An odd new publication

Just got an email alert that the first volume of Brill’s 2012 edition of the International Bibliography of Military History has been released. I’m familiar with the publication sponsored by the International Commission of Military History, which consisted, as the title suggests, of an annual bibliography of recently-published works, organized within by period and/or place. Brill took over publication within the past year or so, and apparently some changes have been made.

What changes? First off, Brill has abandoned the annual publication schedule, turning it into a journal; you can purchase each article for $30, of $145 per year. Second, the strict annotated bibliography format has been abandoned as well – now “occasional” historiographical articles will be published too.
PS: they should probably tweak the journal title to include historiography if they want people to know it’s more than a bibliography.

What does this new volume include? Hard to say. If you go to the link, you’ll find a volume of approximately 162 pages, 75 of which are bibliography. There are also several historiographical essays. But beyond that, it’s hard to figure out.
If you are interested, here are two titles that may or may not be of interest to you. For myself, I really can’t gauge my interest level, because as of 20 August the website provides abstracts, but doesn’t bother to tell us who the author of the historiographical articles are. A bit of an oversight if you ask me. First up:

“Denial of Change: The Military Revolution as Seen by Contemporaries,” International Bibliography of Military History 32 (2012): 3-27.


The introduction and spread in Europe of gunpowder came in the context of a wave of technological innovations, which – especially initially – masked the potential of and changes that eventually resulted specifically from gunpowder. Since Michael Roberts identified the latter as “Military Revolution”, historians have debated its dating, and whether it was an evolution and a revolution. But was gunpowder the cause of these changes, or itself one of a complex of interacting changes reflecting a change in mentality which embraced innovations and explored their potential? Significantly, this article shows that many contemporaries did not perceive gunpowder as the crucial or even the only cause of change. Many even denied that there was any progress at all, in keeping with an earlier and enduring mentality in which classical Antiquity was seen as an age superior to the present. Only gradually, symbolised by the “Quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns”, did a new consensus emerge, acknowledging that the world had changed fundamentally since Antiquity, and that the changed instruments of war, as well as the state structures underpinning warfare, had become much mightier. Even then, technology was seen – and probably rightly so – as only one cause, not the only one.

If I may provide some editorial comment: Unfortunately, I have no idea what exactly this article is about. There is no author indicated, which might help narrow things down. In the end I may check it out at some point, if only because the abstract raises more questions than answers. I can think of multiple examples off the top of my head that contradict the claim that early moderns didn’t see gunpowder as a critical watershed – does the author compare gunpowder-change proponents against their opponents? Discuss how we reconcile these schools? If the article does, I’d want the author’s take in the abstract. I’m not clear about the chronology either. Which contemporaries are being addressed: 15C? 16C? 17C? 18C? The Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns would seem to suggest late 17C-early 18C, but it’s not at all clear. Perhaps the mention of openness to innovation suggests that it will focus on the later 18C? Or maybe its a generic overview of the entire early modern period – the keywords include both Late Middle Ages and Early Modern. That would be a lot of territory to cover in 25 pages. Does the article devote five pages per century? five pages on the 15C-17C and the rest on the 18C? twenty pages on the late 17C-early 18C and five pages on the rest…? Regardless of the page distribution, what does the author do with post-Querelle writers like Folard, Santa Cruz de Marcenado, and Puységur? They clearly liked their Ancients. Geographical questions abound as well: what country(ies) are discussed? Without knowing the author, you might as well throw a dart – although I’d guess England and/or France are probably the biggest slices on the dartboard. If more than one country is discussed, does the author see national distinctions, e.g. given the slightly different timing of the Quarrel in France and England? Did every country even have a Quarrel? Did countries without a formal Quarrel come to the same conclusions? All of these basic questions should be alluded to, if not answered or mooted outright, in the abstract. That’s why we talk about specific countries, specific decades/centuries, etc.

Finally, I’m not clear how this is a “historiographical” essay – this seems to be focusing on early modern contemporaries and not early modern historians. That’s all fine and good, but that certainly seems to be stretching the definition of historiography pretty thin, and it’s not doing the author any favors by putting it in a journal with Bibliography in the title, with a side note that it covers Historiography. I wouldn’t think to look for an article like that in a journal with that name.

But all these questions might be answered and reconciled in the article – it may be an awesome essay – I just don’t know. I do know that I get concerned when expensive, short articles seem to claim analysis of broad swathes of time and space. We all know the oldest trick in the book is to craft a sweeping title while focusing on a much much smaller evidential base (e.g. “early modern Europe” really means 1700s-1720s England). And the second-oldest trick is to craft a sweeping title and actually cover each period (say early modern Europe from c. 1500-c.1780s) in pathetically shallow detail. I’ve been burned too many times before.

The second article of possible interest is “The Tendencies of French Military Historiography from 2005 to 2010.” For this article, the website doesn’t even include an abstract, nor an author. Is it surveying French military historiography from the Ancient world to the present? Pre-modern? Early modern? Modern modern? Any particular area of military history? As Dr. Evil would say: “Throwing me a frickin’ bone here!” (only Austin Powers reference I’ll ever make, I promise).

A plea to publishers: help your potential customers by giving us information we can use, especially when the intended audience is other academic military historians, who know the questions to ask. Especially if you want us to pay a lot of money for it.



6 responses to “An odd new publication”

  1. John Grenier says :

    CV fodder? And we’re supposed to drop $140/y to read it. Seriously?!

  2. Rick Herrera says :

    Short background on the IBMH, which is assembled by the Bibliography Committee of International Commission on Military History. The Swiss MOD had funded its publication for years, but withdrew support a few years back and Brill stepped in, seeing an opportunity. It had previously featured nothing but short bibliographic entries focusing on works by authors of the parent commissions’ countries, e.g. the US Commission focused on US authors, the French on French, etc. Brill, the new editors, Mauro Mantovani and Marco Wyss, and the various national commission representatives are working on the the direction, quality, and tone of the IBMH. I’m the US representative to the IBMH, a member of the editorial board, and believe me we’ve talked about what to do with the IBMH, how to improve it, and expand its circulation.

    • jostwald says :

      Thanks for the info, Rick. It would probably be a start to make it easy to join the Commission itself. I tried joining probably 5-8 years ago, gave my credit card info and everything on the website, and never heard anything. I won’t mention who was in charge at the time, to protect the guilty.
      I’ve heard lots of good things about those exotic conference locales though.
      Frankly we need more international interaction, particularly since the various national schools seem to be quite different and isolated from one another.
      Maybe the ICMH should try to do something at the SMH conferences – hold a get-together and show off their publications and conference venues?

      • Rick Herrera says :

        Jamal, I know of what you speak from friends with similar experiences. The conferences have been great opportunities for making contacts, travel, and listening to some good (and some poor) papers, but also learning more about the state of affairs in military history internationally, especially in the realm of official history.

        The USCMH has set up tables at the last two or three SMHs and had a small presence at the Chicago AHA. If you want to chat more, drop me a line.

  3. John Grenier says :

    Hey Rick, we shold get together, maybe over breakfast, to talk about this. :)-

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