Dennis E. Showalter (2019)
by John T. Broom
Dr. Dennis E. Showalter passed away on December 30, 2019, in hospice care near his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado, of cancer. Dennis has been a significant figure in military history and, specifically, German military history for 50 years. He began his teaching career at Colorado College in 1969 while still completing his doctoral dissertation at the University of Minnesota under the supervision of Dr. Harold C. Deutsch in 1972. Dennis taught for 47 years for Colorado College, was a visiting professor at the United States Army Military Academy, the United States Air Force Academy, the Marine Corps University, and most recently for Norwich University’s Master’s in Military History Program. Dr. Showalter also was associated with the University of Texas Barsanti Military History Center as an Advising Fellow, advising, and mentoring doctoral students there.
Dennis’s tenure at Colorado College was marked by his popularity with students and his constant frustration of the folks in the registration office. It never mattered to Dennis what the number cap of his class was if students showed up on the first day of class, they were in his class. While having a rough and gruff manner, and sometimes language, his students remember his kindness to them, his willingness to hear them out and to mentor them. He was known to send good undergraduate papers to specialists in the field as a way of promoting his undergraduates but, more importantly, sharing his joy at their accomplishments. Dennis’s office door was always open, though students had to find a way through the maze of books in his office, eager to answer his students’ questions and then just to engage them in conversations about themselves and their interests.
In addition to his incredible teaching record, Dr. Showalter was a prolific writer, working on his 28th book, Modern Warfare, as he passed away. His first Rifles and Railroads, which examined the influence of transportation and technology on the Prussian military during the Wars of Unification, is still a classic in the field. While his writing primarily focused on German military history, his knowledge and influence were felt not only in military history but in history more broadly. Dennis served as a consultant for the Japanese Ministry of Defense as well as the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the United States Training and Doctrine Command, and the DOD Office of Net Assessment.
Dr. Showalter served the field of military history as a founder of the International Society for First World War Studies and by serving as president of the Society for Military History (SMH) for four years from 1997 to 2001. He earned the Birdsall Prize in 1992 from the American Historical Association for his book Tannenberg, the Samuel Eliot Morison Prize in 2005 from SMH for his lifetime contribution to military history. And in 2018, Dr. Showalter was awarded the Pritzker Literature Award by the board of the Pritzker Military Museum and Library in Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Showalter delivered his penultimate lecture on the Battle of the Bulge at the Pritzker Military Museum and Library this past November.
But perhaps Dr. Showalter’s greatest contribution to the field of history, and military history in particular, was his generous willingness to coach and mentor “young” historians he encountered at conferences, lectures and other venues; patiently listening to their ideas, offering useful criticism, suggesting lines of inquiry, answering their questions with the patience of a grandfather. Beyond that, he was supportive of historians who were publishing their work, providing guidance, suggesting contacts within the publishing world, and writing endorsements for books that otherwise might not have attracted attention. Our community will sorely miss him.
Dr. Dennis Showalter is survived by his wife Clara Anne McKenna and two children, Clara Kathleen and John Showalter.
Please share memories, stories and sentiments about Professor Showalter below.