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Citino Secondary Source Analysis

Citino, Robert M. “Military Histories Old and New: A Reintroduction.” American Historical

            Review 112, no. 4 (2007): 1070-1090

Robert M. Citino’s 2007 paper, “Military Histories Old and New: A Reintroduction” explores three schools under of the study of military history, as Citino attempts to reintroduce military history to non-military historians. Citino’s goal is to show non-military historians that the study has evolved past battle and tactics; that military historians are looking at how war effects other fields as well, such as political, social, and cultural.

Citino structures his paper by looking under the “big tent” (1070) of military history, particularly at the three schools that reside beneath. The three schools being, new military, traditional operational, and the third relatively newer school that “seeks to apply the newest trends in historical inquiry” (1070-1071) and focuses on the memory of historical events. While looking more in depth at these schools, Citino uses a variety of scholarly books, papers, and journals that reiterate his point that military history is evolving past just battle and tactics. He states that these sources he is using “indicates that the line of demarcation between “new” and “old” military histories is becoming increasingly indistinct, even antiquated” (1089). Current military historians are blending the older ways of viewing military history, while incorporating new viewpoints. Citino uses sources, while he looks more in depth into how the schools are incorporating different fields of study, that still have the overarching theme of military history and their specific school. Citino also makes use of footnotes to include sources on topics that incorporate military history and other schools, that he did not specifically reference in the journal, or briefly mentioned a field that is connected to military history.

The first school that Citino examines is new military history, this school looks at the connection between war and society. The first example he uses for this school is the Crucible of War by Fred Anderson, he states about the book that “It is a military history, to be sure, and yet it is far more than a book about war and battle.” (1071). This statement he makes about the Crucible of War, is the point he attempts to make with all of his sources; military historians are looking beyond men on the battlefield. The second school is even older than the first, traditional operational history, which main focus is in fact “the province of war, of campaign, and of battle” (1079). Citino uses this school to cement his point that military history is no longer just about the war. Historians studying in this school now also use sociology and psychology when looking at the culture of war to further their understanding and research.

Despite the inclusion and closer look at the first two schools, Citino puts more emphasis and detail into his thoughts of the third school. This third school is the newest school to emerge in military history, it puts new emphasis on memory of history, how it is viewed today effect how it is seen in the eyes of historians. “The words, in the end, mattered a great deal more than the brief war that generated them” (1082), this is how Citino explains how a book by Jill Lepore, is almost an embodiment of this newest groups. Her book not only studied King Phillip’s war but how it was written about after the war. This school looks at how military history that is effected by how media and individuals remembering’s of moments of military history influence how that moment in history are changed.  Although Citino directed his writing to non-military historians, at the end he spoke to military historians as well stating, “Perhaps it is time to drop the distinctions altogether, and to describe military history today as a discipline with a strong interest in social and cultural analysis, but with an equally immovable commitment to its battlefield and campaign tradition” (1089). He leaves a final piece of “advice” (1090) for non-military historians, to read some military history and move pasts its surrounding stigmas in today’s scholarly society to see what it is really about.

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New London Book Review

Brown, David M., and Michael Wereschagin. Gone at 3:17: The Untold Story of the Worst School Disaster in American History. United States: Potomac Books, 2012.

Gone at 3:17: The Untold Story of the Worst School Disaster in American History, an incredibly descriptive, heart-wrenching 2012 book by Pittsburg journalists David M. Brown and Michael Wereschagin, is a retelling of the horrific event that took place at London Junior-Senior High School on March 18th, 1937. A natural gas leak led to the school exploding and killing close to 300 people, a majority of them children. The authors, working primarily with primary source interviews, split the book into four parts: the details leading to the explosion, the explosion itself, the aftermath, and the epilogue. Near the end the book discusses how safety laws were changed by the event, not only in the state of Texas but in the country and across the globe. Gone at 3:17 is a unique addition to historiography because it effectively shows the radical difference that news sources made in calling for aid and keeping the public informed by including perspective from different reporters.

Brown and Wereschagin include a abundance of background information to the events preceding the gas leak and explosion. One of the biggest points of focus is the East Texas oil boom. The authors show how this boom in Texas greatly intertwines with not only the explosion, but the jobs, lives, and families of those in New London. The information the authors provide is incredibly thorough and help set the scene of the community to give insight to what the lives of the families in the town were like. As well as how large the community was and how the explosion killed a large part of their future generations.

The second part of the book embodies the chaos that started at 3:17 and makes great use of dozens of interviews done by the authors themselves as well as old newspapers and wire services that broadcasted during the entire event. These chapters are mainly compiled accounts from survivors and those who were nearby the school at the time, piecing together the entire event from different perspectives and locations. There are some specific survivors that serve as anchors throughout the book, they help keep the gruesome, chaotic stories chronologically organized. Some of these survivors play large roles in the narrative, while others are simply mentioned in different interviews. The survivors that are mentioned in these smaller fashions show that, although this was such a major event and there were a large number of people involved, that it was also still a smaller town where everyone knew everyone. Photographs of the school, town, and people were included to add to the realness of the book and help the readers visualize New London and see the extent of the damage done.

Brown and Wereschagin add the perspective of the press into the second part. Inclusion of these perspectives convey how vital and major the impact these news sources had immediately after the explosion and in the following week. The authors start by giving background on how news operated at the time and mention key reporters at the event. There are multiple chapters that are from the points of view of the reporters who ended up on scene. Most of these reporters stayed awake for over 48 hours covering the event and without them spreading the news, the flood of volunteers and aid would have taken significantly longer and those with people in the explosion might have been left wondering where they were. Including these perspectives the authors add another angle to their book that is not mentioned in other monographs written on the subject.

In the final two parts of the book, the authors bring up the impact of this explosion on families’ lives, in lawmaking, and across the globe. The courts started an investigation, but the blame was not officially laid on anyone; however, was unofficially placed on superintendent Shaw by parents due to the decisions he made leading to the children being at the school at that time. After the tragic event one survivor, Carolyn Jones, was chosen to speak to the House of Representatives about the explosion. Her speech prompted Texas to instate new safety laws for schools and public buildings, as well as add odor to odorless gases for leaks to be more easily identified. Soon all states and even nations across the world instated these laws as well. The epilogue discusses how parents and others who lost someone’s refusal to talk about the event kept it from being understood by future generations. The survivors on the other hand hold biannual meetings and talk about the events of that day with others who understood their experiences. Also included at the end of the book is the entire list of those who lost their lives in the explosion. These final parts of the book wrap up the story by showing the aftereffects of the explosion and how it is connected to today.

There are some issues when it comes to the presentation of the book. The book, especially in the early chapters of preliminary information, is confusing since the authors move between chronological and topical organization in a choppy manner. The authors seem to do their best to include the stories of as many survivors as they can, but this leads to a large number of names mentioned within a short length of passage. However, the authors do make a point to ensure that each person mentioned also has an ending connected to their story whether it is happy or tragic, not leaving a feeling of the unknown in the readers. Overall the book is still a good book not only for education and disaster historians, but also for those interested in narrative history.

The book Gone at 3:17: The Untold Story of the Worst School Disaster in American History, retells the horrific events in a thorough and detailed manner that adds a new and important perspective to the literature on the subject. Although an incredibly heart-breaking way to improve safety standards and show the importance of news sources, the events of March 18th, 1937 in New London, Texas did just that. But, Gone at 3:17 made sure that those who lost their lives would not be forgotten.