How long have you taught at the University of Birmingham?
I joined the University of Birmingham in 2013, having completed my PhD at King’s College London earlier that year. So, 2023 is my tenth anniversary year here!
What do you teach and why do you teach it?
Since I’ve been at Birmingham, I have taught a wide range of modules relating to the history of warfare. At undergraduate level, my final-year Special Subject is “Britain and the First World War”, and I teach an Advanced Option called “Britain’s Wars of Colonisation and Decolonisation, 1815-1960”. In the past I have taught a Special Subject on the American Civil War, and options on the history of the British army, on command in war, and on the British army on the Western Front.
I’m interested in all aspects of the history of war, but with a particular focus on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. War is of course a difficult topic to study, but as has been said, you don’t need to like disease to be a doctor.
Sadly, war is a recurring phenomenon across human history. I’m interested mostly in the big picture questions: the relationship between war and politics, society, and culture; how wars are imagined by those who participate in them; and how they are conducted.
Thinking about my teaching, the First World War was described by George Kennan as ‘the great seminal catastrophe’ of the twentieth century. The American Civil War was the United States’ greatest political, constitutional, social, moral, and military crisis. Britain’s colonial wars shaped its empire, and the postcolonial world. These are big subjects that deserve our attention.
Obviously, you enjoy all the sessions in all your modules but, if you had to choose a few favourite topics from your modules, what would they be?
Hard to pick! I always enjoy grappling with big historiographical questions with the students. Topics like ‘What were the causes of the First World War?’, ‘Was there an alternative to the Western Front?’, and ‘Was the Treaty of Versailles a flawed peace?’ are all huge open questions with no easy answers. I try to make sure all my sessions include at least one big question like that!
I’m interested in all aspects of the history of war, but with a particular focus on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. War is of course a difficult topic to study, but as has been said, you don’t need to like disease to be a doctor.Dr Daniel Whittingham
What things have you researched in the past?
My first book was Charles E. Callwell and the British Way in Warfare (Cambridge University Press, 2020). Callwell was born in 1859 and died in 1928. He had a varied career as a soldier: he served in a range of imperial conflicts, notably the South African War (1899-1902); and he occupied a key role in the War Office between 1914 and 1916. He was also a prolific writer.
The book was in part a study of his life and times, and partly an intellectual history of his works. My second book was a study of counterinsurgency, co-authored with Stuart Mitchell from Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and published with Casemate (also in 2020).
What, as academics say, are you working on at the moment?
My next book will be Britain and the Middle East After World War I: Policy, Strategy, and Military Operations, for which I have a contract with Oxford University Press. This will take me into another set of big historiographical questions: why did violence continue after the supposed ‘end’ of the First World War in 1918, how did the British attempt to execute the peace settlement, and how and why was the Middle East significant to British military policy and strategy? I’ve also received some funding from the British Academy to help with the research for this project.
What’s the best thing about Birmingham and/or University of Birmingham?
Obviously, my colleagues and our students! But I also love the campus. The city perhaps hasn’t had the PR of some other British cities – I think it’s underrated. Perhaps Brummies like it that way.
What are the best and worst things about supporting Aldershot Town FC? Would you recommend it as a lifestyle choice?
Best: it runs in the family. It’s also my home town – so there’s a sense of community and belonging. I have been all over the country watching them. We’ve been up and down – more down lately, so I guess that’s the worst bit, but you need to experience the lows to appreciate the highs!