Witness to History

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Portrait of John Hall

Sarah Morton

Military history professor John Hall spent 15 years on active duty as an infantry officer and strategic planner for the U.S. Army before joining the UW–Madison faculty in 2009. Now he is recording history as it happens.

In a new Pentagon appointment as a historian for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he follows the development of counterterrorism plans and strategy at the highest levels of the U.S. government and then writes the official history of these efforts.

While counterterrorism may be a relatively new subject to document, the armed forces have been recording military happenings in real time since World War II.

“The U.S. military has been very good for a very long time in recognizing the importance of faithfully capturing details of what transpired, as it transpired, so there’s an accurate historical record,” Hall says.

The job’s requirements — among them a PhD in history, top security clearance, and an Army reservist rank of colonel or lieutenant colonel — fit Hall’s background and his dedication to both scholarship and service. After growing up in southeastern Wisconsin, Hall left the state to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In the second half of his military career, he embarked on what he calls “the military version of academia,” earning a master’s degree and PhD in history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before returning to West Point to teach.

At the UW, Hall has taught a variety of classes on military history, including advanced courses on the American military experience since the early 20th century. He also teaches Native American and early American history and has earned several distinguished teaching and writing awards.

Hall’s work at the Pentagon over the next several years will be highly classified, but he plans to bring his experience to the classroom upon his return to campus.

Published in the Winter 2017 issue

Tags: Alumni, history, Military, Public service, Teaching and learning

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