhere between 150 and 200 non-Russian peoples. As a result, the USSR (and present-day Russian, too) does not qualify as a nation-state (which tend to be much smaller, both in terms of geography and population). I would consider, say, Iceland or Mali or Laos to be nation-states, although those are also generalizations.

Laos is certainly an extremely diverse nation - even the national language, Lao, has something like five or six dialects which are almost other languages, and linguists apparently can't even agree if Lao has five or six tones(!). There are also a large number of ethnic groups, especially impressive for the small land area. Estimates have ranged as high as 132 (the country's post office's estimate as it wants to make stamps commemorating all of them), depending on who is counting. We don't hear too much about it, though, because Laos is almost a case study of multicultural harmony - the big exceptions are persecution of the Hmong by the government which is just leftover consequences of Hmong aid for the US during the Vietnam War, and some tension surrounding Thai people in Laos which is often spillover from the formal relations between Thailand and Laos.

If you ever visit, I highly recommend picking up a book published by Lao Insight Books called Laos...an indicative fact-book. It contains information about many aspects of Laotian life from a number of sources and is meant to document the country in flux. I am quite jazzed about it since very rarely are small countries documented like this. I recall, for example, a discussion on the Economist website a while back about good histories of Thailand and less than ten English books could even be named.

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I'm with GK Chesterton on this. As a white (partly Anglo-Saxon, some Protestant ancestry - though an agnostic with some Jewish ancestry doesn't really make me any more of a minority in academia) male, I get asked constantly why on Earth I would possibly be interested in Chinese history. I think anyone in this country, regardless of race, sex, etc. who doesn't study either US history or their own background gets questioned about it. Though I don't think I agree with his suggested response to that sort of question.

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Laos is certainly an extremely diverse nation - even the national language, Lao, has something like five or six dialects which are almost other languages, and linguists apparently can't even agree if Lao has five or six tones(!). There are also a large number of ethnic groups, especially impressive for the small land area. Estimates have ranged as high as 132 (the country's post office's estimate as it wants to make stamps commemorating all of them), depending on who is counting. We don't hear too much about it, though, because Laos is almost a case study of multicultural harmony - the big exceptions are persecution of the Hmong by the government which is just leftover consequences of Hmong aid for the US during the Vietnam War, and some tension surrounding Thai people in Laos which is often spillover from the formal relations between Thailand and Laos.

If you ever visit, I highly recommend picking up a book published by Lao Insight Books called Laos...an indicative fact-book. It contains information about many aspects of Laotian life from a number of sources and is meant to document the country in flux. I am quite jazzed about it since very rarely are small countries documented like this. I recall, for example, a discussion on the Economist website a while back about good histories of Thailand and less than ten English books could even be named.

This is why the nation-state is a construction and a bad one at that. Read Hobsbawm, and Anderson's books.

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"nation-state" is undoubtedly a category of practice, since (some) people in everyday life do speak of the nation-state. journalists, policy-makers, etc. as a subject of analysis, the construction (political, social, cultural, economic) of "the nation-state" is fruitful territory, even/especially in places where we're arguing the nation-state is a problematic classification (such as multi-ethnic nations). understanding how minority ethnic groups are silenced/erased from/excluded from/invisible to/outside of "the nation-state" is an important historical process that took place in many (and i'd hazard a bet, most) postcolonial states as they gained independence over the last 250 years. that process is definitely worthy of historical investigation.

but using "nation-state" as a category of analysis is really problematic for all the reasons we've already discussed in the thread.

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In terms of historians and identity politics, I can think of some intriguing examples. Right now, we're only experiencing the fallout of the 20th century, as in terms of the consequences of the major wars in raising awareness of other places and communities as we ll as technology. Before the Pacific War, Americans knew very, very little about East Asia. After the Korean War, one of my professors decided to study Japanese, from scratch, and eventually earned his PhD in Japanese Literature. He knew a number of people who did the same thing. I wouldn't be surprised if we see veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan wars eager to come back and study the Middle East. Also we are beginning to "recover" from tragedies and genocides that this generation could potentially examine them from more objective views. There's also a need to fill in the void left by genocides such as that of Eastern Europeans looking to study Jews and learning Yiddish.

I think that the 20th century has done a lot to break down barriers so that people could learn from one and another and pursue their interest in any field they want. And don't tell me that the Exploration Age in the 16th and 17th centuries trumps the wars and technology in 20th century. IMHO.

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Laos is certainly an extremely diverse nation - even the national language, Lao, has something like five or six dialects which are almost other languages, and linguists apparently can't even agree if Lao has five or six tones(!). There are also a large number of ethnic groups, especially impressive for the small land area. Estimates have ranged as high as 132 (the country's post office's estimate as it wants to make stamps commemorating all of them), depending on who is counting. We don't hear too much about it, though, because Laos is almost a case study of multicultural harmony - the big exceptions are persecution of the Hmong by the government which is just leftover consequences of Hmong aid for the US during the Vietnam War, and some tension surrounding Thai people in Laos which is often spillover from the formal relations between Thailand and Laos.

If you ever visit, I highly recommend picking up a book published by Lao Insight Books called Laos...an indicative fact-book. It contains information about many aspects of Laotian life from a number of sources and is meant to document the country in flux. I am quite jazzed about it since very rarely are small countries documented like this. I recall, for example, a discussion on the Economist website a while back about good histories of Thailand and less than ten English books could even be named.

Sounds interesting, I'll check it out.

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As for the future of history, I see the death of postmodernism. I think those of us trained to speak in post modern terms will finally be able to address it and kill it.

I don't necessarily disagree with you, but I'd like to hear more of your thoughts on this.

For my part, I think the very nature of post-modernism-- its hyper-relativity and subjectivity-- runs contrary to any sort of united ideology that can die, per se. On the other hand, I see elements of post-modernist thinking as very useful to the historian.

What I expect, and hope for, is a move away from the hysterics and polemics that arose from the post-modern challenge. Post-modernist theory doesn't threaten to be the "death of History" or anything of the sort-- any more than Quantitative, "Scientific", Feminist, Social, Cultural, Anthropological or Linguistic theories have. It does, I think-- as all of the turns to other theoretical approaches-- present a challenge to how we understand the past, and how we disseminate that understanding, and bring to the fore underlying questions of why we do history, both as individuals and collectively.

What will almost certainly be the case, I think, is that whatever the intentions may have been, particularly extreme post-modernist thinkers -- their methodologies, and the sorts of problems they raise about the project of History will be useful to add nuance to the models that historians use. In short, I see post-modernist theories to be, ultimately, just more tools in the analytic tool-shed.

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I don't necessarily disagree with you, but I'd like to hear more of your thoughts on this.

For my part, I think the very nature of post-modernism-- its hyper-relativity and subjectivity-- runs contrary to any sort of united ideology that can die, per se. On the other hand, I see elements of post-modernist thinking as very useful to the historian.

What I expect, and hope for, is a move away from the hysterics and polemics that arose from the post-modern challenge. Post-modernist theory doesn't threaten to be the "death of History" or anything of the sort-- any more than Quantitative, "Scientific", Feminist, Social, Cultural, Anthropological or Linguistic theories have. It does, I think-- as all of the turns to other theoretical approaches-- present a challenge to how we understand the past, and how we disseminate that understanding, and bring to the fore underlying questions of why we do history, both as individuals and collectively.

What will almost certainly be the case, I think, is that whatever the intentions may have been, particularly extreme post-modernist thinkers -- their methodologies, and the sorts of problems they raise about the project of History will be useful to add nuance to the models that historians use. In short, I see post-modernist theories to be, ultimately, just more tools in the analytic tool-shed.

What I am talking about is similar to the study of economics. Nobody could answer the Keynesians until economists trained in the Keynesian school could speak in the same language (where we get the monetarists). Postmodern ideas about sources are valid in many ways, but in many ways destroys any value there is in even looking at varied sources. The very relativity of postmodernism is why it rings so hollow. I think that the very relative nature of postmodernism is lost when one tries to find out what "really" happened. Ultimately, that's what even the postmodernists are doing. The very nature of postmodernism renders everything meaningless. To a certain extent, this can be true, but that's just a bit too fatalistic to me. By making everything a construction, then nothing has meaning, which is what postmodernism, in the extreme cases, has accomplished. I see reactions to this, because by nature, historians seek meaning in the events of the past.

So yes, postmodern techniques, especially for evaluating sources, will continue to play a role, much of the surrounding hopelessness I think will disappear.

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What I am talking about is similar to the study of economics. Nobody could answer the Keynesians until economists trained in the Keynesian school could speak in the same language (where we get the monetarists). Postmodern ideas about sources are valid in many ways, but in many ways destroys any value there is in even looking at varied sources. The very relativity of postmodernism is why it rings so hollow. I think that the very relative nature of postmodernism is lost when one tries to find out what "really" happened. Ultimately, that's what even the postmodernists are doing. The very nature of postmodernism renders everything meaningless. To a certain extent, this can be true, but that's just a bit too fatalistic to me. By making everything a construction, then nothing has meaning, which is what postmodernism, in the extreme cases, has accomplished. I see reactions to this, because by nature, historians seek meaning in the events of the past.

So yes, postmodern techniques, especially for evaluating sources, will continue to play a role, much of the surrounding hopelessness I think will disappear.

I can get on board with this.

I had a recent conversation about how bizarre it is that people would argue in favor of post-modernism. By most renderings, it should be both self-evident, and not something which needs be proselytized.

Even extreme Post-modernism-- the death of the Real, the ultimate primacy of perspective and subjectivity, and even the ultimate inaccessibility of [T]ruth-- doesn't necessarily keep historians from embarking on a search for meaning. Or at least in my opinion.

Granted, if the result is to fall into fatalism and a sense of meaninglessness, that poses a lot of very basic problems to being an historian. Hell, it poses questions about getting out of bed and being human. My tentative solution is the same that I have for the free will/ determinism debate of philosophy: I "feel" as if I can know things/ that things have meaning/ that I have some degree of free will and agency, therefore I act on that feeling, and attempt to sort of what that means starting with some degree of presupposition.

I don't think that a feeling of free will or of meaning is a coup de grace in favor of it being the case, or even less, as a Truth or a demonstrable fact, but I do think that there is probably some utility in having that feeling.

Also, this whole line of thought makes me think of this:

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Granted, if the result is to fall into fatalism and a sense of meaninglessness, that poses a lot of very basic problems to being an historian. Hell, it poses questions about getting out of bed and being human. My tentative solution is the same that I have for the free will/ determinism debate of philosophy: I "feel" as if I can know things/ that things have meaning/ that I have some degree of free will and agency, therefore I act on that feeling, and attempt to sort of what that means starting with some degree of presupposition.

I agree. At a first sight it appears that the logical conclusion to a "postmodern" approach to (and interpretation of) history is fatalism and meaninglessness. But I think that one can realize that the value in the writing of history isn't in uncovering some kind of truth (big or small "t") but in the act of interpreting, which is what helps produce meaning. I think that most historians I admire have that kind of outlook. And I think it somehow acknowledges the complicated position of the historian in contemporary society (in many ways a powerless, yet powerful figure).

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  • 10 months later...

MOO, the future of American history will revolve around (1) the study of gender and sexual identities and how those identities drive issues of race and class, and (2) the integration of African-American history into the core of American political history. Those of us who do not specialize in these fields need to find ways to support those who do (this includes unrelenting--but informed--criticism) or to get out of the way.

IMO, obituaries for American military history are premature and reflect a lack of familiarity with the field. (In this post, "military history" includes the whole shebang--sea, air, land, space, and cyberspace--across the spectrum of warfare: bang, boom, EMP, mushroom.) This lack of familiarity is due to two miscalculations by military historians. Iirony is a wonderful thing. Because of these two miscalculations, fewer and fewer jobs will go to academic military historians in the Ivory Tower for the foreseeable future. (Or, as I was told, "You MIGHT have been able to get a job had you been born ten years earlier. Maybe." But hey, I'm not bitter.)

However, some of the most important--and relevant--debates of the last ninety or so years have centered around the study of war. As an example, the strategic, operational, and tactical concepts of GWOT (the Global War on Terror) are an outgrowth of the debate over a "revolution in military affairs" which, in turn, grew from the historiographical debate over "the military revolution." As air power plays a central role in GWOT, conversations on how assets should be deployed touch on long standing historiographical debates over the role of decisive battle and the definition of modern warfare. In turn, these conversations lead to different discussions. These conversations cover such things as the definition of "modern," and take one to almost every continent from the fifteenth century onwards.

These debates do not receive much notice in the Ivory Tower. Hence the continuation of the widespread--but mistaken--belief that military history is mostly about guns and trumpets and that the primary audience is the rank and file. However, the field generates a fair amount of heat in those circles where people make grand strategy, and the armed services craft their TTPs--and everything in between.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I haven't read every post and I don't feel like I have a whole lot to offer but I hope that food history's popularity rises. I do admit that's my field of interest so I am completely biased.

I haven't read every post and I don't feel like I have a whole lot to offer but I hope that food history's popularity rises. I do admit that's my field of interest so I am completely biased.

There was totally a class on that here either this semester or last. We tend to offer some rather eccentric undergrad courses though, so I wouldn't call it mainstream acceptance yet. I wish I could do more work with meteorology history; if I didn't suck at physics, I may be posting over on the sciences board now...

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