Diversity of Conflict: Historical Perspective

Vejas Liulevicius is the director of a small, but vital component of the College of Arts and Sciences: the Center for the Study of War and Society, housed in the Department of History.

“Historians bring a perspective to the study of conflict that is absolutely essential and quite apart from the news stories we see on a daily basis,” says Liulevicius, Lindsay Young Professor in the Department of History. “Historians offer more depth and a perspective that shows war is unfortunately an abiding part of the human experience.”

The center began in 1984 with a dual purpose of collecting oral histories of World War II veterans studying how war has an impact on society and how society has an impact on how we fight wars. Twenty-five years later, the students and staff at the center continue to collect oral histories of veterans from several wars, as well as their friends and family, and make an impact on the scholarship of war and society across the globe.

Liulevicius is particularly proud of the impact graduate students at the Center have on the scholarship of war.

Kendal Youngblood (left) conducts an interview with Durward B. Swanson, WWII veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor, with Cynthia Tinker (right), associate coordinator for the center, as part of her undergraduate research internship.

Kendal Youngblood (left) conducts an interview with Durward B. Swanson, WWII veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor, with Cynthia Tinker (right), associate coordinator for the center, as part of her undergraduate research internship.

“Since 2008 our graduate students have won 13 major national and international research fellowships,” Liulevicius says. “They are competing with students from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, and they are winning. When our graduate students go out on the job market, they will look different from every other applicant because of their experiences at the center.”

Undergraduate students also have unique opportunities for research at the center. Through a competitive internship, students conduct an oral history project. The final product is digitized and placed in the Special Collections at Hodges Library.

“Our internship program is unique because it gives undergraduates in the humanities the opportunity for hands-on research experience.”

Moving forward, Liulevicius and his colleagues want to take the center to the next level and study the impact of war across several human societies and time periods.

“There is a huge reservoir of interest in topics of war and society,” Liulevicius says. “Look at the shelves at your local bookstore. There are dozens of stacks dedicated to America’s war. We want to address that public interest.”

Another goal is to build a media profile and become the go-to place for questions of the impact of war on society.

“To me, there is a perfect symmetry with the center and the university since UT is located on a Civil War battlefield, and we’re in the Volunteer State that has a long tradition of really intense involvement in America’s conflicts,” Liulevicius says. “At the highest level, the humanities have to engage with the reality that human history is marked by conflict. If we long for peace, the best way to achieve it is to understand how conflict erupted and why and how conflict is woven through human history. It’s not a task just for history. It’s a task for a number of disciplines, and the center has a role to play in fostering discussions across disciplinary boundaries.”

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