Category: Professional Development

Future Proofing the Profession: The Importance of Military History

Future Proofing the Profession: The Importance of Military History

The study of military history must therefore inform the long-term development of the military professional to provide a universal experience and to improve performance. In this way, military history supports professionals in understanding context, past successes and failures, and the causation and/or correlation between actions. The long-term development of a military professional must include the study of military history as it provides a ready reckoner for military professionals that informs their decisions, actions, and future intent.

American Universities Declare War on Military History

American Universities Declare War on Military History: Academics seem to have forgotten that the best way to avoid conflict is to study it.

“Many, indeed most, academic institutions across the continent are infected with an intellectual virus that causes them to reject study of subjects that seem to some faculty members distasteful. This represents a betrayal of the principles of curiosity, rigor and courage that must underpin all worthwhile scholarship.”

“MacMillan demands: “Do we really want citizens who have no knowledge of how our values, political and economic structures came into being?”

“Unfortunately, many in the academic community assume that military history is simply about powerful men — mainly white men —fighting each other and/or oppressing vulnerable groups.”

“North America’s great universities should be ashamed of their pusillanimity. War is no more likely to quit our planet than are pandemics. The academics who spurn its study are playing ostriches. Their heads look no more elegant, buried in the sand.”

Reading List

Original photo for the insurance claim in the event the movers drop them into the Indian Ocean… Yes, they have.

This is my reading list; there are many like it, but this one is not in Comic Sans. These used to be the books that were on my office bookshelf when I had an office, or the top shelves on my home office bookshelf when I don’t. I’ve expanded the list, but they’ll all still fit on a single standard bookshelf. I actually own and have read my recommended reading list. It doesn’t change based on the Flavor of the Month flag officer’s reading list, though it will change obviously if I read something worthy of it. For example, my Top Five had two new additions in the previous eighteen months when I first created this list.

Many will scoff at some of the titles (The “eye rolls” will be strong with some of you, but that’s ok because you’re smarter than me), but these books are the most important and useful professional development, history, or common interest books that I’ve read. I highly recommend every one of them. You’ll notice that they’re books for all ages because letting someone borrow one is the quickest way to get them to read it. And some of these books are on their fourth and fifth copies because I never ask for them back as long the borrower reads them (It’s a small price to pay).

If I should die tomorrow, I expect these books on a shelf next to the bar at my wake.

Bukowski’s Top Five

Defeat Into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945, Field-Marshal Viscount William Slim – Required reading for every military officer. The chapters on training and lessons learned are solid gold.

Ecosynomics: The Science of Abundance, James L Ritchie-Dunham – If you are in the military, don’t let the description dissuade you, Mr. Ritchie-Dunham NAILED Mission Command. “Elegant” is the only word that is appropriate. If you deal in Mission Command and you haven’t read it, the conversation has moved beyond you.

Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power, Victor Davis Hanson – “The Warrior” vs “The Soldier” laid out like TA-50.

The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour, James D. Hornfischer – “This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can.” LCDR Robert W. Copeland USNR, Capt. of the USS Samuel B Roberts “The Destroyer That Fought Like a Battleship” 25 October 1944.

Rwanda, Inc.: How a Devastated Nation Became an Economic Model for the Developing World, Patricia Crisafulli – Required reading for Humanity. There really is hope.

Full List

Mission Command/Leadership

Mission Command: the Who, What Where When and Why, An Anthology Vols I & II, Donald Vandergriff and Stephen Weber

Taking the Guidon: Exceptional Leadership at the Company Level, Nate Allen and Tony Burgess

The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom

Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime, Elliot A Cohen

Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, Robert Corham

The Logic of Failure: Recognizing and Avoiding Error In Complex Situations, Dietrich Dorner

The Top Ten Leadership Commandments, Hans Finzel

The Systems Bible: The Beginner’s Guide to Systems Large and Small, John Gall

Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell

How To Say It Best, Jack Griffin

Acts of War: Behavior of Men in Battle, Richard Holmes

Maneuver Warfare, an Anthology, Richard D Hooker

System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life, Robert Jervis

The Logic of Violence in Civil War, Stathis N. Kalyvas

Innovative Leadership Fieldbook, Maureen Metcalf

Neostoicism and the Early Modern State, Gerhard Oestreich

Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd, Frans PB Osinga

The Cognitive Challenge of War: Prussia 1806, Peter Paret

Wavell in the Middle East, 1939–1941: A Study in Generalship, Harold E. Raugh Jr.

An Introduction to Military Ethics: A Reference Handbook, Bill Rhodes

Ecosynomics: The Science of Abundance, James L Ritchie-Dunham

The Global Public Relations Handbook, Revised and Expanded Edition: Theory, Research, and Practice, Krishnamurthy Sriramesh and Dejan Vercic

The Little Book of Stoicism: Timeless Wisdom to Gain Resilience, Confidence, and Calmness, Jonas Salzgeber

The Greenhill Dictionary Of Military Quotations, Peter G. Tsouras

Managing the Unexpected: Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty, Karl E. Weick and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe

The Enlightened Soldier: Scharnhorst and the Militarische Gesellschaft in Berlin, 1801-1805, Charles Edward White

Information Operations

Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals, Saul Alinsky

Logic Made Easy: How to Know When Language Deceives You, Deborah J. Bennett

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert B. Cialdini

Influence: Science and Practice, Robert B. Cialdini

Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, Jacques Ellul

The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Eric Hoffer

Negotiation Genius: How to Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Brilliant Results at the Bargaining Table and Beyond, Deepak Malhotra and Max Bazerman

What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People, Joe Navarro and Marvin Karlins

Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion, Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson

Counter-Democracy: Politics in the Age of Distrust, Pierre Rosanvallon

From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation, Gene Sharp

General Military History/Theory

Composite Warfare, Eeben Barlow

The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power, Max Boot

The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648–1815, Tim Blanning

On War, Carl von Clausewitz

Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, David Galula

Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power, Victor Davis Hanson

Hybrid Warfare: Fighting Complex Opponents from the Ancient World to the Present, William Murray and Peter Mansoor

Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, Peter Paret

Clausewitz and the State: The Man, His Theories, and His Times, Peter Paret

One Hundred Unorthodox Strategies: Battle And Tactics Of Chinese Warfare, Ralph D. Sawyer

Definitive Military History

The Liberation Trilogy, Rick Atkinson

Crete: the Battle and the Resistance, Anthony Beevor

La Grande Army, Georges Blonde

Monte Cassino: Ten Armies in Hell, Peter Caddick-Adams

The Triumph, HW Crocker III

White Eagle, Red Star: The Polish-Soviet War 1919-1920 and The Miracle on the Vistula, Norman Davies

Never Come to Peace Again: Pontiac’s Uprising and the Fate of the British Empire in North America, David Dixon

Closing With the Enemy: How GIs Fought the War in Europe, 1944-1945, Michael D. Doubler

When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler, David M. Glantz and Jonathan M. House

An Improvised War: The Abyssinia Campaign 1940-1941, Michael Glover

El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency, Ioan Grillo

A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, Victor Davis Hanson

In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage, John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr

The Story of the U.S. Cavalry, 1775-1942, John K Herr

The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour, James D. Hornfischer

Neptune’s Inferno,The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal, James D. Hornfischer

The Peloponnesian War, Robert Kagan

The Armada, Gareth Mattingly

Defeat Into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945, Field-Marshal Viscount William Slim

The Pacific War Trilogy, Ian Toll

The Fatal Knot: The Guerrilla War in Navarre and the Defeat of Napoleon in Spain, John Lawrence Tone

The Big Red One: America’s Legendary 1st Infantry Division, James Scott Wheeler


Hue, 1968, Mark Bowden

Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu, Bernard Fall

Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam, HR McMaster

Dispatches, Michael Herr

Summons of Trumpet, Dave Palmer

Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam, John A. Nagl and Peter J. Schoomaker

A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam, Lewis Sorley

The Village, Bing West

Iraq/Islam/Middle East

Sword and the Scimitar, Raymond Ibrahim

The Quranic Concept of War, Brig S. K. Malik

The Arab Mind, Raphael Patai

Milestones, Sayed Qutb

The Unraveling, Emma Sky

Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad, David Zucchino


Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda, Sean Naylor

Passing It On: Fighting the Pashtun on Afghanistan’s Frontier, Sir Andrew Skeen

Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the Fall of the Taliban, Stephen Tanner

The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, Jake Tapper

Hints on Irregular Cavalry: Its Conformation, Management and Use in Both a Military and Political Point of View (1845), Charles Farquhar Trower


Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, Mark Bowden

Rwanda, Inc.: How a Devastated Nation Became an Economic Model for the Developing World, Patricia Crisafulli

Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Roméo Dallaire

States and Power in Africa, Jeffery Herbst

The Fate of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence, Martin Meredith

The Scramble for Africa: White Man’s Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876 to 1912, Thomas Pakenham

The Colonial Frontier

(Still working.)

Historical Study

Telling the Truth About History, Appleby, Hunt, and Jacob

Modern Historiography: An Introduction, Michael Bentley

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas S. Kuhn


The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa, Michael L. Burgoyne

Team Yankee: A Novel of World War III, Harold Coyle

The Third World War/The Third World War: The Untold Story, Sir John Hackett

Three Cups of Bullshit, Greg Mortensen

First Clash: Combat Close-Up In World War Three, Kenneth Macksey

Defense of Hill 781: An Allegory of Modern Mechanized Combat, James R. McDonough

Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae, Steven Pressfield

The Defence of Duffer’s Drift, Ernest Dunlop Swinton

Battle Cry, Leon Uris


The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, H Porter Abbot

The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition.

Fowler’s Modern English Usage, R.W. Burchfield

Essaying the Past: How to Read, Write, and Think about History, Jim Cullen

It was the Best of Sentences, It was the Worst of Sentences, June Casagrande

The Best Punctuation Book, Period., June Casagrande


The Law of Self Defense 3rd Edition, Andrew Branca

You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense, Charles Bukowski

Back to Basics, Abighail R. Gehring

The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central Eastern Europe, Vaclav Havel

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Sebastian Junger

Do the Work!, Steven Pressfield

Rugby: The Player’s Handbook, M. B. Roberts and Ronald C. Modra

Why We Get Fat, Gary Taubes


The Three Musketeers Trilogy, Alexandre Dumas

Conan/Soloman Kaine Collection, Robert E. Howard

Eye of the World/The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan

The Annotated Tales of H.P. Lovecraft

Rock and Roll, An Unruly History, Robert Palmer

The Trilogy/The Teutonic Knights, Henryk Sienkiewicz

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R Tolkien

The Raiding Forces series, Phil Ward

The Sword of Honour Trilogy, Eveyln Waugh

History: The Overlooked Military Discipline

History: The Overlooked Military Discipline

Soldiers want to learn. As a case in point, during a break in a mission when I was a platoon leader, I made a casual reference to the fight on Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg. Several of my Soldiers asked why it was important, which led to me drawing out a map of the battle on an MRE box and talking through the various maneuvers. At one point I looked up, and was surprised to see the majority of the platoon crowding around to see the map. Being engineers, they quickly grasped how important terrain was in the battle and how the human terrain can be manipulated by good leaders. This was a learning point for me, that history is useful at all levels.

Teaching Army history does not have to be for staff officers at War College only; it can, and should, exist throughout all formations, at every rank. Soldiers want to learn and want to be trained; it is up to the leaders to bring them the training that they deserve. If a private in the Marine Corps can talk knowledgeably about Belleau Wood (and they can, ask one), there is no reason a private in the Army cannot talk about Bastogne. If nothing else, let’s do this to be better than the Marines.

The Battle of Waterloo: The French Operational Commander, the Prussian Staff System, and Auftragstaktik

In 1815 there were two competing staff systems, the French and the Prussian. Until 1813, everyone used the French system. After their embarrassingly quick defeat in 1806, Prussian generals Gerhard: Von Blucher and Von Scharnhorst, reformed the army and in particular their staff processes. The Prussian General Staff system is roughly the same one we theoretically use today. In short, a commander has a staff of junior officers usually two ranks lower than himself, but sometimes three, who keeps the commander informed of the war fighting functions: operations, logistics, communications, intelligence, information ops etc. And this staff is supervised by an executive officer, chief of staff, 2iC etc who is the senior staff cat, but is still two ranks lower than the commander. Think of it as a wagon wheel: operations is the hub, the other staff sections are the spokes, the 2iC is the rim which keeps everything together, and the commander is the axle that keeps the cart upright and moving in the right direction. (And that’s as far as that analogy goes)

The relative seniority of the commander over the staff was deliberate: it allowed the specialists and star performers to rise to the top and be noticed (the epitome of this were August Gneisenau, Blucher’s Chief of Staff, and everyone’s favorite dead Prussian, Carl Von Clausewitz, the III Corps CoS at Waterloo). More importantly, the system prevented the staff officers that were the same rank as the commander from issuing orders, which was a feature of the French system.

The French system recognized that the largest force multiplier was a commander’s presence on the battlefield. The French system ensured the right decision maker was at the right place at the right time to make the right decision. In the French system, the overall commander, usually Napoleon, came up with the plan, the chief of staff translated it into orders, and an operational commander was assigned to execute it at the operational and tactical level. This freed up the overall commander to concentrate on strategery, influence the operational area through the use of the reserve, and be at the decisive point. (Stop me if this sounds familiar… cough IJC/ISAF… cough) This was very effective when combined with the French corps system: when each corps had a marshal of the same rank as the operational commander, this system provided an amazing amount of flexibility and allowed the subordinate commanders the ease to exercise initiative. In an era where a commander could only influence troops he could physically see and hear, or gallop to, and had trusted subordinates who understood intent, like Napoleon’s marshals, this worked out fine, brilliantly even.

In Prussian terms, the French operational commander was both a commander and operations staff officer (An equivalent today would be FSCOORD/DIVARTY Cdr, a command/staff concept that works for supporting troops, not so much for maneuver troops). The Operational Commander was the connection between the staff, and through the staff to the overall commander, and then the commanders in the field. The big benefit of this was that if a decision had to be made the Operational Commander could make it and he didn’t have to bother the staff or overall commander about it, unlike the Prussian system. He just had to keep them informed, not look for a decision and then wait for an order. This system was in place at the division, corps, and army level. But for this to work, the Napoleons of the world had/have to be hands off, which was increasingly hard to do as the battlefields became larger and subordinates not as talented or trusted. Finally, there are also at least three decision makers at any level: the overall commander, the chief of staff, and the operational commander. This is no problem if orders are clear and everyone understands the plan, and most importantly the intent.

In our Waterloo example, the French system made Ney, Soult, and Napoleon all primary decision makers. This became a problem when Ney attempted to seize key terrain – Quatre Bras, while Napoleon and Soult were at the decisive point – the destruction of Blucher’s Army at Ligny. They eventually “competed” for D’Erlon’s Corps whom were marching between them responding to contradictory orders from four different sources (including Grouchy who was just parroting Napoleon’s orders). Unfortunately for Napoleon, this inherent flaw in the French system was a feature, not a bug. When it worked, and it did most of time during the Napoleonic Wars, the French system worked brilliantly. But when it didn’t, which was rare for the French, it failed catastrophically.

The Prussian system took the personalities out of the system, and placed the responsibility of understanding the immediate situation on the staff, who could then inform their commander, instead of relying on the talent of the commander to intuitively understand everything happening around them. This permitted the primary decision making authority to fall on the commanders at all levels. It allowed commanders to make more informed decisions, but not nearly as fast. The Prussian system is more systems and processes driven than personality driven like the French and sacrifices flexibility for resilience. However, and this is a huge “however”, the Prussians mitigated the relative slowness and rigidity of their staff system compared to the French with a culture of “Auftragstaktik”. Auftragstaktik, roughly translated as “mission tactics” is a culture of trust based on professional competence, situational awareness, and understanding of the commanders’ intent. With Auftragstaktik, subordinate commanders are expected to take initiative and are required to alter their commander’s orders if they are irrelevant to the situation and the accomplishment of the mission warrants it. Auftragstaktik gave the Prussian staff system and its commanders the agility to act upon a situation, without the burden of competing personalities of the same rank, by placing the onus of situation understanding on the lowest level staff and the decision to act on the lowest level commander. Auftragstaktik demands commanders and staffs have “skin in the game”. This responsibility, which good commanders seek out, incentivizes subordinates to support their commander, and more importantly, commanders to support their subordinates. With the lowest level subordinate commander the immediate decision making authority, this also ensured that contradictory orders only happened rarely, as a subordinate commander would only change his own commander’s orders with good reason. At a time when commanders were no longer operating in sight of the armies they commanded, the Prussian system within the context of Auftragstaktik gave them a resilience and agility that the personality driven French armies lacked.

As Rocky pointed out, “It’s not how hard you hit, it’s how hard you can get hit and still keep going that matters”. And that’s exactly what happened when the French failed to destroy the Prussian Army at Ligny. The Prussians bounced back from their defeat, while French dithered about on 17 June, thus setting the conditions necessary for the French defeat at Waterloo.

The Man in the Arena

After spending a year hunting in Africa, Teddy Roosevelt and his son Kermit toured Europe in 1910. On 23 April, they arrived in Paris and the former president was asked to speak to a crowd of about two thousand at the University of Sorbonne. He spoke on history, family, war, human rights, property rights, cynics, and most prominently, the responsibilities of being a citizen. The speech was officially titled “Citizenship in a Republic” but is now more commonly known as “The Man in the Arena” speech because of this passage,

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Other great passages:

“Self-restraint, self-mastery, common sense, the power of accepting individual responsibility and yet of acting in conjunction with others, courage and resolution—these are the qualities which mark a masterful people.”

“Indeed, it is a sign of marked political weakness in any commonwealth if the people tend to be carried away by mere oratory, if they tend to value words in and for themselves, as divorced from the deeds for which they are supposed to stand.”

“The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticize work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life’s realities—all these are marks, not of superiority but of weakness.”

“But with you and with us the case is different. With you here, and with us in my own home, in the long run, success or failure will be conditioned upon the way in which the average man, the average woman, does his or her duty, first in the ordinary, every-day affairs of life, and next in those great occasional crises which call for the heroic virtues. The average citizen must be a good citizen if our republics are to succeed. The stream will not permanently rise higher than the main source; and the main source of national power and national greatness is found in the average citizenship of the nation. Therefore it behooves us to do our best to see that the standard of the average citizen is kept high; and the average can not be kept high unless the standard of the leaders is very much higher.”

“Shame on the man of cultivated taste who permits refinement to develop into a fastidiousness that unfits him for doing the rough work of a workaday world. Among the free peoples who govern themselves there is but a small field of usefulness open for the men of cloistered life who shrink from contact with their fellows. Still less room is there for those who deride or slight what is done by those who actually bear the brunt of the day; nor yet for those others who always profess that they would like to take action, if only the conditions of life were not what they actually are. The man who does nothing cuts the same sordid figure in the pages of history, whether he be cynic, or fop, or voluptuary. There is little use for the being whose tepid soul knows nothing of the great and generous emotion, of the high pride, the stern belief, the lofty enthusiasm, of the men who quell the storm and ride the thunder. Well for these men if they succeed; well also, though not so well, if they fail, given only that they have nobly ventured, and have put forth all their heart and strength. It is war-worn Hotspur, spent with hard fighting, he of the many errors and the valiant end, over whose memory we love to linger, not over the memory of the young lord who “but for the vile guns would have been a soldier.”


Docturnal [däkˈtərnl] Adjective. 1. Unofficial, but easily understood, military phraseology which is never used in official publication, and frowned upon by pretentious doctrinaires. 2. Vain attempt to be doctrinal. 3. Military terms spoken only in the darkest doctrinal corners. 4. Terms and phrases awakened in the doctrinal twilight to rule over the deepest doctrinal night.

Examples: Adhocracy, Blowed Up, Bohica, Blue Falcon, Buttload, Crunchies, Disaster, Downtime, Epic, Eyes On, Flex, Fobbits, Fubar, F*k (a uniquely flexible term), FFG, Ginornous, Goat Rodeo, Forlorn Hope, Halfassery, Herding Cats, Hey Diddle Diddle, Intestinal Fortitude, JoeProof, Ninjas, Pipe Hitters, Pound the Sh*t Out Of, Presence Patrol, Release the Kraken, Rolled Up, Oodles, Service, Sh*tload, Slidology, Snafu, Space Cadet, Sprinkle, Strategery, Swag, Tarfulicious, Thirsty, Throwaway, Turd Burglar, Voluntold, Walkabout, Whack, Whip It Good, Wrecked, Your assembly area is so fat…

The Past as Battlefield: The Power of Historiography

“The future is certain, it is the past that is always changing.” – Popular Soviet joke

The Past as Battlefield: The Power of Historiography

Historiography is not an exchange in the marketplace but a fight on the battlefield. It has a particular point of view on the past and punishes opponents; it is power politics masked as tolerant neutrality. The Left—like those behind the 1619 Project—understand the stakes and are fighting to maintain their legitimacy. It is time the Right did the same and entered the historiographical fray to shape the story.

Studying the Middle Ages: Historical Food for Thought in the Present Day

Studying the Middle Ages: Historical Food for Thought in the Present Day

Abstract: Why study the Middle Ages? The answers this question yields concern more than simply medievalists: they generate reflections regarding the usefulness of science or intellectual engagement in any given society. Answering the question includes critical reflection on periodization in general and, in particular, on the public’s understanding of what is termed (for better or worse) ‘the Middle Ages’.

The relevance of studying the period has been justified in many ways. It allows, for example, a comparison of social dynamics and the gathering of insights into the role of religion. Equally, it enables investigation of modes of rule and the organization of communities. Ultimately, it enables us to better understand modernity itself. Yet while many arguments concern a better understanding of the contemporary world, they do not necessarily justify the necessity of incorporating medieval comparisons.

The current consensus (at least in French medieval studies) is to study the Middle Ages as a society in its own right. There is an additional understanding that the specific problems raised by this period should be placed in a broader chronological and spatial context. These critical reflections invite deeper considerations, which are, in turn, useful in developing our sense of democracy, our understanding of society, and in the development of a historical science that is conscious of the current tendencies to ‘re-politicize’ history. This chapter argues that this leads to invaluable insights into the workings of any discipline concerned with the perception of time and change.