“Excuse me, sir,” an aide interrupts the president. “History is here to see you.” George W. Bush perks up. “History?” The assistant explains: “He seems ready to render a judgment.” Taken aback, the chief executive asks: “What about my papers? I don’t want him snooping around my papers!” No problem. “Already locked up forever, sir. As per your orders.” This cartoon dialogue hints at what we have been doing since SHAFR’s founding, although we would substitute “historian” for “history,” “interpretation” for “judgment,” and “keep classified” for “locked up,” and we would remove the gender bias. Despite official “orders” to deny scholars access to the public record, historians have been writing imaginative and controversial works, revisiting the past with new approaches and research discoveries, reading familiar documents afresh and mining more deeply US and foreign archives. Permit me a personal pathway here to focus on just one of the significant changes in the field that has influenced and continues to influence many of us: Cold War revisionism.
I have often reflected that through some stroke of good fortune I drifted rather aimlessly into a career that has been rewarding and immensely satisfying. As a student at Roanoke College, 1953-1957, I could have been a poster boy for the so-called Silent Generation: apolitical, devoid of ambition and sense of purpose, floating with an uncertain tide. I did not seek out a career counsellor—I’m not sure we had them in those days. I didn’t explore different possibilities or talk to practitioners of various professions. I briefly considered law school, in part, I suspect, because that’s what other history majors were doing and when people asked me what I wanted to do with my life I had to tell them something. In my defense, I knew I would go into the military after graduation and that gave me reason not to think too seriously about a career. Who knows, I might do twenty years in the service and retire at a young age. Some of my classmates actually did that.
I have so enjoyed reading this series of articles in H-Diplo by diplomatic historians on how they came to this profession. What particularly has fascinated me are the twists, turns, and chance that somewhat improbably led so many to rewarding careers in the study and teaching of the history of international affairs. I certainly fall into this category. I grew up in a small town in northern Minnesota, and was encouraged by my family to go to university. However, it was hoped that this would lead me back to a management position in the local paper mill. The school superintendent urged me to go to one of the state teachers’ colleges, but I had no intention of going into teaching at any level. My church and Boy Scouts advisors, on the other hand, steered me to Carleton College, a small private liberal arts college in southern Minnesota, which proved a very broadening experience.
I have never been one for introspection. I tend to look forward, not backward. I suppose, however, that a career in international politics is a natural choice for me, given my own family history. If not for World War II, my parents would not have met. Then, global politics became a family affair, with relatives spread across the globe—in Russia, the Middle East, and Asia. But I cannot say today how much that background made me what I am today. For that matter, I am not sure whether there is much to learn positively from my haphazard intellectual path through academia.
Military alliances are a crucial and much-studied aspect of world politics. They are also a defining feature of US grand strategy. During its tenure as the leading state in the international system, the United States has assembled an unprecedented network of security relationships that extend across the globe, including its multilateral alliance with other members of the North Atlantic community, its bilateral alliances in East Asia and Oceania, and its informal but close partnerships with states throughout the Middle East. Indeed, these security relationships are regularly cited as a unique source of advantage in competitions with major power rivals, as well as a potential source of vulnerability for a hegemon hoping to avoid overextension. Understanding why alliances emerge, what form they take, and the roles they play not only is of interest to academics, therefore, but is also at the center of current foreign policy debates over deepening versus downsizing Washington’s commitments.
How did I become the American international and naval historian that I am?
I suppose it all began with stories. Bible stories on Friday afternoons at the Catholic elementary school I attended. Stories from the Book of Mormon that my grandmother told me. Stories depicted in the Works Progress Administration (WPA) artists’ murals at the Santa Monica Public Library where my parents parked me and my sister while they went grocery shopping. Stories discussed in my high school American history classes taught by women who held doctoral degrees in history and education. And stories that unfolded in a much more sophisticated way in lectures by my Stanford history professors in the late 1950s.
n the beginning was a name: John “Jack” Lamberton, the twin of Hugh, and one of my mother’s four brothers. They grew up in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia in the 20s and 30s. Their father, Robert E. Lamberton, was the Republican mayor of Philadelphia at the time of his death in 1941. After Pearl Harbor, the twins took different paths. Hugh became an American Field Service ambulance driver, attached to the British Eighth Army as it slogged its way up the Italian peninsula from Salerno to Udine. Jack became a tanker with the Ninth Armored Division. In early November 1944, only days after the division had been deployed in Luxembourg, he was killed by artillery fire. My curiosity from an early age about the Second World War, and the world in which my parents’ generation had come of age, began, I suspect, when I fathomed that I’d been named for Uncle Jack. I had a name to live up to. Studying, and eventually writing, history was partly a tribute to him.
Much of the scholarly debate about President Donald Trump’s foreign policy concentrated on whether he had renewed traditional U.S. skepticism of entangling alliances with European states. Jason Davidson’s America’s Entangling Alliances argues that such a view is inaccurate. The United States made alliances from its birth. And, in doing so, it secured important American interests over the past two hundred years.
This history of “the legal imagination” (1) from 1300 to 1821 describes the evolution of legal thought about matters of international significance from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century. These include the rise of the state, religious diversity, colonial and imperial expansion, and the shift from agricultural to commercial economies. Each of these developments gave rise to important controversies that were framed, at least in part, in legal terms. Legal arguments provided justifications for and against various projects, beginning with the centralization of state authority. Lawyers and legal thinkers – not all legal thinkers were lawyers – drew on existing legal and philosophical vocabularies that included customary and natural law, royal prerogative, Roman law, lex mercatoria, and the emerging discourse of rights. They also turned to the emerging sciences of physics and biology for arguments and examples. Old ways of thinking seemed inadequate as did many existing norms and practices. Lawyers and legal thinkers nevertheless for the most part built on existing vocabularies but used them in novel ways; they resorted to a kind of conceptual and linguistic bricolage that over time resulted in transformations.
While global COVID-19 vaccination rates remain uneven and unequal, the resumption of safe and ethical in-person fieldwork has started to become possible in some parts of the world. As scholars begin considering and preparing for this, both new and seasoned field researchers would benefit from reading Stories from the Field: A Guide to Navigating Fieldwork in Political Science. This book compiles 42 reflections on an eclectic range of topics related to fieldwork. The eclecticism was by design, with editors Peter Krause and Ora Szekely inviting contributors to share their “best, most insightful stories and lessons” about fieldwork. The result is a volume that is honest, wise, and deeply human.