A Guide to British Military History - The Subject and the Sources, Ian F. W. Beckett

A Guide to British Military History - The Subject and the Sources, Ian F. W. Beckett

This book looks at the history and the current status of academic research into military history. We start with a series of chapters looking at the history of military history, from its birth as a topic largely of interest to serving soldiers, to the emergence of serious academic interest in the subject. This is followed by a look at the methods used by modern academic historians, 

I would take issue with the somewhat judgemental approach taken in the methodological context chapter, where the changes in the nature of military history are taken as being progress from a ‘lesser’ form of history towards today’s ‘better’ form. Personally I would argue that there is often nothing worse than a book that obsesses about the current fashions in academic history, often using the self defined ‘technical’ language of a particular school of history in a way that excludes non academic readers, and producing a book that tells us more about that particular school’s view of history than about the actual topic being studied. However it is still useful to have a summary of how the writing of academic history has changed over time, which gives a useful framework for understanding the context in which a particular book was written.

Sadly for me the research areas section starts after my own Medieval period, only starting in 1500. Each chapter looks at the main topics under discussion, sometimes organised by major conflict. Each section looks at the most recent books published on that topic (normally from the last 20 years or so), with a brief discussion of their contents. This is the meat of the boo, and for me its most useful section, giving a good way in to the academic work on any particular issue – there are certainly books listed here that I now want to find and read.

One quibble with this section is the rather dismissive attitude to ‘popular’ history. Having read extensively on both sides of this divide, I feel that this is rather unfortunate – of course some popular history is poorly researched or outdated or very similar to previous works, but other non academic authors produce excellent studies of their topic, which can provide a better guide to what actually happened than the sometimes very narrowly focused academic works. It is also rather ironic that the book is being published by Pen and Sword, whose catalogue is largely filled with the books being dismissed here…

We finish with a fairly short section on the resources available for military historians, starting with the increasing number of academic centres and dedicated courses, before moving on to the main reference works, journals etc, the main archives, and a very short two page chapter on published primary and online resources (given how quickly that area can change this isn’t such a bad thing).

Overall this is going to be a useful guide to anyone wanting to find the current academic works on most aspects of British military history in the last 500 years.

Part I: Contexts
1 - The Historiographical Context
2 - The Methodological Context
3 - The British Context

Part II: Research Areas and Issues
4 - 1500-1702
5 - 1702-1815
6 - 1815-1914
7 - From 1914

Part III: Resources
8 - Teaching and Research Centres
9 - Reference Works
10 - Journals
11 - Publisher's Academic Series
12 - Archives
13 - Published Primary and Digital Resources
14 - Practicalities

Author: Ian F. W. Beckett
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 224
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2016


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