I observed the H-Net list H-War over the past week. According to the H-War web page on H-Net, the discussion list “encourages scholarly discussion of world military history and makes available diverse bibliographical, research and teaching aids.”
The list membership, at least judged by the posts that have been made in the past week, is primarily made up of academic historians at universities or colleges. There are some private individuals that have no academic affiliation or have an affiliation to a military organization such as the US Army. Many of the posters, both academic and non-academic affiliated, are published authors. Just off of the top of my head, based upon the last week of posting (Nov. 21-28) there have been posts by four different authors with major works on military history published in the past few years. In addition to these impressive scholars, there are some graduate students, such as myself, who subscribe to the list. One doctoral candidate at GWU is an editor of H-War.
Over the past week, there has been a variety of topics addressed on H-War. Many of the approximately 117 posts have dealt with esoteric topics of interest to only a select few military historians, such as the use of the beret in field and dress military uniforms. However, there is a significant number, such as the thread discussing the reputation of US Army troops in the European theatre of WW II that could have long ranging implications for future scholarship. The thread is currently discussing an assertion made by one list member that the conduct of US troops at the end of WW II was not as professional as many would believe. This thread branched off a thread earlier in the month discussing the rapes and murders committed by Soviet forces as they advanced on Berlin in 1945. This type of discussion has the potential to spark new research topics by younger historians into subjects that may have been neglected by previous historians of WW II. This thread also has spawned a new query into occupation policies after WW I that could lead to new research on that topic.
One of the advantages of H-War is the ability of subscribers to submit questions to other list members concerning any topic dealing with military history. This creates a sort of collaborative research effort because list members can direct posters to unknown primary or secondary sources, or simply answer a direct question and provide sources to read on that topic. For instance, well regarded historian Al Nofi this past week asked for suggestions on sources dealing with the Central Powers occupation forces and policies in several countries during WW I and Allied occupation policies in the Rhineland and Turkey after the war. This query has led to suggestions on several sources, in several different languages, for Dr. Nofi to consult.
The relative immediacy of any number of helpful suggestions by list members (the suggested books for Dr. Nofi occurred 3 days after his original post and most queries are answered quicker) is a real bonus. This can help a historian researching a specific topic cut through the morass that is a library catalogue search engine and help direct the initial stages of research.
However, as wonderful and helpful as this discussion list is for academic and non-academic historians alike is, I would hesitate to call it a “real” community. The list is specifically designed to discuss military history. Any posts that do not deal specifically with this topic are not forwarded by the list editors for distribution to the members. Thus one does not know anything about the personalities of these list members. I would also hesitate in any suggestion that list members “get to know” each other because of this strictly professional communication.