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751 hits since 17 Mar 2017
©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
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Tango0117 Mar 2017 11:26 a.m. PST

"The problem, as I have tried to state it, is something like this: historical wargamers, as wargamers, read the historical texts in a certain way, which is not the way that most historians read them. Thus, a wargamer reading a secondary text, assuming that that text is not a wargaming text, is unlikely to find the answer to the questions they would like answered.


The upshot of this is that wargamers, not being, in general, professional historians, will read texts, and generate answers to their questions, which might raise the eyebrows, somewhat at least, of a trained historian. As a wargamer, I want to know, for example, the effective range of a Greek bow. A historian is more likely to want to know the social class of an Athenian bow wielder. To some extent, at least, the two will rarely meet.

As an example, I am currently reading ‘Democracy: A Lifer' by Paul Cartledge (Oxford: OUP, 2016). Cartledge is a bona fide classical historian, and does know a fair bit about classical warfare, given that a number of his works relate to it. But battles are not his real interest. The focus in Democracy is, naturally, the rise of Greek democracy, particularly in Athens (because that is where a lot of the evidence comes from). As it happens, a fair bit of Athenian democracy was related to the rise of the hoplite class, at least initially, and then to the requirement of the Athenian Empire (Delian League) for manpower for the trireme fleet. The need for large numbers of free men to man the triremes led to political power being, in part, relocated to the poorest citizens. If they withdrew their labour, the state was imperilled…."
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Amicalement
Armand

Green Tiger Supporting Member of TMP17 Mar 2017 11:22 p.m. PST

Never sure what the distinction is. I write history books. I have several degrees and I used to work in museums does that make me a professional? I'm not sure that it does…

HarryHotspurEsq18 Mar 2017 4:01 a.m. PST

Or, maybe, the problem is that wargamers/amateur historians are not as familiar with the scholarship as professional 'historians' (for want of the many other diverse titles).

For a case in point, the quote in the OP about lamenting the lack of information on bow ranges:

McLeod, W. (1965) ‘The Range of the Ancient Bow,' Phoenix 19.1, 1-14.

Tango0118 Mar 2017 10:55 a.m. PST

Good point!


Amicalement
Armand

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP19 Mar 2017 8:49 a.m. PST

The upshot of this is that wargamers, not being, in general, professional historians, will read texts, and generate answers to their questions, which might raise the eyebrows, somewhat at least, of a trained historian. As a wargamer, I want to know, for example, the effective range of a Greek bow. A historian is more likely to want to know the social class of an Athenian bow wielder. To some extent, at least, the two will rarely meet.

It is true that wargamers often fail to use the simplest methods of historiography in coming to their conclusions, but I think the basic issue is that most professional [i.e. academic I would think…either that or someone paid to be a historian] authors are trying to address questions that the wargamer isn't.

Military history in general is not well represented in academic circles. Then again, where a lot of information is available to academics, such as Harry's article, they aren't necessarily even known to wargamers[let alone accessible without $$], as the example proves.

Even so, there are a number of 'wargamer' historians who have asked questions that haven't been addressed before and are changing the way military history is written. They began by asking 'how it was done and why?' questions rather than offering the broad narratives and social commentary that many authors of battle studies created in the past. Some good books on the subject are:

New Dimensions in Military History Russell E. Weigle ed. and particularly Rethinking Military History by Jeremy Black.

EvilBen Supporting Member of TMP19 Mar 2017 9:35 a.m. PST

From the excerpt in Armand's post, I didn't see what the problem was, except possibly that you shouldn't expect Paul Cartledge to be Philip Sabin. From reading the whole piece, Polemarch seems to be saying that most wargamers could be more sophisticated and critical in their engagement with source material. Which seems reasonable.

I just checked, and Phoenix is available, in print and online, from my local reference library. But, yes, you would have to know where to look.

Incidentally I also think that the social status of Athenian archers is quite an interesting question.

Personal logo Great War Ace Supporting Member of TMP19 Mar 2017 12:31 p.m. PST

This idea, that wargaming historians (e.g. Kelly DeVries) pursue military history from a more thorough grounding in the mechanics of battle, is a good point to make. Perhaps the modern focus on the "how and why" of battle is driven by that small group of wargaming historians?

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP20 Mar 2017 8:22 a.m. PST

Perhaps the modern focus on the "how and why" of battle is driven by that small group of wargaming historians?

That seems to be the case. If you look at most military history, both popular and serious [Like Rory Muir's Salamanca], they are created by non-academics and/or published by no-academic publishers. It is changing.

However, most academic historians simply aren't interested in or directed to ask such questions. I know of two friends who wanted to do their doctorate on the military how and why questions and were told to do something else [less focused on the mechanics of war] if they wanted to get their Thesis subject approved. This was 15 and 10 years ago. That isn't to say such doctoral thesis haven't been done, only there is a strong prejudice against them in many academic circles.

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