090: Michael S. Neiberg, 38


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

90: Michael S. Neiberg, 4-25-08

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Professor of History and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of War and Society, the University of Southern Mississippi, 2005-present
Area of Research: Military history, Nineteenth century, World War I, American Military history
Education: Ph.D., History, Carnegie Mellon University, 1996
Major Publications: Neiberg is the author of The Second Battle of the Marne, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008); Soldiers’ Lives Through History: Volume 4, The Nineteenth Century, (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 2006); Fighting the Great War: A Global History, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005), available in a Spanish Michael Neiberg JPGtranslation, La Gran Guerra,
(Barcelona: Libros Paidós, 2006), and was the Winner of Choice Outstanding Academic Title Award, 2006; Warfare and Society in Europe, 1898 to the Present, (London: Routledge Press, 2004); Foch: Supreme Allied Commander in the Great War, (Dulles, Va.: Brassey’s Press, 2003); Warfare in World History, (London: Routledge Press, 2001); Making Citizen-Soldiers: ROTC and the Ideology of American Military Service, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), finalist for the Thomas J. Wilson Prize, named as an Association of American University Presses “Book for Understanding our Times.”
Neiberg is the editor of The Great War Reader, (New York: New York University Press, 2006); editor, International Library of Political History: Fascism, (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), International Library of Political History series, Jeremy Black, general editor; editor, International Library of Military History: World War I, (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), International Library of Military History series, Jeremy Black, general editor. Neiberg is also the author with Steven Schlossman of The Unwelcome Decline of Molly Marine: Historical Perspectives on Women in the American Military, 1994, prepared under the direction of Dr. Bernard Rostker for the RAND Corporation’s National Defense Research Institute.
Neiberg is currently working on War and Peace in the Modern World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, under contract).
Neiberg is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others: “Civilian Daily Lives in European Warfare, 1815-1900” in Linda Frey, ed. European Civilians in Time of War, (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 2007), 175-218; “Civilians Daily Lives during World War I,” in Jeanne T. Heidler and David S. Heidler, eds. The United States from the Age of Imperialism to the War on Terror, (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 2007), 35-66. “War and Society” in Matthew Hughes and William Philpott, eds. The Palgrave Guide to Modern Military History, (London: Palgrave, 2006), 42-60; “Revisiting the Myths: New Approaches to the Great War,” Contemporary European History 13, 4 (November, 2004), 505-515, and “Cromwell on the Bed Stand: Allied Civil-Military Relations in World War I” in Jenny MacLeod and Pierre Pursiegle, eds. Uncovered Fields: New Approaches In First World War Studies, (Amsterdam: Brill Publishers, 2003), 61-78.
Awards: Neiberg is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Innovation and Basic Research Award, University of Southern Mississippi, 2008;
Selected Participant, Philip Merrill Center, SAIS, Johns Hopkins University Workshop, 2006;
USAFA International Programs Committee Faculty Development Grant, 2003;
Finalist, Heiser Award for Teaching Excellence, United States Air Force Academy, 2000, 2001, and 2005;
Dean’s Fund to Promote Academic Excellence Grant, United States Air Force Academy, 2001;
Stephen L. Orrison Award for Excellence in Mentoring, United States Air Force Academy, 2000;
Outstanding Academy Educator Award, United States Air Force Academy, 1999;
Spencer Foundation Research Grant, 1997-1998;
United States Army Center of Military History Dissertation Fellowship, 1995-1996;
Mark Stevens Research Travel Grant, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, 1995;
Finalist, Graduate Student Teaching Award, Carnegie Mellon University, 1994;
Goldman Award for Teaching Excellence, Carnegie Mellon University, 1993-1994.
Additional Info:
Formerly Professor of History, United States Air Force Academy. Neiberg was the Guest Editor, Organization of American Historians Magazine of History: World War I 17, 1 (October, 2002). Neiberg was a Consultant, Lucas Films, The Young Indiana Jones DVD Collectionl; Guest of the French Government, Ceremonies Marking the 250th Anniversary of the Birth of the Marquis de Lafayette, Paris, December 12-14, 2007. He made a number of radio/interview appearances including; La Première, RTBF, Belgian National Radio; Larry Mantle, Air Talk, KPCC FM, Los Angeles, California; Warren Olney, To the Point, KCRW FM, Santa Monica, California, and Deutsche Welle Radio, Germany. Neiberg has written newspaper articles for the Los Angeles Times and New York Newsday, and has been interviewed for in the Kansas City Star, the Wall Street Journal; the New York Times, and the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

Personal Anecdote

“Mike, any idiot can get a Ph.D.”

Such was the advice I got shortly after I had begun graduate school. I was visiting with a high school friend of mine whose mother had been a dean of a college of social work. She had asked me about my first reactions to entering a doctoral program. I told her that I was concerned that most of the people in my cohort seemed a good deal smarter than I was. At first I was taken aback by her response, but she soon explained what she meant. Being smart was, in her opinion, no guarantee of success in graduate school. The key, she told me, was to work hard and be creative.

Of course, I didn’t fully understand what she was trying to tell me any more than I understood the advice of one of my undergraduate mentors that “Professors aren’t what you think they are.” Nevertheless, both comments stuck in my head and wouldn’t leave me alone. But as I completed course work and prepared a dissertation topic, I began to understand at least the first comment. What I needed to do was take a subject that seemed banal or prosaic and make people see its importance. Better still, I might take a subject people thought they understood and make them see it in an entirely new light.

Along the way I realized another aspect of the historian’s mind. We all have a time and place that interests us and draws our attention, such as Antebellum America or Third Republic France. But we also have a set of questions that we seek answers to, even if, in my case, it took me years to figure out what those questions were. I finally concluded that my core interests revolved around warfare and the impacts it has on both societies and individuals.

Eventually that path has led me to an intensive study of the First World War. I think I have been drawn to the 1914-1918 period because the causes of the war have always struck me as so disproportionate to its effects. Currently, I am examining the process by which the lives of millions of Europeans were forever altered by a chain of events begun by the assassination of little-known and less-admired Austrian Archduke. I am interested less in understanding how the war began than in understanding how the war that followed was possible. This project is informed by recent trends in transnational history, an exciting and potentially fruitful method for answering the questions I am posing.

For the past 15 years, I have kept the sage words of my friend’s mother at heart. I am still not sure if she meant them literally or facetiously, although I have always hoped it was the latter. It has taken me a long time to figure out what those words mean, but now I think I have it. They have turned out to be the best words of wisdom I ever received.


By Michael Neiberg

  • As important as the war is to European, American, and world history, teaching the First World War can be a difficult endeavor. In contrast to the Second World War, the First lacks a clear master narrative of good versus evil. The even greater destruction of the Second World War contributes to an understandable yet misleading image of the First as a senseless waste, the ultimate expression of a wrong war fought for the wrong reasons. Because the war produced relatively few heroes or even few villains, it also lacks a clear and easy identification with well-known people. As a result, the war becomes reduced to simplistic and familiar themes, especially when the teacher is short on time. These well-worn themes include the stupidity of generals, the innocence of soldiers, and the overall waste of the war. Like all simplifications, these tropes are based in an element of reality, but they disguise a tremendous level of complexity. — Michael Neiberg in “The World War I Reader” (New York: NYU Press, 2007), p. 3.
  • By the end of 1917, however, that learning curve was nearly complete. France, Britain, and the United States had developed industrial, political, and military structures that saw them through the crisis of 1918. Victory resulted from a combination of improved Fighting the Great War A Global History JPGmilitary prowess and the evolution of an administrative, economic, and social support system that drove battlefield success. Both nations had come far from August 1914, when British General Henry Wilson observed the meeting at which Britain’s senior leadership had decided upon war. He described it as a “historic meeting of men mostly entirely ignorant of their subject.”6 By 1917–1918 his description no longer fit the senior civilian and military leaders of the Allied powers. They oversaw massive military machines with the infrastructure to support them. Because of the allied creation of a joint civil-military system, French Marshal Ferdinand Foch directed representatives of the new German government to a forest clearing near Compiègne in November 1918. In a railway car in that clearing, the German government surrendered, thereby ending the war that they had played such a large role in beginning. — Michael Neiberg in “Fighting the Great War A Global History”

About Michael Neiberg

  • “In recounting the events of WWI with skill and clarity, Neiberg does not break new ground for serious students of the conflict but achieves a fine balance of narrative and analyses – no easy feat in a one-volume study. And Neiberg also goes considerably further afield than do many one-volume accounts. A larger-than-usual share of responsibility is laid on the Germans, particularly for their diplomacy before the war and in its opening stages. Neiberg’s analyses of military incompetence do not bog down (along with the armies) on the Western Front – the Italian campaign is noted, where the Italian army distinguished itself in spite of being nearly extinguished. Even in the battle narratives, one finds choice revelations, such as how the French African troops’ khaki uniforms (which were designed for warfare in dusty Africa) helped the French to abandon their conspicuous prewar garb. The illustrations (89 duotones and 10 maps) are particularly well chosen. Compare this book with Hew Strachan’s The First World War; it ranks above entries by Martin Gilbert and John Keegan in readability and value for a wider audience.” — Publishers Weekly reviewing “Fighting the Great War”
  • “An interpretive narrator of World War I, Neiberg develops military explanations for its continuation in the face of apparent futility, a theme worked out in its political dimension by David Stevenson in Cataclysm (2004). The initial reason the war went on after 1914 was the failure of every prewar campaign plan, and Neiberg describes the battles (the Marne and Tannenberg) in which paper war met real war. The underlying military problem confronting generals was defensive firepower, and as time elapsed, they tried different methods to neutralize it: titanic artillery barrages, poison gas, tanks, and intentional attrition at Verdun. Resisting the temptation to condemn the generals (with the exception of Italian Luigi Cadorna, “one of the worst senior commanders of the twentieth century”), Neiberg shows how leaders drew hope from incremental technical improvements in weapons and tactics that the next offensive would break the enemy. A well-judged chronicle that compares favorably to the excellent The First World War, by Hew Strachan (2004), Neiberg’s survey supplies a solid foundation in the facts and controversies of WWI’s military course. — Gilbert Taylor in “Booklist” reviewing “Fighting the Great War”
  • Michael Neiberg dissects the resulting carnage on both sides with chilling precision. — Tony Maniaty in “The Australian” reviewing “Fighting the Great War”
  • An authoritative, compelling, and brief narrative of World War I in its military and political aspects. To provide a comprehensive account of the battles and leaders of World War I in a book fewer than four hundred pages is a major achievement. Michael S. Neiberg has accomplished that feat in a lucid, fast-paced treatment of the conflagration that raged across the entire world from 1914 to 1918 in Fighting the Great War: A Global History… Neiberg has a good eye for the relevant anecdote and offers fresh judgments about many of the key figures in this great conflict, such as Erich Ludendorff and Douglas Haig. He is also adept at explaining battles and their significance. There are few better introductions to the complex issues and enduring historical problems that grew out of the war than Neiberg’s book. Balanced in its judgments, crisp in its prose, and powerful in its evocation of a formative moment in world civilization, Fighting the Great War is a significant scholarly contribution. — Lewis L. Gould in “Magill Book Reviews” reviewing “Fighting the Great War”
  • “Who is in charge of our military? Where did they come from? While these questions may not press daily on the minds of most Americans, Making Citizen-Soldiers does not merely ask and answer them–it convinces us that these questions are critical to American democracy. In a focused, well-researched history of the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (ROTC), Michael Neiberg discusses the development of this program from 1950 to 1980. More importantly, he sets forth a convincing argument that ROTC, which populates the officer ranks of the military with graduates of civilian colleges, brings to fruition some of the most cherished ideas Americans have about how their military ought to be… So bravo to Neiberg for his success. I do hope a sequel is forthcoming, for he ended his study too soon. As it stands, Making Citizen-Soldiers is not only a well-written history of an important program, it is also a revealing exposition of bedrock American ideals. Like all good historical works, Making Citizen-Soldiers is insightful and important. — David Maier in the “Boston Book Review” reviewing “Making Citizen-Soldiers”
  • “Neiberg provides an absorbing examination of U.S. higher education’s changing relationship with Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs, from their inception in 1916 to 1980…This thoughtful book will interest audiences concerned about American culture and history. — Steven Puro in “Library Journal” reviewing “Making Citizen-Soldiers”
  • Neiberg’s extensive archival research reveals the many conflicts among and within universities over the intellectual validity of ROTC…Neiberg does a commendable job of providing an institutional and social history of ROTC from 1950 through 1980. — — Michael P. Noonan in “Orbis: A Journal of World Affairs” reviewing “Making Citizen-Soldiers”
  • “I met Dr. Michael Neiberg in the spring of 2005, shortly after he joined the faculty at the University of Southern Mississippi. In the past three years I have come to know Dr. Neiberg as an enthusiastic and dedicated professor, encouraging my own interest in history through two undergraduate courses and a senior thesis project. My respect for his knowledge and contribution to his field is surpassed only by my appreciation for his continuous guidance, good humor, and honest advice. I am thankful for the opportunity I have had to learn from such a gifted teacher and mentor.” — Kristin Cabana Fitzgerald, former student and PhD student at Vanderbilt (Fall 2008)
  • “Incredible Teacher! He knows his material cold and has the intelligence to back it up. Regardless of what course he’s teaching, take one of his classes.”… “Is there something he doesn’t know about history?”… “Real approachable, very good lecturer, good teacher.”… “I LOVE him. He is truly amazing, and USM is lucky to have someone of his knowledge level be part of their History department.”… “He is an amazing professor and very knowledgeable about the subject matter. As a person, he is wonderful. He is always willing to answer questions and clarify his lectures. His class is very challenging, like college courses are supposed to be. He gives you the grade you deserve and does not sugar coat it. A great guy!” — Anonymous Students
  • “I felt honored to be in this class. Dr. Neiberg is the best instructor I have had in 3 years at USM.”… “The best organized and taught history class I have had at USM.”… “My favorite History class. Not only was it interesting, it was also challenging.”… “I loved this class. I’ve never even had an interest in history before, but Dr. Neiberg is an outstanding instructor. He made this my favorite course of the semester.”… “World War I has never been a subject that I had any interest in and now I do. This is all due to Dr Neiberg’s enthusiasm and his class preparation.”… “This was my favorite and my most challenging class.”… “I really enjoyed this class and it was definitely a challenge for me. But I feel like I was encouraged to improve. Thanks.”… “I loved this class. I have never enjoyed attending a lecture this much. I learned a lot and had a great time. Thanks!”… “Wonderful class. People that are excited about the subject they teach always make for better instructors.” — Anonymous Students

Posted on Thursday, April 24, 2008 at 8:45 PM

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