Using Official Histories as Quarries for Case Materials By Bruce I. Gudmundsson

American Police History

The case teacher in the world of professional military education enjoys a great advantage over case teachers in many other realms, and that advantage is the existence of the field of military history. Thanks to the work of military historians, the case teacher who teaches military subjects is provided with a huge stock of pre-existing accounts that, in many instances, preserve him from the trouble and expense involved in visiting archives, conducting interviews, and composing narrative.

Within the treasure trove of published military history, some of the narratives best suited for use as case materials are those found in official histories. These works tend to be written in a "just the facts", detail-rich, spoiler-free style that encourages the reader to provide his own interpretation of events. Official histories, moreover, are usually well supplied with the sort of information that is often left out of commercially-published works: detailed orders of battle, information about logistics and administration, and the day-to-day movements of units and formations. Finally, official histories are usually provided with first-class maps.

Most works of official history are in the public domain, which frees the case teacher from the need to obtain the right to make copies. If published within the last twenty years or so, they are usually available as PDF files, thereby facilitating the separation of "background" from "the rest of the story", the removal of "spoilers", and the creation of case materials in the form of electronic books.

A work of official history will usually reflect the views of the organization that sponsored its creation, attempt to present that organization in a favorable light, and minimize (sometimes to the point of total exclusion) information that might embarrass the organization. For the reader who is looking for a balanced and complete account of a particular event, these are disadvantages. For the case teacher, however, these vices can be turned to advantage. After all, the purpose of case materials is not to provide students with a balanced and complete account of the events in question, but to put him in the role of an historical decision-maker who belonged to the same organization that produced the official history.

This is outstanding information Bruce I. Gudmundsson has provided on the importance of knowing our history and using it to develop more effective decision makers. Knowing our policing history is just as important. Policing does not have very much in the form of historical books but it does have lots of information in the form of official after action reviews, United States Department of Justice Reports, and professional journal articles. We should be using our police history much more frequently to develop decision making exercises through experiential learning in an effort to get the most of our education and training.

Be sure to visit The Case Method in Professional Military Education for more thoughts about the use of decision-forcing cases to foster critical thinking, empathy, and other martial virtues.

Stay Oriented!

Fred