Book by William J. Woolley receives national recognition

Creating the Modern Army: Citizen Soldiers and the American Way of War, 1919-1939, a book by Professor Emeritus of History William J. Woolley, has been selected by The Army Historical Foundation as the winner of the 2022 Army Foundation Distinguished Writing Award for Institutional/Functional History.

The book was published in 2022 by the University Press of Kansas. In the book, Woolley says the modern U. S. Army as we know it was largely created in the years between the two world wars. The book details the creation of the main elements of that Army as well as the introduction of mechanized warfare.

“One of the hallmarks of people in the professions such as teaching is that we place great value on the judgement of our work by our professional peers,” Woolley says. “This award was made by a panel of professional military historians who specialize in American military history. They reviewed the books that were considered by publishers to have been the most important works in the field in the past year, and mine was selected by the panel to be the best among them. So, this award is the best form of professional peer recognition that I could have possibly hoped for.”

For Woolley, history has been a lifelong passion. “By the time I was in fourth grade, I was reading everything about history that I could get my hands on,” he says. “This continued through my teenage years, although I considered it only as a hobby since I shared the general perception that all you could do with history is teach. In college, I tried a major in chemistry, which lasted only a semester. I then went on to major in international relations. While I was serving in the Navy after college a former professor suggested that with my passion for history, I should go into college teaching. I realized immediately that he was right.

“So, after my tour in the Navy, I applied to graduate school. Earlier, while I was in college, I had a special interest in Russia and Eastern Europe. This, of course, was at the height of the Cold War. So, in graduate school I specialized in Russian and Eastern European history.”

He came to Ripon in 1969 as an assistant professor of history with a specialization in Eastern European and Russian history and with research interests in modern Polish diplomatic history. While at Ripon, he taught courses in Russian History, Modern European History.

In the late 1970s, he rekindled an earlier interest in military history. He developed his course “War and Society,” reflecting a major new current in military history called the “New Military History” which dealt with the relationship of warfare and military institutions and society rather than with combat.

He then taught American military history for the ROTC department. “Figuring that it might be more valuable for future junior army officers to know about the service they were entering rather than learning why General Lee’s tactics as Gettysburg were wrong, my course was a history of the Army as an organization rather than a history of combat operations.” His book was an outgrowth of this course. Students in the course were assigned papers analyzing documents that Woolley was using in his research and he often found their insights helpful.

Woolley retired from Ripon in 2001.

Creating the Modern Army: Citizen Soldiers and the American Way of War, 1919-1939, is available on

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