New Directions in American Military History: Race and Gender in the 20th-Century US Military

AHA Session 238
Saturday, January 6, 2018: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Maryland Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level)
Eugenia C. Kiesling, United States Military Academy
The Jeep Girl Crisis: Sexual Fear and Racism in Wartime China
Zach Fredman, John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding, Dartmouth College
War as Masculine Action
Eugenia C. Kiesling, United States Military Academy

Session Abstract

This is the first of two proposed roundtables on new directions in U.S. military history. The roundtable’s principal purpose is to highlight new research on race and gender in a subfield that is oftentimes resistant to the cultural turn and to discuss the benefits of undertaking detailed investigations of race and gender in military affairs. The panel is balanced for academic rank, race, and gender, and fits well into the conference theme. All of the presenters will discuss the key findings of new research using ten-minute presentations, which will leave 30-45 minutes for discussion.

Military history has been something of an outlier in the American academy over the last fifty years, and its resistance to the cultural and transnational turns is a major part of the reason why. Even after the arrival of the “New Military History” in the 1970s, which promised to place military affairs into broader social contexts, the field remains over-focused on battlefield conduct, histories of military technologies, and biographies. An Old Guard of traditional military historians continues to poo-poo cultural approaches and frame attention to race, class, and gender as bending to the “fads” of the present. As a result, too much of the popular military history published today concerns hagiographic narrations of the decisions of elites — dead white men’s history written by live white men who are usually telling only the victor’s tale.

Happily, this is starting to change. The scholars on this roundtable are doing the most exciting new work on race and gender in military affairs, which they will summarize before turning to broader discussions of the field and directions for future work. Dr. Zach Fredman will discuss his award-winning dissertation on Chinese perceptions of American soldiers in wartime and postwar China – a project that fully embraces cultural and transnational approaches and is now under contract with the University of North Carolina Press. Assistant Professor Cameron McCoy will discuss the experiences of African-American Marines in Cold War America, and will argue that the Marine Corps failed itself and the nation by allowing – and in some cases institutionalizing – systemic racism in its ranks. Professor Kara Dixon Vuic will discuss women in the military entertainment industry since WWII and will argue that they played a central role in national efforts to domesticate the military environment, construct wartime gender roles, combat prostitution, maintain an effective fighting force, and export American culture to foreign countries. Professor Vuic will also chair the panel and moderate the roundtable discussion.

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