Yes, Women Do Study Military History

In an important article over at Eidolon, Nadejda Williams discusses the visibility of female military historians within the field of ancient history. Prof. Williams is a Classicist whose main area of teaching and research is Greek and Roman military history. She is also is an Associate Professor of History at the University of West Georgia. I would urge you to read her answer to the question: There Are More Women Military Historians Than Ever Before. Why Hasn’t the Field Noticed?

Detail of mosaic emblema with Amazonomachy scene, Daphne, a suburb of Antioch-on-the-Orontes, second half of the 4th century AD, Louvre Museum (Photo by Carole Raddato under a CC-SA-2.0).

I want to be clear that while the piece does mention my WOAH project and Prof. Williams and I are indeed both alumnae from the University of Virginia, I enjoyed this article because it finally articulated some pivotal points about women in the field, the power of mentorship, and the impact of all male volumes, panels, and conferences:

1. Numbers: There are women who study ancient military history. A number of them are listed by Prof. Williams and within WOAH, but we can expand this outward to look at the field of military history more broadly. As Professor Jacqueline Whitt (U.S. Army War College) has shown with her own crowdsourced list of female military historians, there are women teaching, researching, and participating in the field of military history.  Additionally, there is the new “Women of Islamic Studies” list now gaining steam as well, which lists a number of women with military-related research.

2. Mentors: Female mentorship can be an effective means of encouraging other women to enter into a field. Elizabeth Meyer (History, UVA) was my undergraduate advisor and Prof. Williams’ as well. She modeled for us how to be an ancient historian and demonstrated that we could be one too. This mentorship model is how we can inspire, integrate, and then elevate young women in the field. As Prof Williams notes: “Role models feed assumptions. For the past several decades, we as a society have been telling young women that they can do any job that men can do. Yet saying this means little unless women see role models who live and breathe a particular career and are flourishing while doing so.”

This is the image pinned above my desk. It is Prof. Meyer and I at graduation in May of 2005. Yes, that is really me at age 22, about to head to UNC-Chapel Hill in just a few months. 

3. The Harm Of Omission: Leaving Women Out Has An Impact. As Prof. Williams notes: “So, what is the harm in leaving women military historians out of conference panels or edited collections? The harm is ultimately to the profession. A collection excluding these scholars’ work can obviously pass peer review and be a solid work of scholarship. But I believe it will be missing the unique perspective that perhaps only women working on military history can provide.And, indeed, the collection that spurred me to write this article is remarkably uninterested in perspectives of war from below the level of generals and centurions, or in the impact of war on civilians, especially women.”

Just a few thoughts on this snowy Friday here in Iowa. Take care, amici et amicae, and rest assured that change is happening in this academic area–even if it sometimes appears to be moving at a glacial pace.


3 thoughts on “Yes, Women Do Study Military History

Add yours

  1. Out of curiosity from your own personal experience how hard is it to find a mentor particular woman in the field of military history if that something you’re passionate about I can imagine it’s almost herculean

    1. I had the luck of having one at my undergraduate institution. Mentor ship programs are now being hosted by the WCC or I’d say take a moment to email and suggest a meetup at SCS, CAMWS or another conference. Remember most have very little time but do want to encourage.

  2. Great quote and line of reasoning! “the collection that spurred me to write this article is remarkably uninterested in perspectives of war from below the level of generals and centurions, or in the impact of war on civilians, especially women.” Too many people look at war from the “armchair general” viewpoint and think of soldiers and civilians as simple numbers on a battlefield. “If they weren’t a general, why the hell do they even matter?” I saw that view quite a bit when I was in the service. In modern war where there is a huge risk for civilian casualties, it is even more important to consider other points of view and angles. Not only does Prof. Williams make a good point for academia, she also makes a good point for strategic and operational planning.

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