Sunday, October 25, 2009

Macedonia and Kosovo

2 - 63 Armor Scout Platoon, three days before the deployment

Welcome to Macedonia

Skopje, capital of Macedonia. Set in a dry high-altitude valley surrounded by mountains, it looked amazingly like Reno at times.

A city of mosques. This was the western capital of the Ottoman Empire for several centuries.

If anyone could build a bridge to last two thousand years, it was the Romans

In the Turkish quarter

Road trip Macedonian style

At the car wash: Albanian kids, Turkish EOD sergeant, Macedonian children

Barracks life

There was no escaping Buffy in the late 90s. Not even in the Balkans

Christmas down range

In sparkly happy Macedonia, getting ready to go on guard duty, thanks for asking

Armed and sober...

Kosovo = mud

A mountain village near the Macedonian border "cleansed" by the Serbs during the war. This was apparently part of a strategy to prevent arms smuggling.

Our last day in country, on the way to the airport

On the plane back to Germany

At some point...

"We live in a world where there are actual fleets of robotic assassins patrolling the skies. At some point there, we left the present and entered the future." ~Randall Munroe

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More photos from Germany

Spring of 1999

We'd all spent the final six months of 98 watching Kosovo. Peace conferences came and went, and the reports of ethnic cleansing continued to play out on AFN and the German news networks. Then Račak happened. I think that for the Clinton administration that was the trigger point--the images of the frozen bodies sprawled out in the icy ditch. The kids were what hit the family men in my platoon particularly hard. More than one remarked in shaken tones, "this isn't right."

In practical terms Račak much meant the end of weekends off for us. The next six months were spent preparing for peacekeeping at first, and then as the air war dragged on, the invasion of Kosovo.

A day of playing OPFOR for the tankers

Slobodan Blackovich, Serb paramilitary impersonator...

Road trip to Garmisch-Partenkirche. This was the first weekend that we'd had off in five months.


The Alps

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Die Zugspitze

I spent part of today scanning old photos and came across these of 2-63 AR scout platoon climbing the highest mountain in Germany back in 1998. Good times at high altitude.

On the border between Austria and Germany

So, what does a historian actually do?

Answer: research.

More specifically, a historian reads primary documents from a time period to look for something that has not been adequately explained by existing historiographical works. The researcher then creates a hypothesis to explain why that aspect of the past turned out as it did. The goal after that is to use reliable period evidence to generate a narrative that proves or at least supports that accounting of causes and effects.

Sometimes a historian is lucky and actually ends up with such a work. Often, however, the content of the historical documents contains unexpected challenges to the proposed idea or even the question which generated that explanation.

Rather than a historian imposing an idea on the existing body of facts, those facts often end up modifying the idea, leading to an unexpected narrative. If the historian is fortunate, that narrative will either successfully challenge or expand the existing body of work on the subject.

Such an expansion took place starting in the 1800s. Faced with social upheavals of the Industrial Revolution, the first professional western academics of the mid Nineteenth Century began asking questions about the nature of past societies, cultures, worldviews, and economies. Prior to that point, historical inquiry had traditionally focused on politics and war ever since Herodotus and Thucydides first sought a non-myth recounting of past events.The new professionals, however, were looking not only to understand the minds of decision makers, but the material and non-material forces that motivated both the elites and the masses.

Additionally, imperial expansion brought the new profession into contact with foreign cultures such as those of Japan and China, which led to entirely new areas of inquiry. Later, in the aftermath of colonialism and two world wars, western historians attempted to reconstruct the history of aboriginal peoples as well as answering new questions about the lives and roles of women.

Starting in the 1970s, a new challenge known as the Linguistic Turn was raised by the critical literary theory of postmodernism. PM essentially stated that it is impossible to understand the intent of a document’s author. Rather, the only subject that can be analyzed is the interpretation of the reader and that interpretation’s relationship to existing power structures in a society.

After thirty years of debate, the consensus seems to have swung towards a rejection of postmodernism’s core tenets. Most historians now seem to agree that while it is impossible to know with absolute certainty what a document’s author intended when writing it, there is enough of a common human nature and shared material conditions to anchor a text’s meaning in a physical world that can be mutually comprehended by two individuals in two different time periods.

That being said, the challenge of postmodernism has led historians to read documents much more critically. Not only is the author’s stated intent less likely to be taken at face value, historians now scrutinize the time, place, culture and political climate in which a writer created his or her document. In other words, the importance of context is much more widely recognized. Additionally, historians also seek to understand their own potential personal biases in reading a document, as well as the simplifications and distortions that can accompany writing a work of history while knowing how events turn ahead of time. Many researchers even discuss these prejudices in the prologue or epilogues of their work in order to aid their own readers in understanding the text.

The current major new line of historical inquiry is also one of context: that of world history.

With the increasing impact of globalization and international events on our lives in the present, a new world perspective has opened up within the field. It is now seen as important to know not only the global influences on a specific subject matter, but to place works of history within the overarching context of global human development.