Prompt: Traditional fields–do you find more “traditional” historiographical fields (military, political/diplomatic, economic) appealing, and why/why not? What are their strengths/weaknesses? Why do you think historians have expanded, complicated, challenged these genres, like they did in rethinking their approach to Colonial America?
I currently don’t have a strong preference for a traditional field, although I do find military and diplomatic history interesting. Military history is often traditionally assumed to encompass the study of operational military campaigns and strategy of battles and wars. Moving past this traditional understanding, “New Military History” encompasses more of the cultural and social repercussions of conflict and now many military historians also study military memory or how people remember military conflicts. One of the strengths of this field is that it is now so expansive and touches on different fields like social history and it is often very popular among the general public, but unfortunately, as I earlier discussed, this field is often viewed very narrowly as simply focusing on campaigns and battle strategy.
Political and Diplomatic history focus on interactions between polities – nation-states, kingdoms, etc. and the development or progress of how groups develop. A weakness of this field is that it often tends to look at larger, more developed nations like the United States and Great Britain instead of smaller countries or colonized peoples. Additionally, it tends to focus only on those in power and the policies and laws they pass, but not at how this looks for the average person in those countries. Political, Diplomatic, and Military history are strengthened by the applicability of these studies to current interactions among nations. Past political structures and diplomatic negotiations can provide a deeper understanding of interaction with other nations and lend insight into developing new strategies.
Economic History is the study of consumerism and the exchange of goods and services within and among individuals or groups. It tends to look at four major categories: technological changes, consumption, modes of exchange, and production. One of the weaknesses of this field of history is that it likely is confused often with the business study of economics. This is another field, however, that benefits from its applicability to public policy and government function as the study of economic history and past economic policy can guide new policies and responses to recessions and other economic crises.
These fields have largely expanded in response to the growth of new history in the 1980s with a greater focus on looking at history from a variety of perspectives – often those that were historically marginalized, disciplines, etc. Overall, the more traditional fields I described above are strengthened primarily by their application, but as these fields become more varied in the areas that they examine their subject area from – for example, military historians examining combat strategy from the cultural and social structures of the country developing it – it becomes harder and harder to differentiate or categorize research and publications by what field of study they belong under. The study of history benefits by this continual evolution and expansion of perspectives to examine and understand the past, but it will continually become more difficult to categorize research into fields as these areas of exploration continue to expand and diversify. It may be time to reexamine the idea of categorizing research into individual fields and to consider revising the system of categorization in general.