In a survey of 3 years worth of the Journal of Military History (2007-2009), there was only one explicit reference to a database search. Even this reference was not to a full text key word search, but rather a study of library holdings using WorldCat.
In Kenneth P. Werrell’s article “Across the Yalu: Rules of Engagement and the Communist Air Sanctuary during the Korean War,” (Journal of Military History Vol. 72, No. 2 April 2008) Werrell argues that a study of the literature of the air war reveals both confusion and change over time in the evaluation of violations of the Chinese Air Sanctuary. To support this, he cites a WorldCat search that:
“shows that libraries have over 34,000 copies of the books cited in notes 1 through 34. Of this number, 20 percent tell of numerous violations, 35 percent note occasional or inadvertent violations, and 45 percent do not address the issue or claim there were no violations. Over 60 percent of the books in the first category were written by Hastings and MacDonald. Of the five most widely held books, those in over 2,000 libraries, one is in the first category, two in the second, and two in the third.”
This is the only database search that is explicitly mentioned in the period covered, and is an interesting example in that it is not central to his article, instead merely setting up the historiography he is writing against, and methodologically odd in its focus on the number of copies held versus simply individual titles.
In addition to this single explicit use of a database, there was at least one article that seemed to have made use of an unacknowledged sources. An article in the April 2009 issue of the Journal of Military History cited a single newspaper article in all of its 135 citations (although it cited this article several times). While it is possible that the author scanned through multiple rolls of microfilm before discarding all but this one, but it seems more likely that this article was found through a key word search and used to support his other sources.
Finally, there were a number of articles that made widespread use of digitized web sources outside of database and key word searches. Mark C. Jones, in his article “Experiment at Dundee: The Royal Navy’s 9th Submarine Flotilla and Multinational Naval Cooperation during World War II,” (Journal of Military History Vol. 72, No. 4 October 2008) uses several online sites to provide reference material (for example, he refers readers to http://www.unithistories.com/officers/RN_officersR.html for data on Royal Naval Officers and their assignments). Douglas C. Peifer, in his October 2007 article “The Past in the Present: Passion, Politics, and the Historical Profession and British Pardon Campaign,” goes even further. While he makes no reference to database searches, 21 of Peifer’s 76 citations make reference to digitized sources (with links and accessed dates), including both newspaper articles and government sources.
This limited use of databases, at least explicitly, reflects the continued focus of main stream historians of traditional research methods (with notable exceptions such as Peifer and Jones). It also reflects a relatively low use of newspapers, the most commonly digitized sources, within the field of military history. Finally, there may be, and likely are, additional incidents within the articles survey of the unacknowledged use of databases, as historians largely continue to cite hard copies even when accessing online versions, often through database searches (certainly some of the articles and dissertations cited were accessed through JSTOR, ProQuest, or similar databases).