Anyone who has seen handwritten German sources from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries will know that the handwriting at the time was very different from what they know today. One way to learn this script is with a so-called Deutsche Fibel, a German schoolbook designed to teach kids reading and writing. To help those who are new to this script, I have scanned and uploaded such a schoolbook to Google Docs.

A. F. Lorenzen. Deutsche Fibel. Columbus, Ohio: Lutherische Verlagshandlung, 1901.

In order to learn how to read the script, you might want to learn how to write it, at least in the beginning. The letters will be easier to remember that way.

Update (8/18/2010): Someone has gone ahead and uploaded the scan to the Internet Archive. If you would prefer to use their interface instead of Google Docs, here: http://www.archive.org/details/DeutscheFibel. That will be especially handy if you don’t have a Google account.

Update (2/28/2012): I just realized that the Internet Archive links back here for the PDF version; however, you can still get around Google Docs with this direct link to the PDF on the Internet Archive. Sorry. Next time I scan something, I will simply throw it up on the Internet Archive directly, now that I know how it works.

It seems silly to keep my dissertation, “Wilhelm Groener, Officering, and the Schlieffen Plan” (2006), locked up on databases only accessible via research libraries, so I’ve made it available as a PDF document via Google Docs. I still reserve all rights on the thing, but I might as well make it more accessible to people without a university affiliation.

If you want to know more, before you view a 1 MB document, here are just the abstract and table of contents.

And here are two short blog posts on the topic:

Finally, in historiographic terms, a very short article I did is relevant: “Particularistic Traditions in a National Profession: Reflections on the Wilhelmine Army Officer Corps” (2000).

Where does the journey go from here? Since the Schlieffen Plan debate is still going on, I should update my findings on that issue and write an article accessible to broader scholarly audiences. Maybe a couple other scholarly articles are possible too; however, I am not contemplating a monograph at the moment, as my editing job and adjunct teaching are keeping me pretty busy.

Update, Feb. 12, 2012: For more posts on Wilhelm Groener, the Schlieffen Plan, and German war planning, please visit my new blog, Stoneman’s Corner.

When confronted with history too narrowly conceived or framed, I often think back to one graduate course I took, “Issues in British Literature,” which challenged me on a number of levels. To start with, the British historiography we learned seemed to have nothing in common with what I had encountered for German, French, and Russian history. Of course, different countries and different histories were involved, but not even the language or categories of analysis employed in the British historiography were as familiar as I expected them to be. This circumstance did not stop the authors from writing history and arguing with each other as if the assumptions that informed their language were self-explanatory. Their writings offered an odd mixture of history as common sense that rejected social theory combined with the expectation that readers should not dare question how they framed and wrote about history, because, well, readers with enough uncommon intelligence and specialized training would understand. The rest should not bother trying.

(It would help if I offered some examples here, but that would require research, not just memory and experience. Since this blog represents a mere first draft of some thoughts, and perhaps the basis of some conversations, I will just press on.)

For me, this situation was about much more than trying to find my footing in a new historiographical space. I wanted to take the material and integrate it into a kind of European history. How else was I to make sense of the modern German, French, British, and Russian history in which I would later take my comprehensive exams? But I don’t think I ever learned to put these histories and historiographies together while taking courses and preparing for exams. Not until confronted with the challenge of teaching survey courses did I begin to accomplish the task of putting together histories, but still not historiographies. Some twelve years after taking those exams, it is still an ongoing challenge.

Whenever I contributed to class discussion in the British history course, I tried to relate what I was reading to how I understood German history. Since the class was big, everything I said had to be squeezed into short soundbites, whenever I got a chance to speak. There was not enough time for substantial dialogue, just for proving one had done the reading and was thinking about it. The sum of all our contributions was frequently disjointed. Indeed, integrating ideas from my own historiographical experience was a hazardous undertaking, because others—including the professor—did not share the same historiographical backgrounds and therefore could not necessarily understand my own language and assumptions. Unfortunately, I did not realize at the time how far many of us had already embarked on a journey of national specialization that made it difficult to talk across national historiographies with each other. It took my comprehensive exams to make that point painfully clear.

Thoughts like these come up when I am confronted with historiography that insists on its right to talk in a code that only other specialists will understand. I have seen a lot of rhetoric about the desirability of comparative, transnational, and global history, but often the same scholars use language that narrows their audience to a size too small to spark the kind of discourses necessary to analyze and narrate history across the national and disciplinary boundaries to which our training and research too often confine us.

The course in British history did not just introduce me to the shortcomings of history and historiography, which until then had appeared more coherent to me than they really were. While frustrating my efforts to talk across national boundaries, it challenged me to integrate a variety of approaches and questions within the narrower, but still rich field of British history itself. Our writing assignment for the semester was to write a paper that drew on every book and article we had read for the class, including cultural history, political history, social history, economic history, and foreign policy from the early eighteenth through the mid-twentieth century. We could write about anything we wanted, but we had to think of some sort of narrative that could draw on incredibly disparate material.

I decided that Britain’s history was unusual in comparison to the rest of Europe’s, because, despite all its eighteenth-century riots, it was the only state I knew that escaped revolution in modern times. There was my topic: social stability. And it worked. Whereas my discussion contributions convinced the professor that I knew little, the paper succeeded—not as history for other historians, but as an exercise in synthesis, which historians need to be able to do, but which we too rarely do, since acquiring historical expertise seems to require extreme specialization. That course taught me that I could integrate seemingly disparate historiography after all, albeit not on the fly in that kind of classroom context. It also taught me that such synthesis is not only desirable, but possible, even in unlikely situations. That goes not only for teaching, but also when trying to communicate specialized knowledge to colleagues with expertise in other areas.

History is one of those subjects that politicians and the general public are never going to leave to historians alone. I’ve got no problem with that, if those doing it follow basic rules of evidence and have a decent sense of what historical thinking is. I wish those proclaiming what they take to be the truth of history were more interested in discovering that truth than reshaping history to illustrate their own political beliefs. Such a phenomenon is not new, but the current trend among some conservatives to rewrite American history to fit their image of America today is irksome at best, downright troubling at worst, especially if such “history” enters the classroom.

For a taste of this phenomenon, read Steven Thomma, Not satisfied with U.S. history, some conservatives are rewriting it (McClatchy Newspapers). You might want to view the video on that page too. It would be interesting to find a longer piece in a venue that permitted footnotes to lead to further reading, but I suspect most academic historians do not take these rewritings of history seriously enough to address them. Such battles over history will be fought in the media instead, the standard of truth frequently being ideological purity. Let the buyer beware.

[I initially wrote this piece for my History 100 students, but it belongs here too.]

There is an interesting article in yesterday’s New York Times about how Texas is changing the content of its American high school history textbooks. Instead of taking potshots at its clear abuses of history, however, the author locates it in a broader context of history curricula and identity politics over the past few decades. See Sam Tanehaus, “In Texas Curriculum Fight, Identity Politics Leans Right.”

Kevin Levin of the blog Civil War Memory thinks that the focus on textbooks in this newest episode of America’s culture wars misses the point, however. He points out that much history teaching is no longer focused on textbooks. He has a point. Even those of us who still sometimes use textbooks and do not rely as heavily on the internet see history education in terms very different than those of the Texas Board. See “Texas, Textbooks, and the Battle For Our Children’s Souls” and “If I Should Teach American Exceptionalism . . .

Here is the description for the course I’m planning to teach at George Mason University this summer:

Hist 388-B01: Approaches to European Military History.

This course examines manifold approaches to the military history of Europe. On one hand, it is a historiography course about military history’s questions, methods, and assumptions. On the other hand, it is an overview of the varieties of history that focus on war and the military in their societal context. In part, we will consider military history’s location within academic history more generally, as well as its relationship to military education and even the mainstream book market. In the main, though, we will focus on the varieties of academic military history and its many areas of research, including how battles were fought, how soldiers experienced those battles, how war and war planning looked in staffs and cabinets, the position of peacetime militaries in their societies, the effect of war on civilian societies and economies, the implications of gender studies for military history, and images of soldiering and war among aimed at youth. We will also address some of military history’s controversies, including the role of technology in effecting historical change.

This course is intended for anyone interested in history. It assumes no prior knowledge of military history, though a basic knowledge of European history would be helpful. The course will be based on readings and discussions, not lectures. Part of the time we will read articles and books in common, and other times students will read individualized assignments and discuss their findings with the class. In this way we will leverage our numbers to learn more as a group than we could as individuals. We will concentrate on secondary sources, though we might occasionally look at primary source excerpts that shed light on the historiography. Grades will be based on class participation (including reading presentations), three short historiographical papers based on the readings, and an annotated bibliography that focuses on a specific historical topic.

This summer I am teaching “Approaches to European Military History.” I suppose the European caveat is unfortunate, but I haven’t read widely enough to feel comfortable teaching a world history course on military history, not yet anyway. You see, I trained as a European historian first and foremost, and I just happened to do military topics along the way.

The course will be in a compressed summer session that meets for over two hours per night, twice a week, for seven weeks. My experience with a World War One course last summer was that time was too short to cover a book per session, even though we did this for many classes. In the two best sessions we had, everyone presented a different book in only about five minutes and then fielded questions. The format worked particularly well, because in some cases students noticed common themes and addressed those spontaneously in their presentations. I am thinking about using this format for more classes and also having students work on different articles.

Still, there will have to be a common set of readings too. The first one will be Michael Howard, War in European History (1976, 2009). While its results are somewhat outdated in places, it covers the grand sweep of developments in war and society in Europe in well under 150 pages, making for a manageable text that will provide the class with a common knowledge base.

The other book I have been able to settle on is Stephen Morillo with Michael F. Pavkovic, What is Military History? (2006). Parts of it are quite basic, discussing how historians think about various issues in history. Just that quality lends itself to an undergraduate course that will include mainly, but not exclusively, history major who are still learning to talk about history per se—as opposed to specific topics in history. The book also includes some sophisticated explanations of the historiography in this field and its relationship to separate and overlapping audiences in the academy, the military, and general book trade. (Academics in general would do well to read this material before prejudging the entire subfield of military history.)

Other than these two books, which I will probably break into several reading assignments, I will offer some articles and primary sources that everyone reads in common. The other reading assignments will be individualized.

The last nut to crack is assessment. Reading quizzes for materials that everyone covers are probably necessary, because undergraduates often need this motivational aid, even for a 300-level class, at least in a compressed summer format. Beyond that, I have noticed that a good quiz question at the beginning of class in History 100 can get everyone on the same page and ready for discussion, especially if I also have students compare answers right after I have collected the quizzes.

Beyond these quizzes, though, I am not sure if exams will work for this kind of course. I’m not sure how they would even look. So I will need to build in some sort of writing assignments that relate to their readings and presentations. To do this, though, I need to wrestle with the compressed format and the amount of time I can devote to helping them sharpen their analysis and prose. Right now I am thinking about a combination of book reviews and summaries or journal entries, but I’m still very much at the beginning of this thought process.

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