In this Q&A, Jeremy Black, emeritus professor of history at the University of Exeter and author of Military Strategy: A Global History, is interviewed by Robert von Maier, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief at Brécourt Academic.
Robert von Maier: In your Introduction for Military Strategy: A Global History you refer to “academics who write on the military and who tend to seek intellectual assessments of war.” How has this particular academic mindset influenced the historiography?
Jeremy Black: I find some of the intellectual discussion of warfare by academics overly schematic, not least with a determination to reduce its complexity to rules and models of a social science format. Much of the focus on state–warfare relationships is of this type, as is the discussion on military revolutions and much of the work on causes of war. The search for a comprehensive model is especially misplaced.
Robert von Maier: How can a thorough understanding of military strategy—throughout the ages—help historians better assess the various conflicts of the 20th century?
Jeremy Black: Applied knowledge is always a complex sphere, not least because there is no one context, analysis, or approach. I would suggest that a major theme in my book, namely the inherently rhetorical character of strategic argument— in that it is part of a process of contestation within political systems—ensures that there needs to be more wariness of the apparent objectivity of strategic arguments.
Robert von Maier: How would you describe the present state of military history scholarship —in and out of the academy?
Jeremy Black: Lots of good work being produced, but also an unbalanced character in coverage. This is true both in and outside the academy, but differently so.
Robert von Maier: Which historians have had the most influence on you as a scholar and an author?
Jeremy Black: I have been very influenced by the late Dennis Showalter and his vigorous scholarship in recent years. As a schoolboy, aged 17, I was
impressed reading Braudel. At university, I read a lot of doctoral theses and
they opened my eyes to research. I became an academic at 24 and thereafter read largely for instrumental reasons to do with teaching and writing. I am not a member of any school, and prefer to attack orthodoxies. I have always been interested in world history.
Robert von Maier: What were some of the influencing factors in your decision to write Military Strategy: A Global History, and what new projects are you presently working on?
Jeremy Black: I felt much of the existing literature limited and overly concerned with theory not practice, and particularly poor at looking at non-Western strategy, and also at strategy in terms of the use of force within states. As for new projects, my next book in the field of military history is a
study of tank warfare.
About the book
A global account of military strategy, which examines the practices, rather than the theories, of the most significant military figures of the past 400 years
Strategy has existed as long as there has been organised conflict. In this ground-breaking account, Jeremy Black explores the ever-changing relationship between purpose, force, implementation and effectiveness in military strategy and its dramatic impact on the development of the global power system.
‘Once again, Jeremy Black has shown that he can meld incisive historical insight with important modern-day lessons.‘
Andrew Roberts, author of Churchill: Walking with Destiny
‘Black’s greatest strength is his deep knowledge of international history, which is fully on display.‘
Lawrence Freedman, History Today
About the author
Jeremy Black is emeritus professor of history at the University of Exeter. Black has published widely in military history, including A Short History of War and Air Power. His other works include Maps and History and Naval Warfare.