Quick Tech Tip: The Power of Placeholders and Cobbling Things Together on the Cheap

So you just received a whole box full of newish French books on warfare in the age of Louis XIV, but don’t have time to read through them all now, much less copy them for search purposes? Just scan and OCR the Table of Contents and Index of each book into your digitized note-taking system of choice (mine still being DTPO, thank you very much). These will serve as placeholders (a virtual index, if you will) whose keywords will show up in your search-for-a-string results, leading you to the bookshelf and the relevant pages. For even better utility, add some keywords (or group in a topical group) for metadata-powered filtering and sorting.

If you have a little more time, use a batch find/replace (e.g. in MS Word, which you can open DT documents in) and automatically split each Index entry into its own record. For example, if, after you’ve OCRed a book’s Index into a text document, each entry ends with a page number, a period, then a paragraph mark and a new line, just search (in Word) for “.^p” and replace that text string with a unique marker e.g. Replace “.^p” with: “.#####^p”. Save and close the Word document, go back to DT, then run your Explode by Delimiter Applescript (from Devonthink script forum – you can also find similar code in WordVBA online). Enter the delimiter ##### and you’ll get hundreds of records on individual topics that can then be sent (automatically via AutoClassify) to an appropriate topic group. With such automation it’s always a good idea to first skim through the results to make sure there weren’t any errors or snafus. If there are many, delete the resulting files, fix those delimiters in the original doc in Word, and repeat the exploding. Note: with DT you may need to convert the resulting documents from .txt to .rft – you can do it in a single batch though, right after the parsing process when they’re all still selected. And if you keep your provenance data in the Spotlight Comments, open the Info window and type the source info in while you still have all those documents selected.

LD Word replace

This takes several steps and is not particularly elegant, but if you’re dealing with hundreds or thousands of records and don’t want to take the time to learn Regex or Applescript or Python or the next programming-language-of-the-month, it will be well worth your while. I just used this process to import and parse 25,000 records from my old Access database into DTPO, as well as parsing 1600 letters from Marlborough’s Letters & Dispatches that I hadn’t yet entered individually into Access. As “one thought-one note” cultists already know, small chunks make searching and processing much much easier. And it makes a huge difference when using DTPO’s proximity search. Digitize, man!


Statistical Update

No, I haven’t died. But I am still recovering from Service-to-the-Department-and-University hell this semester. I can confirm the sage sayings that echo in the halls of academe: 1) you never will have as much free time as a professor as you will in grad school; and 2) your administrative burden will increase when you get promoted from Assistant to Associate prof.

Anywho, I still have lots of blog posts floating around in my head, but those pesky creatures aren’t easily wrangled – and I’m still way behind on other, more substantial, research commitments. In the meantime, I’ve discovered a formula for perpetual blog hits. Add one part criticism of academic publishers (Publishing with an Academic Press), three parts describing how to use Devonthink (see DT tag), and leaven with an Old Sports-As-War metaphor. That will apparently give you 40 visitors and 70 views every day for weeks, even if you post nothing else. Odd how the Internet works.

File Under: Didn’t get the memo

From a chapter on the early modern laws of war in an 2012 edited collection from Oxford University Press:

By 1700, siege warfare was managed according to a well-established ritual. Sieges were politico-military theatre on a grand scale, open-air stages where states could strut and demonstrate their prowess, huge advertisements of a monarch’s power, and the fate that awaited those who failed to take heed. Kings, queens, courts, and governments attended sieges as spectators – Louis XIV, his ladies and ministers watched the sieges of Lille in 1667 and Mastricht in 1673 – whereas they were not present at battles, unless by accident, and young gentlemen on a grand tour sought to widen their horizons by witnessing a great siege. …. The  ‘siege in form’ achieved its full maturity at the siege of Maastricht in 1673. It was a deadly and sanguinary martial operation conducted according to a script and sequence of actions understood by all participants, similar to the popular court masques: everyone knew the course of events, the timetable, and the dénouement. It was said that the great Vauban could predict the length of a siege, almost to the day.*

* This was relatively simple task because Vauban designed and built many of the fortresses he subsequently captured. [Cites Reginald Bloomfield's 1938 biography of Vauban]


I could go on and on (and on and on) about this – heck, feels like I already have – but if anyone ever wondered why I wrote my Vauban under Siege book, or whether I was creating a straw man, here ya go.

Italian warrior wannabes

New publications, continuing the saga of Italian nobles and their declining predilection for military violence:

Hanlon, Gregory. The Hero of Italy; Odoardo Farnese, Duke of Parma, His Soldiers, and His Subjects in the Thirty Years’ War. Oxford University Press, 2014.
The Hero of Italy examines a salient episode in Italy’s Thirty Years’ War with Spain and France, whereby the young duke Odoardo Farnese of Parma embraced the French alliance, only to experience defeat and occupation after two tumultuous years (1635-1637). Gregory Hanlon stresses the narrative of events unfolding in northern Italy, examining the participation of the little state in these epic European events.

The first chapter describes the constitution of Cardinal Richelieu’s anti-Habsburg alliance and Odoardo’s eagerness to be part of it. A chapter on the Parman professional army, based on an extraordinary collection of company roster-books, sheds light on the identity of over 13,000 individuals, soldier by soldier, the origin and background of their officers, the conditions of their lodgings, and the good state of their equipment. Chapter three follows the first campaign of 1635 alongside French and Savoyard contingents at the failed siege of Valenza, and the logistical difficulties of organizing such large-scale operations. Another chapter examines the financial expedients the duchy adopted to fend off incursions on all its borders in 1636, and how militia contingents on both sides were drawn into the fighting. A final chapter relates the Spanish invasion and occupation which forced duke Odoardo to make a separate peace. The volume includes a detailed assessment of the impact of war on civilians based on parish registers for city and country. The application of the laws of war was largely nullified by widespread starvation, disease and routine sex-selective infanticide. These quantitative analyses, supported by maps and tables, are among the most detailed anywhere in Europe in the era of the Thirty Years’ War.

For a short snippet, there’s always:
Hanlon, Gregory. “An Italian Aristocracy in Arms: The Duke of Parma Goes to War 1635–1637.” European History Quarterly 44, no. 2 (April, 2014): 205–22.
When the Duke of Parma, Odoardo Farnese, summoned his noble subjects to join his army with a view to joining the French alliance against Spain in 1635, he was gratified by a turnout of astonishingly high proportions. Not nearly enough of them had personal experience of modern war, and so the prince appointed military nobles from much of northern Italy to fill the cadres, alongside the French officers whose contingents on loan from Louis XIII made up a third of the infantry. Unlike Spanish nobles, Odoardo’s subjects were even willing to serve in the ranks, while waiting for their advancement. The two brief campaigns turned out to be a disaster for Odoardo and his subjects. War quickly receded from Parma’s horizon, but the experience reveals that Italy’s aristocrats had not yet consigned their weapons to display cases.


They seem to consider men as no more than mice in an air-pump

In the last chapter of my Vauban under Siege book, “Towards a Vigorous Future,” I speculated that even though the French engineer Vauban had systematized the efficient siege attack c. 1700, future generations of commanders would ignore this efficient approach as readily as did commanders in the “age of Vauban.” Fortuitous, then, to find a British staff officer’s description of the siege of San Sebastian in the Peninsula illustrating the British tradition of ignoring siegecraft and relying instead on vigor, regardless of the human costs.

From The Letters and Journals of Sir Maynard Gomm, p. 310:

Before San Sebastian: July 25, 1813.

We attacked the town yesterday morning, and failed. I do not think we have been engaged in so hazardous an attempt since this country became the scene of our adventures, not even at Badajos. I shall not persecute you with the details of this madcap enterprise, but will enclose another scratch for General Benson, which I will beg of you to send him when you have an opportunity. To him, I know, every little detail of this kind will be interesting, although I have my fears that he, with all the assistance of military knowledge, will hardly be able to decipher it. I do not know whether I have ever expressed it to you, but I have always had a dread of being engaged in any of these sieges. We are used to set so much to the hazard, and to dispense with the common precautions which theory would make us believe are necessary to be taken where success is in any degree to be ensured, and which our own repeated experience confirms. Not that in all situations the surest plan of proceeding is the best. Had we, for instance, attended to all the niceties of the art in the attack of Ciudad Rodrigo, or of Badajos, it is possible we should have taken neither. The French armies were collecting for the relief of both, and although they might not have beaten us, they would at least have commanded our attention. I am afraid the success on these occasions, owing to the almost miraculous efforts of our troops, has checked the progress of science among our engineers, and perhaps done more; for it seems to have inspired them with a contempt for as much of it as they had attained. Our soldiers have on all occasions stood fire so well that our artillery have become as summary in their proceedings as our engineers; and, provided they can make a hole in the wall by which we can claw up, they care not about destroying its defences, or facilitating in any degree what is, under the most favourable auspices, the most desperate of all military enterprises. In fact, we have been so called upon hitherto to ensure the success of our sieges by the sacrifice of lives, that our chief engineers and commandants of artillery remind us of what Burke says of the Revolutionary philosophers: The mathematicians, from the dry bones of their diagrams, and the chymists, from the soot of their furnaces, bring with them dispositions which make them more than indifferent to the cause of humanity. They seem to consider men as no more than mice in an air-pump, and calculate upon the expense we shall incur in carrying such and such a post with as much sangfroid as they do upon the supply of ammunition necessary to bring down the wall. We certainly came before this place, supplied, I thought, with all the means necessary for attacking it en règle, and I saw no reason for attacking it otherwise. We have, however, conformed in this instance also to what men of science call the new system, but what plain men call an abuse of the old one.

I have dwelt much longer than I ought to have done upon this subject; but it is at least pardonable in us, who are nearest concerned, to become tedious in passing our censure upon the method of proceeding of those whom we cannot but look upon as the authors of our calamity, which, as it might have been foreseen by them, and was by others, might have been avoided. In a very few minutes five hundred of the flower of the army were cut down: the Royal, which was the pride of the division, the 38th, an excellent corps. The 9th, fortunately, had not time to suffer much; but they lost nearly as many heads as they showed.

Most fortunately the troops behaved as they have always done. Sir Thomas Graham bore testimony to it, and I believe Lord Wellington, who was in the neighbourhood in the course of the afternoon, never expressed a doubt of it. He has too often seen them do what men can do to suppose for a moment that they were wanting in this instance. I do not know what is intended to be done; if we have a sufficiency of military stores remaining, and choose to treat the place with the respect it deserves, we shall certainly take it; if not, I suppose we shall blockade.”

That the sieges in the Peninsular war were desperate and often ill-managed affairs, and that the British engineering corps was subpar, is no surprise. More interesting to me is the fact that many of the dynamics I detailed in my discussion of the War of the Spanish Succession are present here as well: the pressures to accelerate an attack; the difficulties determining whether to attack a specific town with an accelerated or regular attack; the divisions within the engineering corps as to whether an attack dans les formes is even necessary; as well as the way in which previous vigorous successes lulled commanders into believing that patient siegecraft would never be needed. Plus ça change

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

You’ll never know until you ask.

I was going through my DTPO database (loving the Keyboard Maestro macros, BTW), and I came across mention of an intriguing reference in a London Gazette newspaper from 1693. As is too often the case, the secondary source I took the note from failed to quote from the issue in question, making it critical for me to see the original. And while I do have 1,400 issues from the London Gazette, those only cover the years 1701-1712.

Without access to the online Burney newspaper collection, I attempted a Hail Mary and checked Google. Lo and behold, the company responsible for the London Gazette, sometimes known as the British government, is still around, and has actually gone to the expense (err, expence) of providing a screen to search back issues.

What the hell – I thought – I’ll just type in 1693 for the year and see what happens. It’s not like they can take away my Historian’s license if their archives only go back to 1815. And to my utter amazement, this popped up:

London Gazette search screen

London Gazette search screen

London Gazette view

Then this – London Gazette view

It’s a thing of beauty I tells ya.

So download ‘em while ya got ‘em. (If you have a macro app, you could probably even make a macro to navigate through the pages and either download or take screen shots of each.)

One warning though: the search apparently doesn’t realize that the official government calendar back then started the year on March 25 (Lady Day, the day of Jesus’ supposed conception). Regular readers know what I’m talking about. So, for example, I’m looking at an issue dated “Thursday 15 February to Monday 19 February 1704″, which mentions how the garrison of Verrua was still defending itself. The problem, of course, is that the mountaintop fortress of Verrua wasn’t invested until mid-October 1704, and it defended itself into early April of 1705. Or you could check a dozen other factual references in each issue and discover the same. You might even be able to tell those first three months are out-of-order from the issue numbers printed on the first pages – but there are sometimes typos in those. ;(

It must have been confusing for contemporaries as well, given the frequency with which we can find handwritten notations such as the following:

London Gazette, year corrected

London Gazette, year corrected

So caveat emptor!

SMH conference 2014

The SMH released its program for the upcoming annual conference in April. Several panels of note to EMEMHians:

  • Your now-standard panels on Ancient warfare and early American warfare, while Chinese military history continues to go strong.

    Chair: Margaret Sankey, Minnesota State University at Moorhead

    Feeding Mars in the Indian Ocean: Portuguese Logistics in the 16th Century
    Roger Lee de Jesus, University of Coimbra, Portugal

    A Wilderness of Uncertainty: Intelligence during the Battle of Trenton, 1776
    Brice Coates, University of Calgary

    The Promise of War: Military Subsidy Treaties and Payments, 1688-1714
    Thomas Nora, University of Hull


    Chair: Joseph F. Guilmartin, Ohio State University

    “They Will Burn Us within the Blockhouse while They Escape with Their Lives…”: Native American Responses to European Violence in the South East and Beyond
    Matt Jennings, Macon State College

    Death, Savagery, and Survival in Early Modern European Siege Warfare
    Mario Rizzo, University of Pavia

    Terror in Pre Colonial African Warfare
    Tim Stapleton, University of Trent

    Creating a Den for the Yellow Tiger: Accounts of Zhang Xianzhong’s “Cleansing of Sichuan”
    Kenneth M. Swope, University of Southern Mississippi


    Chair: John F. Guilmartin, Ohio State University

    The American Crisis: Perceptions of War, 1775-1777
    Jonathan Romaneski, Ohio State University

    Methodical Preparations and Unnecessary Delay: British and Cherokee Perceptions of Warfare in the 1758 Forbes Campaign
    Jessica Wallance, Ohio State University

    The Exact and True Relation of Bloody Battle: English Perceptions of the Nature of the 30 Years War, 1629-37
    James Tucker, Ohio State University

    A True and Godly Cause: Religion as a Casus Belli in Reformation Europe
    Denice Fett, University of North Florida

  • Panel on ALBION BETWEEN THE WARS, 1748-1756Chair: Kristofer Ray, Austin Peay State UniversityThe Sources of Military Reform: The British Army and the Inter War Years, 1748-1756
    Patrick Speelman, US Merchant Marine Academy

    The Defense of British North America between the Wars, 1748-1754
    Thomas Agostini, South Dakota State University

    Britannia Aggressor?: Posturing for Peace or War in the Atlantic World, 1748-56
    Matt Schumann, Eastern Michigan University

I won’t be attending, so somebody needs to take good notes for me.


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