Elizabeth’s wars

Just finished teaching my Elizabeth I section in Tudor/Stuart England. As usual, it’s hard for students to keep straight all the pertinent historical details when reconstructing a narrative – most of the places, people and events are new to them. The same is true for me as well, since almost every course I teach covers at least two centuries (and usually more than one country), which means I teach hundreds of narrative arcs from one year to the next, and frequently have to jump from England to France to Spain to Germany to Italy and beyond. Last time I taught Tudor/Stuart was 6 years ago, with a lot of other periods, topics and countries in between, so it’s been awhile since I delved into the Tudor details.

Preparing for these lectures, then, I rediscovered that historical narrative is, for me at least, one of the hardest ‘types’ of historical knowledge to remember. You can create broad narratives of various thematic topics by, for example, remembering that the ratio of pike to shot gradually declined over the course of the 17C and then rapidly disappeared by the time of the War of the Spanish Succession. There are very few moving parts, if you will, in such stories. And such thematic developments are also relatively simple to explain: maybe it’s about the gradual increase in the rate of fire and the improved accuracy of the weapons, etc. Of course there are far more complications if you start to explore the details, as Bert Hall’s Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe suggests, or if you start comparing specific countries and theaters, or consider the possibility that the “progress” from pike to musket isn’t necessarily linear or inherently moving from less effective to more. But most people, even historians, tend to remain at the much more generalized level. And there usually isn’t that much variation from year to year, or, if there is, we tend to focus and expect linear progression that smooths out the variations over several centuries. In other words, we’re generally interested in the trend line rather than the specific events in the dot plot. Individual cases will be chosen because they are deemed representative of the larger trend.

Red trend line: pattern Blue dots: specific events

Red trend line: pattern
Blue dots: specific events

But then we’ve got political and diplomatic and military narratives, which are a bit more complicated because they almost always focus on the specific events themselves, rather than the trend line – a lot more data, and a lot more connections between the points. We can certainly generalize from these narratives to create a thematic argument, e.g. one could argue that Elizabeth’s wars were driven (from the English perspective) by a combination of religious conflict, unstable and potentially hostile neighbors, and economics: Catholic internal and foreign plots + English desire to support the Protestant International + instability and foreign influence in Scotland and Ireland + inviting Spanish overseas trade…. That’s relatively simple, and most early modernists are familiar with such an argument, and it’s an important question to discuss. But we really need to have a handle on the narrative of what actually happened as well. It’s quite another matter to remember the order in which specific events occurred, particularly when there are dozens and dozens of events, each of which was precipitated by other events, and which in turn might precipitate other events.

Admittedly, we could keep it really simple: England fought two wars in the 1550s and 1560s against France but lost their last continental foothold of Calais nonetheless; they also had the occasional intervention against faction-riven Scotland, and from the 1560s on sent support to the French Huguenots and Dutch rebels, becoming directly involved in the war against Catholic Spain (fought in the Netherlands and at sea) from 1585 to the end of Elizabeth’s reign, along with more serious intervention in Ireland during the Tyrone rebellion (the original “Nine Years War”). This might be enough for a very general understanding of the period, though it’s a purely descriptive summary of English military involvement.

Yet as most of us who teach know, most historical textbooks (at all levels) tend to focus on what I’ll call event narratives (suggestions for a typology?). Especially if you’re focusing on English history, or use English-authored works. And that’s where it gets complicated. One option is to focus on particular key individuals. Take one example: the role of Mary Queen of Scots in English foreign policy. So you need to know who she was in the context of Anglo-Scottish-French relations: infant daughter of Scottish King James V (who died, possibly of despair, right after the English crushed his forces at the battle of Solway Moss); an infant princess whom Henry VIII tried to coerce into marriage with his son Edward, aka the Rough Wooing, before she was married off to the French prince Francis, thanks to the connections established by the ‘Auld Alliance’ between France and Scotland; a young Scottish-French princess then Queen consort raised at the French Court under the influence of the ultra-Catholic Guises, widowed in 1560 and returned to Scotland, where “her” kingdom had been ruled by her French mother Mary of Guise, but which was now being Calvinized thanks to John Knox et al (Calvinist missionaries who’d learned their theology in Geneva, and would eventually found the Presbyterian church in Scotland); a queen of Scotland who within 6 years would be forced to abdicate to her infant son James VI (raised by Protestant regents) and flee to England, which made things difficult for her cousin Queen Elizabeth, because various Catholics (English and otherwise) hatched plots to eliminate Elizabeth and thus put the next in line, one Mary Queen of Scots, on the English throne, and hopefully reCatholicize England as a result, an outcome Anglicans had feared ever since their last Queen (Mary) married Philip II of Spain and burned a couple hundred Protestants at the stake. Several plots later (one of which saw the defeated rebels flee to Scotland for refuge, which precipitated another English intervention), Elizabeth finally conceded that Mary’s continued existence served as an inevitable center for intrigue, and she was executed. But of course Elizabeth would die without issue, and the now-grown King James VI of Scotland would end up inheriting the English throne as James I of England, leading to a personal union of the two crowns. Any questions?

And that’s just a simplified version of the Scottish-French angle (admittedly leaving out most of the Scottish and French details) for only the first half of Elizabeth’s reign, with only the most proximate causes mentioned and all the juicy bits about murdered husbands and Virgin Queens left out. We should probably include the Cecils and the Dudleys, and we might as well talk about English relations with Ireland and Spain while we’re at it. Damn that web of history!

Fortunately there have been some very good books published on the subject – I’d recommend Paul Hammer’s Elizabeth’s Wars in particular. Such works made it relatively easy to create a reference timeline to track key events. Assuming you are driven to invest the effort needed to create such timelines, that is. Personally, I came quite late to the utility of timelines, since I was always underwhelmed with the boring two columns found in most books, and, frankly, I tended to think more in sweeping thematic arcs. (Probably the opposite of why many history buffs fall in love with the subject.) Perhaps as a result, one of the big lessons I drew from my graduate school experience was that thematic arguments about the Military Revolution and the like were worth little unless you knew the background narrative. Why such practices and technologies evolved the way they did might even have something to do with when, where and how specific countries fought. Such historical minutiae might, for example, explain why a country might make no “progress” in the military art for 50 years if it was, for example, fighting a particular kind of war (say a civil war) in a particular kind of theater. To mention just one specific example, recent research on early modern fortifications offers very local reasons for the uneven adoption of the trace italienne.

I only began creating linear chronologies when I started teaching full-time, but I’d like to think I’ve caught up and even made one or two improvements to the genre. But you can decide for yourself, if you want to compare the examples I post here (and in previous posts) with the historical timelines in Rosenberg & Grafton’s Cartographies of Time.

So here’s the “simple” version, though it could certainly be made simpler.

Elizabeth's wars*

Elizabeth’s wars

Here’s the more complicated version. As you can tell, it’s framed from the English perspective (in the large English column, domestic events to the left and foreign-influenced events), with an indication of when England was involved with various wars (the shaded semi-opaque red areas, with each country its own column), but it also tries to give a general sense of the other wars western Europe was engaged in (the narrow columns on the far left).

Elizabeth's wars in more detail

Elizabeth’s wars in more detail

The above timelines are obviously at the highest, strategic, level. Which means they don’t include any operational details about the wars themselves, other than the occasional mention of a fortress surrendering. That would require a whole separate timechart, or else one in which you drill down or click on links.

My timeline philosophy, then, emphasizes:

  • Efficient layout: use as many of Bertin’s variables as possible.
  • Consistent iconography: see the blog page on my most frequently used Symbols. I try to use orientation and fill to record additional information. Icon symbols replace words, which means there’s more space and you can quickly skim for shapes (battles, plots, deaths…) rather than having to distinguish event words from all the other words.
  • Consistent colors: I use specific colors for each country, and maintain that throughout all the visualizations.
  • Consider creating both a detailed and an abbreviated version of the same timeline – particularly useful for teaching if you want to simplify things for the students.


Sometimes we have no idea what we’re talking about

When not teaching and serving, I’m trying to get some researching done on the side. The small chunk I’ve been working on of late is examining how contemporaries discussed the surrender of the French garrison at the citadel of Tournai in 1709. Reminder to self: this takes forever if you have 100+ accounts to go through (and that’s only for Tournai).

It’s an interesting surrender for numerous reasons which I won’t get into. But if you do bother to read through enough capitulation texts (beyond Tournai as well), dissect discussion of the capitulation process in various contemporary treatises, and peruse discussion of specific surrenders in the participants’ correspondence, in the contemporary newspapers and prints, and in the histories of the war, you start to see some patterns. So when you’ve immersed yourself in the primary accounts, you just have to cringe when you come across something like this, from Archdeacon William Coxe’s 19C multi-volume biography of Marlborough (v2:427):

The Allies “…forced at length the commandant to surrender at discretion. The two generals, respecting the bravery of the garrison, mitigated the hardship of their lot, by permitting them to march out with the honours of war, retaining their swords and baggage, on the condition of leaving behind them their other arms and colours. They were to return to France, and not to serve till an equal number of prisoners, captured from the allies, were restored in exchange. On the 3d of September the gate of the citadel was delivered to the confederates, and on the 5th the garrison was conducted to Condé.”

The problem, if you happened to read an exchange in the comments on a previous post, is that Coxe has unfortunately butchered contemporary categories almost beyond recognition. As I explained in that exchange, contemporaries c. 1700 viewed a garrison’s ultimate fate as one of two broad possibilities. First was the possibility of a successful garrison defense, retaining the fortress and forcing the besiegers to abandon their attacks. A rare beast for the War of the Spanish Succession. More likely, a fortress would be forced to surrender. In this case, the garrison could receive any one of several outcomes:

  1. The garrison could be given an “honorable” surrender (the standard phrasing used), which meant that a variety of symbolic “marks of honor” would be granted the garrison upon its evacuation – things like drums beating, flags flying, &c. Most importantly, the garrison would be allowed to return to action by rejoining their field army.
  2. Alternately, the garrison could be denied their status as free combatants, and taken prisoner. Within this broad imprisoned fate were several important gradations, however. If a garrison was “taken prisoner”, the capitulation might dictate that the garrison be exchanged immediately, or the capitulation might remain mute on this point, which meant that the garrison might instead linger until a later point. Sometimes prisoners might be allowed some of the marks of honor.
  3. Distinct, however from a garrison taken prisoner, was one taken “at discretion”. Hard-pressed defenders taken at discretion still ended up prisoners, it’s true, but taken “at discretion” was the early modern equivalent of unconditional surrender. This was a far more shameful way to be captured, and more dangerous, for their treatment was technically at the discretion of the commander. There was, in other words, no capitulation document that provided written protection for the garrison (or almost never – like I said, these things are complicated). Nevertheless, contemporaries made clear distinctions between defenders taken prisoners and those taken at discretion (unless of course one side wanted to inflate their own honor by blurring the lines – it gets complicated). So while there’s definitely a fair amount of gray, it’s completely confusing for Coxe to say that the garrison was taken at discretion yet they were given the honors of war. It’s possible there may have been some garrison somewhere that received such mixed terms, but I’ve yet to see one, and this certainly wasn’t the case with Tournai. Keeping (only) their swords and baggage was a significant step down from being allowed the standard marks of honor – I don’t think contemporaries even referred to “swords and baggage” as “marks of honor” (though I’d have to check to be sure).
  4. The worst fate of all was to be put to the sword. Defenders that resisted to the bitter end would likely be slaughtered in the breach or in the streets. This fate became increasingly rare as the 17C progressed.

In case you weren’t yet confused with the above categories, I provide my confusing visualization of how this all played out in the Low Countries during the Spanish Succession war (a diagram for my paper presentation created, I should note, while at the Charlotte airport a mere three hours before my presentation):

Siege End States1

So what Coxe has done is give me whiplash. First, contemporaries were quite explicit that Tournai’s garrison was not taken “at discretion” – they earned a slightly more honorable fate than that, though not particularly honorable all the same. Coxe is partially correct when he says they were allowed to march out with “honours of war”, but he muddies the point with his use of the definitive article. “The honors of war” was an oft-used phrase at the time, but being given “the honors of war” while being denied arms and flags would have made little sense to contemporaries. In short, Tournai’s surrender was largely shameful for the garrison: they had defended far more briefly than might be expected given their fortifications, and their initial demands for a truly “honorable” surrender (free evacuation, all the honors of war) was rejected, only for them to abjectly accept the besieger’s harsh conditions within three days. It gets even more confusing (and interesting) when it comes to the garrison’s actual evacuation, but I need to save something for the inevitable book chapter/article. (For readers who care, it looks like the conference organizers may try to publish something off of the World of the Siege conference.)

Yet this leaves us with a problem. Coxe was born in 1748, and therefore lived as an adult through several of Europe’s wars of the late 18C and early 19C, all of which were covered in the British press. So why didn’t he know the difference between prisoners/discretion, and between the various marks of honor? Had these conventions changed by the end of the century? (Just what I need, the suggestion that I have to look at even later discussions of surrender conventions. Ugh.) Or maybe the Archdeacon was a clueless pointy-headed prelate, armchair quarterbacking without an understanding of the conventions of a previous generation? Or was he just being literary and trampling historical understanding in the process?

So I’m not sure what the lesson is, other than to pay closer attention to the language used by contemporaries. But that’s a good lesson to start with.

The World of the Modern Conference

Last weekend I attended an excellent workshop hosted by Duke University’s History department entitled “The World of the Siege” and organized by Anke Fischer-Kattner. It was one of those rare beasts in academia, a two+ day workshop focused around a very specific theme and period/place. The attendance was limited to a couple dozen scholars who presented papers on various aspects of early modern sieges around the world – in fact, a majority dealt with non-European sieges. I include the program in case anyone is interested in the details, and follow it with some general reflections on workshops vs. conferences. In a future post I’ll give my two cents on that whole trace italienne debate. Read More…

Devonthink Usage Scenario – Notecarding an image PDF

My post ideas are usually extremely long and involved, which means I have a few dozen drafts that aren’t finished. So I’ll take a different tack for DT and just include a series of short-ish post on how I’m using DT now, showing a variety of usage scenarios with screen shots. 1100 words isn’t particularly short for a blog, but it’s my blog.

Unfortunately nobody that I know of has come up with a typology of the types of notes one might take, beyond the barebones. So I’m calling this one the RTF-notecard-from-specific-page-of-image-PDF technique. Not quite ‘flying crane’, but I lack the Buddhist monks’ combination of wisdom and careful observation of the natural world. This post largely explains the process that replaces what I described in an earlier post, with thanks to korm on the DT support forum for the Applescript which I then tweaked.

Say you’ve got a PDF of a primary source without text (OCR doesn’t work) in DT. It could be a scanned volume of archival documents, could be an old book.

1. I open the PDF in a separate window, move and resize the window to fill more than half the screen, and zoom in to a comfortable reading level.

2. Start reading.

3. When I come across something that is worth taking note of, I take note of. Specifically, I select the page: either Cmd-A, with the focus in the page (not the thumbnails), or just drag across the page. You don’t need to actually select any text per se, which helps because there isn’t any text in an image-only PDF.

4. Then I invoke the New RTF from Selected Text with URL to PDF macro (Ctl-Opt-Cmd-P for me), as discussed in the aforementioned post. This prompts you to title the new document.

Name it and you have power over it

Name it and you have power over it

I overwrite the default (the name of the original PDF file), and instead use a substantive title, like an executive summary of the point being made, e.g. Tutchin says the French are morons. This popup window is really helpful because it forces you to make a summary. Remember that efficient note taking requires a brief summary, which relieves you from having to reread the same quote (possibly several sentences or even a paragraph) every time you need to figure out what it says. One of the most useful examples is how naming your files by summary makes it much easier to plow through Search results when you’re performing a needle-in-a-haystack search.

Impact of Naming conventions on Search results

Impact of Naming conventions on Search results (from a previous post)

In needle-in-a-haystack searches most notes aren’t what you’re looking for – you need a quick way to discard false hits. In many other instances you’re looking for a specific variation on a theme – you need a quick way to distinguish similar items. Thus, a summary title allows you to quickly see that a specific note isn’t on the right topic; it similarly allows you to quickly find a certain variation on the general theme of French stupidity, for example. Having columns to sort the search results by would also facilitate this.

5. After I’ve named the RTF note and hit Enter, I’m prompted to send it to a particular group

Select group (not tag)

Select group (not tag)

For the purposes of speed I usually just default to the Inbox by pressing Return and then use the Auto-Classify to help me process them (in the Inbox) in a single session. But you could, if you want, find the proper group (not tag however), and then that will be the default group from then on. Usually, though, the same PS will be addressing different topics, which would require navigating my 1000s of groups in that tiny little window. So I go for speed at this phase.

Then the code does more magic. It adds a link from the original PDF to the new RTF note (in the URL field, which is the blue link at the top of the RTF). This allows you to jump back to the original whenever you want. The code also copies the title of the PDF file to the Spotlight Comments of the new RTF field (Bonus material: I use the Spotlight Comments as another place to put the provenance info – that way if I ever need to cite a specific file, I can just select the record in DT’s list pane, Tab to the Spotlight Comments field, Copy the already-selected text and then paste it elsewhere). The code also opens up the new RTF in its own window (which you may need to relocate/resize), and pastes the file name into the content of the RTF file. I do that last step because the AI only works on alphanumeric characters within the file, not the file name or other metadata.

Original and notes side by side

Original and notes side by side

6. Now the blinking cursor is in the RTF, with the original image visible, just waiting for your input. You can make further notes and comments, or transcribe however much of the PS you desire.

7. Then you add additional tags or groups in the Tag bar of the RTF (Ctl-Tab from the content pane). You can also run Auto-Classify (the magic hat) if you want to move it to a different group, or have other suggested groups that you then manually enter in. (Remember that Auto-Classify moves the record to a different group, so don’t use it if you’ve gone to the trouble of already selecting a group in step 5).

8. When you’re all done with this single notecard, close it. Now you’re back to the original PDF where you left off. Continue your reading and repeat the process to your heart’s content.

9. If you send all your RTF notes to the Inbox, you’ll need, at some point, to go to the Inbox and assign the notecards RTFs to groups, either with Auto-Classify or by assigning your own tags. If you manually add tags to files in the Inbox, their file names will turn red (indicating there are aliases – aliasi? – in several groups). You’ll then need to get them out of the Inbox (reduce clutter) by dragging them to the Untagged group you’ve already created, then run the Remove Tags from Selection macro on the selected Untagged files.



All this may sound complicated at first, but it becomes second nature once you’ve done it a few times, and once you understand how Devonthink works in general. The busy work of opening and tagging and such only takes a few seconds per note – certainly no slower than writing a physical notecard.

So I guess we should give up

Another appeal to stop trying to publish your pointless dissertation, at Chronicle of Higher Ed (currently behind a paywall). I suppose if enough university press editors keep saying this, we’ll have to listen.

My old school upbringing (PhD 2002 thank you very much) still urges me to fight it though, particularly as it’s leading to calls that we lower the expectations for a History PhD to only 1-2 “journal articles” over four years. I wrote a decent journal article (IMHO) based off of my master’s thesis, maybe four years spent before the final draft was accepted. Yet I know there’s no way the skills and knowledge required to write a journal article (or two) come anywhere close to what you learn by crafting a dissertation (even a crappy one, I hope), or reshaping a dissertation into a publishable book. A dissertation necessarily takes time, immersing yourself in another culture so you don’t just write a shallow, simplistic account of the past. How many different types of evidence will you have time to analyze? How many different ways will you test your idea? How broad will your conclusion be? Repeat after me: writing 5 journal articles totaling 250 pages is NOT the same as writing a 250-page book.

What kind of subject can you research and write from scratch in that time frame? Not to mention, we probably aren’t really talking about a newly-minted PhD having published a journal article, which would require a year or more of review and revisions after the first draft. So I guess we just mean that they write an article-length work or two that their advisors consider publishable. Of course manuscript reviewers often seem to have their own opinions on that score, but let’s not get bogged down in details.

What about the knock-on effects of such a change? If an advisor can produce 2 PhD students in 8 years instead of one graduate in the same time frame, how does that help the over-saturation of the PhD market? And unless every program shifts to a 4-year/1-2 article program, who’s going to go first and put their grads at risk on the job market? To be frank, I’d really think twice before hiring a job candidate who hadn’t even attempted to write a 200+ page dissertation.

We complain now about too many useless publications – imagine if we had twice as many PhDs all trying to publish their multiple articles. Wouldn’t academic journals be flooded with new manuscript submissions? I personally put several journal article projects on the backburner because I was revising the dissertation. I also know my book, closely hewn from the dissertation granite, is worth far more to my subfield than what I would have produced in article form. YMMV though.

How does this all relate to tenure? Will a few articles now be enough for tenure, if you’re lucky enough to even get a tenure-track position? The AHA better rethink things. Assuming books are still required for tenure, when will a tenure-tracker (teaching and serving) have the time to learn how to research, craft and revise a long work, much much more detailed than they’ve ever written before? Particularly if publishers insist that your dissertation/article is already “published”, so you need to start a new project altogether? That’s an awful lot of project planning for a grad student. Under whose guidance will they perform this herculean task of writing their first ever book? Those who’ve gone from a master’s thesis to PhD dissertation appreciate how much harder the latter is. I wonder how most historians will ever publish a book at all if they haven’t had personalized attention at the graduate level to write a long research project. It can be done of course (ask me how!), but it seems to further divide History between the elites whose programs will probably continue to require a dissertation (and whose Research I schools’ tenure requirements will continue to expect a book), and everybody else who does nothing but teach and publish the occasional article.

I understand the concern about time-to-degree for Ph.D. graduates without jobs – I took 9.3 years after all. But it seems there are other ways to resolve the problem of the over-abundnace of unemployed PhDs. Reduce the size of the grad student pool? Create a separate degree for alt-ac or public history, keeping the full-length PhD program for a select few? Have historical associations vet e-publications? Instead some seem to be suggesting we reshape the entire discipline and its professional formation in a way that conveniently saves graduate programs from dealing with the elephant in the room.

As usual, this is my thinking (rather than researching) place, and I don’t teach graduate students, so I’m probably way off base. And if the discipline wants to define itself according to what the publishing market will allow, I guess we don’t have much of a choice. Seems like a pathetically impoverished discipline, is all.

How honest do we need to keep them?

John Grenier commented on a past post, and I think the topic raised is important enough to be promoted to its own post. Grenier wondered about the historical conventions for citing a primary source that you found through a secondary source. In my previous post I argued that we should avoid a footnote of the form “Vauban quote cited in Guerlac” (“2 quoted in 1″) unless we didn’t bother to look at the original (Vauban) quote. John offered a different interpretation: he’s used that “2 quoted in 1″ formulation to indicate that even though he did check the quote in the original, he found it via a secondary source, so that secondary source should be cited. So who’s correct?

Of course there probably isn’t a correct answer. But maybe a poll will help:

Personally, I take John’s point, but only up to a point. It seems this might be a philosophical disagreement over what purpose a footnote serves. John’s idea seems to be a moderate example of the broader idea of “footnote as research process”, whereas for me a footnote isn’t so much about the process as primarily about indicating the source. The idea that a footnote should indicate more than just the (ultimate) citation seems to have taken a turn for the worse since the arrival of the Internet, though I won’t lay this at John’s door. You can find, for example, some guidebooks that tell students to include the source of the source, e.g. that a student needs to mention the fact that they got a particular journal article from a specific database (JSTOR, EBSCO…). This, to my mind is just dumb. First, this has never been required before – historians have never been expected to indicate which library they got a published work from, nor that they received it through interlibrary loan, nor that it was a copy borrowed from a friend…. That would be pointless. If it’s a unique document in an archive or rare book room, you obviously need to cite the call number of the holding institution. But it doesn’t matter to the reader if the author was looking at the 3rd edition of Bland in the British Library or in the Newberry. They can find a copy of the 3rd edition at the Library of Congress, and the quote will still be on p. 203. (Marginalia is another matter, in which case you do indicate which exact copy you’re looking at.)

Admittedly, the Internet has made it slightly more complicated since you can find a text version of a document as well as a scan of the original. But still it isn’t that difficult. If it’s a text-only version, find a scan of the original, or  else include the website info (because you don’t have the original). But if you’re looking at a photographic reproduction of the original, you don’t need to mention that you got it from ECCO or Google Books, or whether you photocopied it in the library 20 years ago, or looked at a microfilm version of it at the Bibliothèque nationale. Historians have never had to do this in the past, and there’s no reason why we need to clutter up our footnotes with such extraneous information. Now if you want to mention these locations in the Acknowledgments sections, or if the institution insists on a specific citation formulation, that’s another matter.

But back to John’s more specific point. I’d argue the key message for an author to get across to your readers is 1) to say which source you got that information from, and 2) to indicate, in the case of primary source/secondary source, that *you* looked at the original. At the least, I think there needs to be some way for you to indicate to your reader that you did actually look at the original. I don’t think “2 quoted in 1″ tells the reader that – that could just as easily be interpreted to mean that you’re simply noting that the historian you are citing wasn’t the origin of the quote. That’s in fact how I interpret such wording. Not that I bow down to the AHA, but I think they agree with my interpretation (as I mentioned in an earlier post on the topic). A good test might be to look at all those works that cite the same quote over and over – “Marlborough captured every town he besieged” or the “we fight more like foxes than lions” – how do most historians cite them? Can we actually trace them back to the original scholar that realized the quote was important? Google Books, here we come!

Personally, I don’t assume an author is the first scholar to discover a quote. I might be a bit jealous if somebody publishes it before I do, but I don’t assume they were the first to come across it. If promoted to the status of a rule, using “2 quoted in 1″ every time you found a quote/cite in a secondary source would be impossible to follow. It’s assumed that every historian relies heavily on the sources of previous historians, if only because everyone has to start somewhere (we were all grad students once…). For example, I’ve tracked down 95% of all my sources because other historians cited or quoted or mentioned them at some point (either in footnotes, bibliographical guides…). Yet we don’t want “2 quoted in 1″ for every single footnote – I think it’s assumed you’re not exploring virgin territory, and it would choke the notes to death in any case. But if you’re only using a single quote, if it’s the kind of source that you’d never think to look at, or it’s on a topic slightly tangential to your work, and/or you only looked at that single part of the source, then I could see using the “2 quoted in 1″ formulation. Just beware that, when I read something like that, I assume that the author DIDN’T go back to the original. And I wouldn’t assume that you checked the original (even if you had).

It is, of course, a matter of degree. If the single quote you’re using is part of an argument that you are lifting from someone else, it makes more sense to use the “2 quoted in 1″ formulation. That being said, in my own experience I almost never see that convention used by other scholars, making one wonder who exactly deserves the credit in the first place: the originator of the quote-argument pairing who needs to be tracked down, or some ‘plagiarizer’ who just copied it without proper attribution? I’d prefer to avoid giving the credit to author X if I’m not even sure that they didn’t lift it from some other scholar.

Now that I think about it, maybe we should ban the “2 quoted in 1″ formula use for another reason: it encourages us to overgeneralize from a single anecdote? (Depends on the type of historical argument you’re making of course.)

But I can see how this might lead to a slippery slope if you move beyond a single quote. For example, if you find that another author is using the exact same quotes (plural) you’ve used AGAIN AND AGAIN, and advancing the same argument as you made with those same quotes, that’s plagiarism because they haven’t put the pieces together themselves, even if they did add a few new quotes of their own. Not that that has ever happened to me AND to one of my colleagues. Nope, not ever. So if your quote is part of a larger part of your argument, you should indeed cite the secondary author that you’re taking your lead from. If you read a secondary source and it directly talks about the exact subject you are discussing, you need to cite it regardless of whether you thought of it first or not, and regardless of whether you then go to the originals and find the same thing they found.

So am I in the minority regarding how I read “2 quoted in 1″? Is there a different phrasing to indicate you went back to the original, but want to give the secondary author credit? Historians are largely apathetic when it comes to methodology, so I doubt there is a standard convention that everyone follows.

In summary, this is how I see the ethics of scholarly citation and plagiarism:

  • Did you consult the original? If yes, and if it’s a single instance, you can cite the original source. This is particularly legitimate if you bother to explore the original beyond the single quote. Of course if you want to use “2 quoted in 1″, there’s not much harm, though other readers might not interpret it the way you do. The harm comes, however, from just trusting the secondary source attribution.
  • However, if you found a single quote through a secondary source and wouldn’t have known/thought to look there (because it’s outside of your field, or beyond your main focus), or you aren’t able to access/read the original, you should cite the secondary source.
  • That being said, if you came across a single quote during your initial foray into the topic, and are making that topic your focus, I’d argue you don’t need to cite the secondary source. This is a bit vague, but if I’m an expert on Vaubian siegecraft, I’m not going to footnote that I read a quote on Vauban in Chandler back when I was in grad school (I’ll cite him in other places), especially when I’ve done far more research on the topic than he has. Petty? Perhaps – but historians deserve credit when they move the historical debate forward.
  • There are some quotes that become so ubiquitous that I’ll just go back to the original and cite it there, because I know many of the previous authors who quote it found that quote from somebody else, but they didn’t bother to cite that secondary author. This is easiest to tell in broad surveys, often written by scholars whose specialty is in another period/place altogether from whence the quote came.
  • If you use multiple quotes from the same secondary source (even if you’ve checked the original), you must cite the secondary source, since that secondary source clearly understood the importance of the source and passed that appreciation on to you. This is still the case even if you find additional quotes from that primary source that weren’t cited in the other secondary source.
  • If you use more than a couple of quotes from different secondary sources, then you need to use the “2 quoted in 1″ formulation, because you’re essentially just cherry-picking from secondary sources rather than personally grappling with the original documents.
  • If the single quote is an important part (e.g. the crux) of your larger argument, you should probably cite the secondary source, but make it clear that you also consulted the original. I’m not sure if you have to do cite the secondary source precisely where you use the quote, but it should appear in a footnote rather than as a simple entry in the bibliography.
  • If the quote is connected to a larger argument, I’m not sure what’s appropriate. If you’re just adopting another’s view, “2 quoted in 1″ makes sense.
  • If somebody points out a source to you (or gives you a copy) and you personally go and look through it, you can cite the original. It would be nice, though, to say something like “Thanks to Dr. XYZ for pointing me to this source.” I’ve done this, for example, when a friend says “Hey, King William’s Chest has a section on the siege of Charleroi – you can borrow my microfilm.”
  • A further complication is the type of publication: the audience of a more specialized work probably expects you to cite the original, whereas it’s more acceptable in a survey to cite the secondary work. Similarly, you might have to worry about the publisher’s policy on footnote length and conventions generally.

Fundamentally it boils down to the issue of how important the secondary source is for your research: how important is the secondary source to you finding the primary source, and how important is the use of the quote to creating your argument. If a secondary author plays a seminal role in how you fashion your argument, they merit mention. If it’s merely a further example of something you’ve already established, it’s optional, and I tend towards the “no.” And it necessarily requires personal judgment, even idiosyncratic judgments. To give an example: I’m reading a dissertation, and an epigraph at the beginning of a chapter is a wonderful quote for one of the points I’m making in my own work. Yet I’m not going to cite that dissertation (for this quote at least). Why not? Because I generally subscribe to the “if you find the original you can just cite it as a primary source” school of thought. But if specific reasons are required in this case, here they are:

  1. That archive volume is already on my list to go through, so I would have found it anyway.
  2. I will be going through the entire archive volume myself – not just this single letter.
  3. That epigraph is just one more example of the sentiment I’ve already found in dozens of other sources. So perhaps this is uncharitable, but I came up with the interpretation of such quotes before I ever came across this quote. The dissertation author contributed nothing to my interpretation of his quote.
  4. Expanding on my last statement, I don’t want to give extraordinary credit (and that’s what “2 quoted in 1″ is, in my book) for this specific point in my argument if the author doesn’t even appreciate what he has. In this case, the dissertation author doesn’t really use the quote for any purpose, much less to make the point I’m making. The quote is interesting because it quite clearly suggests something important about the period, but the author doesn’t see the obvious conclusion to draw from it. That does not merit a citation.

Possibly petty, but that’s how I roll. Definitely cite to reward original and sound argumentation, as well as skulking in archival holes and corners. But don’t praise people who aren’t curious enough to pay attention to what their sources say.

Not sure if these are totally consistent, so thoughts appreciated.

Again with the historiography

Beginning of the school year again – sigh. This semester I’m teaching more Western Civ and Tudor/Stuart England.

As I write papers, I often find myself wondering how much coverage should be dedicated to the historiography. As I’ve said before, I never really know what the vast unwashed masses of historians think about a particular subject – only what a much smaller subset of them have written. And there is always the disturbing possibility that unpublished historians might apply common sense to a topic, which could easily contradict the published literature. Scientists would argue that even negative results need to be published, though it doesn’t sound like they follow their own advice very often. Thus you often wonder whether you’re wasting your time arguing for something that is “obvious” to the silent majority. I haven’t yet figured out which is worse: that the effort of your labors is greeted with a rebuttal, or with a shrug?

This uncertainty is particularly true with topical questions. It’s easy, for example, to find accounts and explanations of various events, but it’s much harder to find more than a single “in-depth” (definitions vary) analysis of a particular thematic subject, say, the “laws” of Vauban-era siegecraft, or a longitudinal study of a subject (beyond a single war or reign), or most topics in EMEMH for that matter. What’s a scholar to do?

First, I think we need to be a bit more systematic with our historiography. Unfortunately, publishers (in theory at least) don’t really want us to do this. If the Internet is to be believed, some editors see historiographical discussion as a waste of ink; undoubtedly that would be the only thing stopping my future book on Marlburian battle from rocketing up the New York Times Bestsellers list. To seriously analyze a historiography would also require scanning it all in and OCRing it before analyzing the text. Some might construe this as violating copyright. But, as physicists like to joke, let’s start by assuming a spherical cow.

The most common practice seems to be for a historian to summarize the literature in some multiple of a paragraph or page – this has become a veritable ritual in any literature involving the Military Revolution, for example. Summarizing a historiography in your own prose is sometimes necessary, but it is the ultimate in the “Trust-me-I’m-an-expert” game that we academics play. I hate that game.

What else can we do? We could start by including specific quotes from other published historians. Admittedly this is often difficult because we’re a long-winded lot, and a narration of the disputations can get pretty boring: “X said A, Y said not-A, Z says B…”. Not ideal, but we could at least throw in a few key phrases from an author or two. It helps if the historian we’re quoting is actually making an argument, with a clearly-stated thesis.

Perhaps our beloved word cloud could give us a hand, or we could look at which words are highly associated with each other (collocation). Heck, make a collage of all the keywords used to describe a topic. Maybe we need to do some network analysis on citations, like they do in the social/natural sciences – citation analysis, bibliometrics and the like. There are even some software packages that apparently do that. Just do something a bit more systematic.

Another option is to explicitly discuss the rhetoric used by other historians – Keegan’s “rhetoric of battle history” (or my “rhetoric of siege history”), for example. Are there consistent terms used to describe/explain a subject? Are there specific examples/authors/sources that are constantly cited? Are there particular metaphors that historians use when explaining an event or phenomenon? For example, what does it suggest that traditional military historians compare early modern sieges so often to dances, theater, and chess? And do these descriptors and metaphors vary from author to author (or country to country), or change over time?

And then there’s the thorny question of when to stop collecting more historiography. Undoubtedly even the most minutely-focused monograph might pass judgment on all sorts of historical conventional wisdom. Ideally, we have all those secondary sources text-searchable, either in Google Books or in your own database. But I think it’s best to start with certain types of works, those that have the most impact. Thus, we should focus foremost on accessible works. So start by analyzing works that are still in print or have been reissued. Look at works written by prolific authors, e.g. I came to Vaubanian siege warfare via Christopher Duffy’s Russia’s Military Way to the West. (This applies to primary sources as well as secondary.) The most systematic method would be to scan a bunch of notes/bibliographies from other secondary sources and see which titles pop up over and over. (I’ll leave it to others to decide whether that’s a “transformative” use or not.)

We should also look for works that are dedicated to the topic, using the most common synonyms (“laws of war”) and important peoples’ names (Marlborough, Vauban…). And we really need to pay attention to titles that are just begging to be cited by everyone and their brother: The Art of Warfare in the Age of _____. Knowing where to look also matters on the micro level. If you want to know what an author thinks about sieges ‘in the abstract’ for example, look in the art of war sections dedicated to summarizing the subject. You might be surprised at how different their abstract view is from the picture that emerges from the details in their narrative, or from the data in their own appendices.

However we choose to address historiography, we need to give our readers a sense of how many authors we are discussing. Has one solitary historian discussed the topic (and if so, does it get cited a lot?), or is it a topic touched on by most works in the field? If more than a couple of authors are involved, it’s helpful to group them into various schools or positions.  And it wouldn’t hurt to explicitly relate the size of the historiography to its importance: lots of works on topic X presumably signal importance, but does a small number of publications on topic Y indicate the opposite? I’m not so sure. Especially when that topic is widely exclaimed to be of critical importance to the period.

Another possibility is to ‘just ask historians.’ This seems a good idea in theory, but I’m not sure how it would work in practice. Possibly someone will develop a survey to administer to fellow historians, as mentioned in an earlier post – perhaps the Society for Military History should look into sponsoring a survey or two? Though I wonder what we should conclude from the rarity of such polling; that the example mentioned in the earlier post was performed by economic historians is also noteworthy I think. Personally I’m a little daunted by the effort needed to craft a questionnaire, identify and contact the responders, follow up to get a good response rate, and analyze the results. Nevertheless, such a survey would probably be a good measure of ‘public opinion’ – might be interesting to start with the state of the Military Revolution debate. That being said, I’m not really sure how we would deal with the inevitable contradictions between public opinion and what the ‘experts’ have said. What other response is there but to berate the respondents for not keeping up with the literature? Nor does this really answer the question of whether your research should respond to what the experts in your field think, or to what most historians, immersed in their own subfields, think. An interesting possibility, but lots of questions to resolve as well.

Thoughts? Good models to follow?


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