What Is Historiography? The Importance of Writing About Military History
History is filled with stories of war and conflict. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the earliest Greek epic described soldiers in battle. That’s why the field of historiography—the writing of history—is often rooted in recording military accounts and events. As wars evolved, so did recording methods. Modernization contributed to a wealth of information about military history across the world.
Military history is only one branch of historiography. Throughout time, historians used a range of sources to examine the past, creating a record for sharing and interpretation by others. People, communities, and nations could, then, use this information to make decisions about the future.
One avenue to develop skills needed to become a historiographer—and at the same time explore a passion for the military milestones of history—is earning an online Master of Arts in Military History. Examining the world’s military past deepens a historian’s body of knowledge by placing global military conflicts in context.
What Is Historiography?
The oldest source of information produced and shared by humans is oral history. To understand the past, early historiographers passed firsthand interviews or stories through generations. In the 1930s, for example, the Works Progress Administration, a public works entity, interviewed African Americans who were former slaves to document and interpret their experiences. As methods of recording history evolved, so did historiography. Soldiers in World War I, for instance, comprised the first literate armies in European history and wrote books about their experiences. Today, digital media opens doors to a wealth of government documents, firsthand accounts, and images across the world.
With a range of sources at their fingertips, historiographers don’t just document history—they analyze and interpret it, providing valuable insights for shaping the future. They also confirm the validity of sources to ensure the accuracy of information.
According to the American Historical Association, students of history should examine past events and consider their cause while asking: “What might have been done differently to resolve problems? What alternative actions might have been taken? What can we learn about how people made decisions to do the things they did?” By answering these questions, historiographers can give key context to both contemporary and potential issues and conflicts. They can present a lens to view past patterns, successes, and mistakes, and present a perspective from which to more clearly see the future.
The Skills Needed for the Position
Prospective historiographers must have a core set of skills for success in the field. They must have technical skills, such as research, analytical, and writing competencies. They may even need to decode, transcribe, or translate information from a variety of disparate sources. Historiographers also should possess strong communication and interpersonal skills as they may interview subjects about sensitive issues and collaborate with organizations to gain access to important documents and data.
Once gathering information, historiographers must harness critical thinking and communication skills to determine chronological sequences, compare sources, fill gaps, and form a working thesis for their writing. A historiographer not only needs to recognize patterns of events in history but interpret those patterns and explain their significance.
How an Advanced History Degree Prepares Students
Norwich University’s online Master of Arts in Military History program helps students cultivate the skills to pursue a role in historiography and military history writing. Graduates are armed with a thorough understanding of global conflict and the tools to synthesize diverse types of historical knowledge. Core curriculum courses include:
- Non-Western Military History—Focuses on historical events in the 19th and 20th centuries that influenced the military trajectory in the non-Western world. Students gain a thorough understanding of major events in military history in areas such as China, Israel, the Middle East, Africa, India/South Asia, Ethiopia, Latin America/South America, and Turkey/Ottoman Empire.
- Amphibious Warfare—Explores how amphibious operations affected politics, diplomacy, and the economy from ancient history to the present. It also determines how amphibious actions contributed to an early-modern military revolution that led to what’s considered the “Rise of the West.”
- Military Thought and Theory—Examines some of history’s most influential military strategists and their theories, covering the Thirty Years’ War to the present day. Students examine the works of Clausewitz, Jomini, Douhet, Mahan, Corbett, and Mao Tse-Tung as well as the theories of nuclear warfare and post-Maoist revolutionary warfare.
- Race and Gender in Military History—Focuses on the complexities of racial and women’s issues existing within a military context such as citizenship, ethnicity, and gender integration in military institutions.
- Total War—Explores the origins of the concept and practice of “total war” in the period from the French Revolution to the end of the Cold War. Students study the Napoleonic Wars, American Civil War, World War I, and World War II. They also examine the evolution of modern war and the usefulness of “total war” in describing massive conflicts.
For prospective military historiographers, these courses provide an essential foundation of knowledge about military history, strategies, and theories. History writers can use this knowledge to place past military conflicts in context and better understand how patterns of military warfare led to current and future global tensions.
Building the Future of Military Historiography
Founded as the nation’s first private military college, Norwich University is an important part of America’s military history. The online Master of Arts in Military History program reflects that military heritage. Students learn from expert faculty to improve their research, writing, and analytical skills while gaining a comprehensive knowledge of military history. Graduates work in a range of settings, including government organizations, historical societies, and academic institutions.
Take the first step to building a career in the evolving and vital field of historiography: learn more about Norwich University's online Master of Arts in Military History program today.
Historiography, Encyclopedia Britannica
Historical Thinking Skills, American Historical Association
The Writing of History, American Historical Association
Writing History: An Introductory Guide to How History is Produced, American Historical Association
Why It’s Important that We Study History, Arcadia Publishing
Master of Arts in Military History, Norwich University