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What is Military History?

Countries go to war; it’s an unfortunate, frequently unavoidable reality that helps define borders and cultures, as well shape the direction of human development. To help limit future conflicts and minimize the collateral damage therein, societies should study military history to evaluate their past and identify why humankind repeats the patterns of war and conflict. Today, military history is more sophisticated – covering a range of topics from organized militaries, bureaucracies, industries, and war machines to the use of weapons of mass destruction. This modernization amplifies the importance of studying military history and synthesizing lessons that can be used to benefit future generations.

What Is Military History’s Overall Purpose?

Military history is broadly described as the research of war and the analysis of victory and defeat. Its scholars examine how leadership tactics, technological advances, and national culture shape wartime actions and steer global, political, and economic events.

Military history coursework offers students a specialized perspective on historical events, from ancient to modern times. It can also paint a factual picture of the struggles and sacrifices that were overcome by nations fighting for their survival, instilling in students an appreciation for both American history and the histories of other countries. Perhaps most critically, the study of military history may help prevent the recurrence of past mistakes. With an understanding of how the political and military leaders of the past made decisions—as well as the impact of those choices—modern leaders can be better equipped to make informed judgments in order to minimize the number of lives lost and deescalate wartime tensions.

Military History Is a Fundamental Part of World History

Military history is intertwined with world history because nations use war to achieve their political goals. For example, the ancient Greco-Persian Wars (492-449 B.C.) were a fifty-year struggle by the Greeks to achieve political independence, while the Persians fought to consolidate their empire. The hegemonic political-military cycle continued throughout world history through the twentieth century, whereupon the U.S. emerged as the sole hegemon. Even in conflicts between nations over lesser political goals, the military still played a part. These lesser goals included economic or trade issues, access to resources, border and land disputes, and cultural or religious differences. The study of these conflicts, strategies, political goals and consequences are a vital part of the study of history and must also be considered by military historians to have a complete picture of the world.

The lessons military historians learn through their analyses can be applied to many different aspects of modern life. For instance, at the policy-making level, knowledge of military history can be used to develop an unbiased understanding of how conflicts have molded the social, political, and economic conditions in a region. This outlook can be valuable in both the military and in the government, as it can help to inform decision-making when managing domestic or interstate affairs. By reviewing the history of conflicts in a specific region, policymakers can better predict how well foreign or domestic policies may perform. Likewise, businesses can use this information to identify the safest, most efficient ways to operate in regions with a history of military conflict.

Military History Graduates Are Prepared for Rewarding Careers

Those who earn an advanced military history degree may be prepared to pursue careers in academia, historic preservation, the military, or government. One career option for graduates is to become a military analyst working with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). This position allows military historians to apply their knowledge of global military conflicts to political-military issues like regional security, military diplomacy, and peacekeeping operations.

As they progress their historical thinking and analytical mindset, military history graduates can also attain jobs in national security organizations such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or the U.S. Department of Defense. Although qualifying for senior positions in these esteemed federal institutions requires extensive professional experience, an advanced military history degree can provide graduates with a foothold in this competitive field.  

Over the millennia, society transformed military strategy from an art into a science that can be applied to achieve political goals. Military historians have played a role in this transformation through their knowledge and expertise of synthesizing important lessons from prior battles in order to help others understand the potential impacts of future warfare and conflicts. Earning a Master of Arts in Military History degree can provide the foundation military historians needs to build a rewarding career that can benefit many industries and potentially help mitigate the costs and impacts of war.

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Established in 1819, Norwich University is a nationally recognized institution of higher education, the birthplace of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), and the first private military college in the United States. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.

Norwich University’s Master of Arts in Military History program takes an unbiased and global approach to the exploration of military thought, theory and engagement throughout recorded history. The unique curriculum of the online Master of Arts in Military History program was developed by the distinguished faculty of Norwich University and guided by the goals outlined by the American Historical Association. This highly regarded program is designed to help build your proficiency as a historian and places our world’s military achievements and conflicts in chronological, geographical, political and economic context.

Recommended Reading

5 Influencers of Military Theory

Career Outlook: Military Historian


Why Should We Study War, Hoover Institution

Why Military History Matters, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research

Why Teach Military History, Foreign Policy Research Institute

Greco-Persian Wars, Encyclopedia Britannica

Warring States Period, Ancient History Encyclopedia

The decline of US power?, BBC News

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