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A painting of a two-humped camel with bit and bridle next to a saddled horse

Like camels in the Brenner pass in the fourteenth century, military historians are more common in pictures and stories than real life in Canada today. Wall painting from about the 1330s in the Burgkapelle Aufenstein near Matrei am Brenner. Photo by author, July 2014.

Although military history fills the television screens, YouTube channels, and bookstore history aisles in Canada just as in other countries, its presence at universities is very modest indeed. Until October 2015 I did not know of anyone who studies any aspect of warfare before the nineteenth century who teaches history at a Canadian university to fund his research. At least a hundred faculty are paid to teach history before the nineteenth century at a Canadian university [1], but very few chose to publish on the military aspects. This week I thought I would list the determined scholars who insist on working on this topic at an advanced level at Canadian universities.

1) Professeur Titulaire Patrick Baker at the Université Laval describes himself as a “historien de la Grèce ancienne, particulièrement de l’histoire des institutions militaires dans les cités grecques.” More specifically, he works on a number of Greek inscriptions which mention soldiers. His professional website is here.

2) James Chlup was recently hired as an assistant professor (that is, with full-time job with a path to tenure) at the University of Manitoba. He describes his research interests as “Greek and Latin historiography and biography; Middle and Late Roman Republic; Greek and Roman military manuals; the Roman Middle East.”

3) Dr. Kaveh Farrokh teaches Continuing Studies at the University of British Columbia and has written one book for Osprey on warfare (and many other things!) in ancient Iran (and neighbouring places). It provoked a sharp review. I do not know if he has published anything on ancient warfare in a peer-reviewed venue.

4) Conor Whately has published several things on Late Roman warfare and Roman foreign policy in the east. He is an assistant professor at the University of Winnipeg. His program’s list of faculty is here.

Those four names are the only faculty who teach at Canadian universities and publish on ancient military history who I know. It might be possible to add William G. Kerr, who finished a PhD thesis on the Marcomanni Wars of Marcus Aurelius in 1995. He now teaches at the University of New Brunswick Fredericton as an associate professor (that is, he has tenure), but does not seem to have published on military history since, and 20 years is plenty of time for people to change their interests.

Edit 2016/09/01: Conor Whately suggests Assistant Professor Martin Beckmann at McMaster University (said to have “some interests”), Professor Hugh Elton at Trent University (Late Antique Roman things), Full Professor Geoffrey Greatrex at the University of Ottawa (Late Antique Roman things), Associate Professor Elizabeth M. Greene at the University of Western Ontario (archaeology and social history of Roman soldiers at Vindolanda), and Assistant Professor Alexander Meyer at Western University (said to be interested in “Roman military history and archaeology”). For non-Canadians, all of these universities are in Ontario.

Medievalists and Early Modernists

If I include the middle ages and the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and people who retired in the last decade, I can add a handful of more names.

a. Around 2008 or 2009 I found a specialist in Chinese history whose website listed the wars of the Ming dynasty as an interest. I cannot find his name again.

b. Michael Gervers in Toronto apparently has some interest in the knightly orders of medieval Christendom such as the Knights Templar and the Teutonic Knights. I do not know anything about his work, and his research interests are impressively wide. His program’s website is here.

c. Bert S. Hall used to teach the history of technology in Toronto and studied gunpowder in Catholic and Protestant Europe from the thirteenth through the seventeenth century. He even tried to create his own saltpeter from manure and water, finding as many have that an everyday task for peasants in South Asia or Appalachia can defeat the highly educated and urbane who have never seen it done. He retired sometime around 2008 and has since vanished from the Internet except for his books, his RateMyProfessor entry, and an article on Rob Ford.

d. Waldemar Heckel studied Alexander the Great, his contemporaries, and their political actions. Towards the end of his career he became interested in the military aspects of Alexander’s career, and on the history of the Latin crusades to the Holy Land. He retired in 2013.

e. Steve Muhlberger wrote about late medieval chivalric culture at Nipissing University. I know him and respect his work. That said, non-Canadian readers should know that Nipissing University is in North Bay Ontario, and that North Bay is not exactly a great city (scroll out after you click here until you recognize something). They should also note that despite his lifelong passion for knightly culture, he only started to publish on the subject after teaching at Nipissing for fifteen years. He retired in 2015.

f. Richard Unger at the University of British Columbia studied the history of transportation by sea from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries, including warships as well as merchant ships. I do not think he would call himself a military historian but he could probably give a good talk on the technical issues of warship design in the age of sail. He retired in 2010 from his position as full professor, but seems to still be active in academe. His faculty page is here.

Those six names comprise a slightly longer list, except that four of them are retired. None of the historians on this second list identifies himself as mainly interested in any martial aspect of the past on their department website. So with the possible exception of this specialist in Chinese history, we are still left with those two assistant professors in Winnipeg and Manitoba.

Summing Up

If any of my readers know someone who taught in Canada in the last decade who they think should be included, I urge them to tell me. But on the basis of a lot of searching, I am pretty sure that the only people who make a living teaching at a Canadian university and who publish peer-reviewed research on ancient military history, the archaeology of ancient conflict, Roman Army Studies, or any related area are two doughty assistant professors on the Prairies and one full professor in Quebec, and that this is not a common area of interest for professors of medieval or renaissance history. On their department websites historians interested in this area tend to emphasize their other interests, and avoid phrases like “military history” and “military historian.” Since research is a social process, and understanding ancient warfare requires exactly the same obscure languages, careful reasoning, patient collection of images and archaeological reports, and endless reading as understanding any other aspect of ancient culture, I think this is a shame. War was one of the main activities of ancient societies, and one which their authors and artists enjoyed depicting, and there is a lot of curiosity about old wars and soldiers which Canadian universities are not very well equipped to fulfil.

(Full disclosure: I wrote my master’s thesis under the supervision of Waldemar Heckel, have met or exchanged emails with most of the other people named, and am taking some risk commenting on this many other academics in public. If anyone thinks that I am mis-representing their research interests, I would welcome correction. I am posting this because while I and other people interested in early warfare often talk about it in private and sometimes mention it in publications for our peers, we rarely lay out the facts in public except in ways even more polite than this blog post, and I believe that there are many people who would find this situation troubling if they only knew about it).

[1] The CAUT Almanac of Post-Secondary Education in Canada gives some idea of the numbers but is a bit vague on the criteria for inclusion in different categories. I checked it some years ago by listing programs in ancient history and languages, estimating the number of people working on history or archaeology in each, then multiplying by a factor to allow for people working in departments of History, Religious Studies, modern languages, Medieval Studies, Political Science, etc.