For the last three years, I have picked the same team to win the NCAA tournament. I am selecting that same team this year. I expect to have that team as my bracket winner for several more years. Why? I select my team based on a school’s history department.
My bracket selections aren’t based on which history department is better, though. That’s too nebulous of a category to define. Rather, I prefer history departments that have scholars who write in the fields I am interested in: American foreign relations, military history, and the early American republic era. A school also gains if it has a university press that publishes books in those fields.
With low turnover rates among tenured faculty keeping departments stable for the most part, my Final Four selections don’t change much. Most of the teams that usually make it deep into the tournament also have history departments with scholars or university presses or both with which I am familiar. When a matchup doesn’t meet either of those criteria, I’ll base my pick on which department has other fields of study that I would peruse.
How does Virginia win it all?
First and foremost, Melvyn P. Leffler is the Edward Stettinius Professor of History in the department. He wrote A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War. This was the book that captured my interest and led me to study the history of American foreign relations for my master’s degree. The history department at Virginia could offer nothing else of interest and I would still choose the Cavs to win the tournament because of Leffler.
But let’s look at who else is there: Gary W. Gallagher, a renowned scholar of the American Civil War; William I. Hitchcock, author of and 2009 Pulitzer finalist for The Bitter Road to Freedom: A New History of the Liberation of Europe; Stephen A. Schuker, specialist in the European interwar period; J.C.A Stagg, editor of the Papers of James Madison; Alan Taylor, specialist in the American Revolution and early republic periods; Elizabeth Varon, Civil War scholar whose Appomattox: Victory, Defeat and Freedom at the End of the Civil War was either a finalist for or winner of several awards; and Philip Zelikow, a American foreign policy scholar who has served in several governmental roles.
Virginia is also home to the Miller Center of Public Affairs, which covers presidential scholarship and public policy. It is home to the presidential oral history program that dates back to Jimmy Carter.
OK, what about the other Final Four teams?
- Kansas’ appearance in the title game is largely based on the University Press of Kansas, which is located in Lawrence (Kansas State and Wichita State are part of this press, but because of the press’ location, KU is most closely associated with it). Its Modern War Studies is an excellent, wide-ranging series. It also has excellent series on the American presidency and landmark Supreme Court cases. Beth Bailey (war and society), Adrian Lewis (20th Century warfare), and Jennifer L. Weber (American Civil War) provide some cushion from the other two Final Four teams, but KU would safely make it to the final just based on the strength of the academic press.
- North Carolina is similar. It makes it mostly on the strength of its academic press along with Civil War historian Joseph T. Glatthaar and Cold War scholar Klaus Larres.
- Villanova took the final spot because of Marc Gallicchio and his book on the origins of the Cold War, The Cold War Begins in Asia: American East Asian Policy and the Fall of the Japanese Empire.
Any interesting notes about why a team was selected?
- Ohio State would beat North Carolina in the Elite Eight if UNC Press wasn’t as great as it is. If that weren’t the case, being the home of Mark Grimsley, Peter L. Hahn, Mitchell B. Lerner, and David Steigerwald would have given the Buckeyes the edge.
- Arkansas makes it to the Elite Eight based on Randall B. Woods, who has written a biography on J. William Fulbright.
- Texas reaches the Elite Eight with the ubiquitous H.W Brands, Mark Atwood Lawrence, and Jeremi Suri.