At the end of 2017, I’m able to catch my breath and reflect back on the past year. It was a digital year, among other things.
Most concretely, our History department’s Digital History Lab was finally completed. Two long years of planning and grant-writing, and almost 800 emails later, my quixotic labor of love is (almost) done! A generous anonymous donor gave us enough money to find a room one floor above our offices, and to find the money to stock it with PCs and iMacs, a Surface Hub touch-display, scanners (including a microfilm scanner and a ScannX book scanner), and a Surface Book tablet/laptop to pass around the seminar table and project to the Surface Hub. These tools will allow our undergraduate department to use the lab for a variety of projects: digital-centric history courses and digitally-inflected courses; independent studies and tutoring; faculty projects and internships; as well as public history projects with local museums. Not to mention the Skype-enabled Hub.
In the process of designing and overseeing the lab’s construction, I’ve learned a lot about institutional paranoia and the rules they necessitate, and how the digital humanities’ love of open-source software doesn’t play well with IT’s need for locked-down systems. So the lab had to forego many of the open-source tools used by digital historians and humanists. But I did try to provide the computers in the lab with commercial programs with similar features. The software includes:
- ABBYY FineReader for OCRing texts
- the standard Microsoft Office suite (including Access for relational databases)
- the standard Adobe Creative Suite, including Illustrator
- statistics software (SPSS and Minitab)
- EndNote (because we can’t install Zotero)
- Aeon 2 timeline software (for semi-interactive timelines like this)
- mapping software, including Google Earth Pro, ArcGIS, QGIS, Centennia and Euratlas historical digital maps, and MAPublisher to tweak geospatial data in Illustrator.
- OutWit Hub for web scraping and tagged entity extraction
- online software, such as Google Fusion Tables, Palladio, Voyant, etc.
- the machines also have Python, but I’m not sure about how easy it will be to constantly install/update new libraries and the like, given the school’s security concerns
- the department also has a subscription to Omeka, for our planned public history projects.
And there’s more to come. The anonymous donor made an additional donation which will allow us to replace that retro chalkboard with a 90″ monitor display. As well as purchase a few other software packages, and even a reference book or two. All the tools you need to do some digital history. And build a digital history curriculum for our undergraduate majors.
The DHL will be the centerpiece of our department’s new foray into digital history. Since we’re an undergraduate institution, our goals are modest. Having just taught the first iteration of my Introduction to Digital History course, it’s pretty clear that having undergraduates mess with lots of open-source package installations – much less try to learn a programming language like Python – would’ve been a nightmare (especially since I’m just learning Python myself). So our textbook, Exploring Big Historical Data, didn’t get as much use as I’d initially planned. But we did spend some time looking at the broader picture before we dove into the weeds.
And to make sure the students understood the importance of kaizen and the “There’s gotta be a better way!!!” ethic, I beat them over the head with the automation staircase:
As a result, the students were introduced to, and hopefully even learned how to use at least a few features of, the following tools:
- Adobe Acrobat automation
- Excel (don’t assume today’s college students know how to use computers beyond games and social media)
- MS Access
- OCR (ABBYY FineReader and Adobe Acrobat Pro)
- Regular expressions
- Google Sheets and ezGeocode add-in
- Google Fusion Tables
- Stanford Named Entity Recognition
- OutWit Hub
A digital smorgasbord, I realize, but I tried to give them a sampling of relational databases, text mining, and mapping. Unfortunately, we proved again and again that 60%-80% of every digital project is acquiring and cleaning the data, which meant there wasn’t as much time for analysis as I would’ve liked. And, to boot, several of the tools were extremely limited without purchasing the full version (OutWit Hub), or installing the local server version on your own computer (Stanford NER) – did I mention students had problems installing software on their own machines? But, at the least, the students were exposed to these tools, saw what they can do, and know where to look to explore further, as their interests and needs dictate. I’d call that an Introduction to Digital History.
Fortunately, I was able to play around with a few more sophisticated tools in the process, relying on the Programming Historian, among other resources:
- Vard 2 and GATE (cleaning up OCRed texts)
- MALLET topic modeling
- Gephi network software (Palladio also has some basic network graphing features)
- VOS Viewer for bibliometrics – if only JSTOR/Academic Search Premier/Historical Abstracts had the bibliometric citation datasets that Web of Science does (yes, JSTOR’s Text Analyzer is a start, but still…)
- Edinburgh geoparser
- Python (also with the help of Automating the Boring Stuff with Python).
So now I’ve at least successfully used most of the tools I see digital historians mention, and have established a foundation to build future work upon.
So, what are my resolutions for 2018?
More of the same, but applied toward EMEMH!
More digitalia – adding a few more toys to Eastern’s Digital History Lab, training the other History faculty on some of its tools (Zotero and Omeka, for starters), and practicing a bit more with GIS. And figuring out a way to efficiently clean all those 18C primary source texts I’ve got in PDFs. And, just as mind numbing, creating shapefiles of the boundaries of early modern European states.
More miltaria – I’m teaching my European Warfare, 1337-1815 course again this Spring, and will try to figure out a way to have the students’ projects contribute towards an EMEMH dataset that will eventually go online.
And did I mention a year-long sabbatical in 2018-19, so I can finish the big book of battles, and start the next project, a GIS-driven operational analysis of Louis XIV’s campaigns? Yeehaa!
So here’s to wishing your 2018 might be a bit more digital too.
For those still keeping score, there are a couple of EMEMH publications worth mentioning in the second half of 2017.
In a particular order:
- Ostwald, Jamel. “Louis XIV aimait-il trop la bataille?” In Les dernières guerres de Louis XIV: 1688-1715, edited by Hervé Drévillon, Bertrand Fonck, and Jean-Philippe Cénat, translated by Jean-Pascale Esparceil, 99–120. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2017.
- Boitel, Isaure. “Louis XIV, ennemi de l’Europe chrétienne. Le roi noirci par ses adversaires pendant la guerre de la Ligue d’Augsbourg.” edited by Hervé Drévillon, Bertrand Fonck, and Jean-Philippe Cénat, 253–72. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2017.
- Bouget, Boris. “D’une guerre à l’autre, le double retard de l’infanterie française: un handicap limité (1688-1715).” edited by Hervé Drévillon, Bertrand Fonck, and Jean-Philippe Cénat, 143–56. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2017.
- Cénat, Jean-Philippe. “Les enjeux géostratégiques et stratégiques des différents théâtres d’opérations de la France sous Louis XIV.” edited by Hervé Drévillon, Bertrand Fonck, and Jean-Philippe Cénat, 47–62. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2017.
- Schnakenbourg, Éric. “L’histoire d’un déclin ou les limites de la puissance? La France face aux reconfigurations géopolitiques de l’Europe du Nord au tournant des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles.” edited by Hervé Drévillon, Bertrand Fonck, and Jean-Philippe Cénat, 63–76. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2017.
- Chauviré, Frédéric. “«Le bras droit des armées» : le rôle de la cavalerie dans les dernières guerres de Louis XIV.” edited by Hervé Drévillon, Bertrand Fonck, and Jean-Philippe Cénat, 175–90. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2017.
- Dosquet, Emilie. “«Tout est permis dans la Guerre, mais tout ce qui est permis ne se doit pas faire.» La «désolation du Palatinat» (1688-1689) à l’épreuve du droit de la guerre.” edited by Hervé Drévillon, Bertrand Fonck, and Jean-Philippe Cénat, 229–52. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2017.
- Drévillon, Hervé, and Bertrand Fonck. “Le tournant des dernières guerres de Louis XIV. Histoire et historiographie.” edited by Hervé Drévillon, Bertrand Fonck, and Jean-Philippe Cénat, 7–28. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2017.
- El Hage, Fadi. “Le duc de Vendôme en Italie (1702-1706).” edited by Hervé Drévillon, Bertrand Fonck, and Jean-Philippe Cénat, 191–204. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2017.
- Fonck, Bertrand. “Peindre la guerre, 1688-1715. Réflexions sur la représentation des dernières guerres de Louis XIV.” edited by Hervé Drévillon, Bertrand Fonck, and Jean-Philippe Cénat, 273–94. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2017.
- Hrodej, Philippe. “Le théâtre atlantique durant la seconde partie du règne de Louis XIV: bilan naval et colonial.” edited by Hervé Drévillon, Bertrand Fonck, and Jean-Philippe Cénat, 77–98. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2017.
- Lynn, John. “Réflexions sur Giant of the Grand Siècle. Un ouvrage d’histoire militaire.” edited by Hervé Drévillon, Bertrand Fonck, and Jean-Philippe Cénat, 29–46. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2017.
- Oury, Clément. “Au cœur de la bataille: l’expérience des combats de la guerre de Succession d’Espagne.” edited by Hervé Drévillon, Bertrand Fonck, and Jean-Philippe Cénat, 121–42. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2017.
- Royal, François. “À l’aube de la campagne : l’impact du quartier d’hiver dans la campagne de Flandre de 1712.” edited by Hervé Drévillon, Bertrand Fonck, and Jean-Philippe Cénat, 205–28. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2017.
- Sarmant, Thierry. “1715, un après-guerre.” edited by Hervé Drévillon, Bertrand Fonck, and Jean-Philippe Cénat, 295–302. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2017.
- Vo-Ha, Paul. “Le sort des vaincus pendant les dernières guerres de Louis XIV: les limites de la culture de la reddition honorable.” edited by Hervé Drévillon, Bertrand Fonck, and Jean-Philippe Cénat, 157–74. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2017.
So now I have to add another letter to the abbreviation – Early Modern European Military Digital Historian. We are approaching LGBTQIA territory here – except narrowing instead of broadening.
And who leads the pack in this exciting sub-sub-sub-subfield? For my money, it would be Spanish scholar Xavier Rubio-Campillo, who’s already published an article using GIS for early modern siege reconstruction (Barcelona 1714), which I highlighted here several years back.
Now he’s applying computer modeling to early modern field battle tactics, during the War of the Spanish Succession, ‘natch: “The development of new infantry tactics during the early eighteenth century: a computer simulation approach to modern military history.” To reproduce his abstract from Academia.edu:
Computational models have been extensively used in military operations research, but they are rarely seen in military history studies. The introduction of this technique has potential benefits for the study of past conflicts. This paper presents an agent-based model (ABM) designed to help understand European military tactics during the eighteenth century, in particular during the War of the Spanish Succession. We use a computer simulation to evaluate the main variables that affect infantry performance in the battlefield, according to primary sources. The results show that the choice of a particular firing system was not as important as most historians state. In particular, it cannot be the only explanation for the superiority of Allied armies. The final discussion shows how ABM can be used to interpret historical data, and explores under which conditions the hypotheses generated from the study of primary accounts could be valid.
Link at https://www.academia.edu/2474571/The_development_of_new_infantry_tactics_during_the_early_eighteenth_century_a_computer_simulation_approach_to_modern_military_history?auto=download&campaign=weekly_digest. Though it may require a subscription.
Maybe someday we military historians will collectively set our sights a little higher than tactics (note the military metaphor), and a little lower than grand strategy? Though, admittedly, that’ll require a lot of hard work at the operational level of war. And maybe even a better sense of what we call these different levels.
More samples of maps I made in a few hours. These are drawn from my War of the Spanish Succession siege dataset, derived from the research appearing in my Vauban under Siege book. In that book I created some maps of the Low Countries theater using Adobe Illustrator – some were decent, others not so much. I’ve posted a few other examples of early modern European military maps here, mostly from the Iberian theater, which I discussed in a Spanish-language article I authored (some examples here).
But now, with QGIS in da house, I can make them a lot quicker. So here are a few examples of my entire WSS siege database mapped, with a few mistakes and a few errors, of course. Ideally, maps like this would’ve been in my dissertation, but that would have meant me graduating in late 2003 instead of late 2002.
The process, for those playing at home: I took my Excel spreadsheet listing 116 sieges (I deleted a few fort sieges because I didn’t want to have to research their lengths and locations), added a column identifying the modern country of each place, converted the spreadsheet into a UTF-8 csv file, then used QGIS’s MMQGIS Geocode plugin to get the lat and long coordinates from Google for each place, placing it as a new layer on top of the Natural Earth base map. I then had to change a few of the coordinates in the QGIS attribute table, mostly because either a) I didn’t specify which Castiglione (or Reggio or Aire) was besieged, or I thought it was Haguenau, Germany, when it was actually Haguenau, France. Fortunately, most of these were pretty obvious from looking at the map, given my knowledge of where the campaigns were conducted. You use the Numerical Vertex Edit plugin to edit coordinates – they cannot be edited in the attribute table. And, fortunately, changing the feature on any level updates it on all other layers.
Then I had to make a new calculated field for the siege length values, because they were imported in as a text string field rather than a decimal numerical field (‘3.8’ instead of 3.8). Once the data was cleaned up, I either used rule-based formatting or graduated symbols to display various attributes about the sieges. Now that I know the procedure, it’ll take just a few minutes to make variations of the map. No more calculating circle diameters in Excel and manually placing them on the map!
First, a map showing 116 siege locations during the war, with black circles indicating those sieges where the besiegers managed to capture the fortress (about 85% overall).
Next, the same map (sans the Layers Panel), but with rule-based symbolism where red circles indicate Allied-conducted sieges, and blue circles indicate sieges undertaken by the Bourbons.
Now, the same basic map, but this time we’re using the numerical siege length field to create graduated point symbols, so we can see the relative length of the sieges. I could, of course, define any min-max diameter for the circles, but if they get too large, you lose the smaller sieges.
Of course, if you just want to be goofy, or simulate what my vision will be like in another ten years, you can make a raster heat map, using the Layer Style-Heatmap option, create your own color ramp from transparent to red, and make a smaller radius. That gives you a map that emphasizes regions which saw many sieges:
I turned on the modern political boundaries, which helps distinguish the Iberian vs. Spanish sieges. Digitized early modern boundaries, and other features, will have to wait until sabbatical.
I haven’t offset those siege symbols for towns that were besieged more than once. Thus, for the first two maps, only one symbol is visible. This is particularly germane for Landau near the Rhine, which saw four sieges, but even the third map doesn’t help much, since three of the sieges lasted between 2.3 and 2.8 months and therefore all three have the same-sized point symbol stacked on top of each other. The heat map, however, emphasizes Landau’s four sieges.
That being said, I did change the render oder (Symbol Levels) on map 1 to have the white circles be drawn on top (Layer Order, white = 1, black = 0). I also put a white outline around each black circle for both maps 1 and 3, so you can see when the circles of several proximate, successful sieges overlap each other (for map 3, Layer Order with smallest/shortest circle drawn on top, with largest circle drawn on the bottom).
Most importantly, I haven’t yet figured out how to combine two attributes into one point symbol (e.g. size of circle as length and besieging side as color of the same circle), but you always need to have goals.
But wait, there’s more! There’s probably some way I could split the Allied and Bourbon into separate layers, make a raster heat map for each of those, and then overlay them.
Just spitballin’ here, but you could also calculate a siege index (maybe number of siege-days) and map that, possibly as a raster heat map. If you run the raster heat map on the siege length layer, you get a rasterized version of map 3:
And, of course, the beauty of GIS is that you can combine this data in any way you’d like, combine it with other data, and focus on subsets of the data. Maybe you want a separate map for each campaign year. Throw in field battles, or the amphibious landings. Add in roads, fortresses, logistical centers, and so on. Maybe you want to spatially analyze these features. The world’s your oyster. Mine too.
Three years into my graduate school experience at Ohio State, this student of History went out on a limb and took Geography 580: Cartography. I recall that the professor was a bit of an eccentric tyrant – he’d berate students for chewing gum, and even made one male student take his ball cap off in the classroom. While I enjoyed the subject, the detail was, at times, a bit too much: I ended up getting a B+ in the course because even though I was able to trace a map of Australia into a CAD program via a digitizing tablet and puck, I refused to memorize the details of additive color systems and printing processes (this was 1995, after all). While my interest in mapping Australia’s population evaporated at the end of the semester, I retained the fascination with mapping. So much so that I forged ahead in creating my own maps for research, even as I knew that there was more to mapping than AutoCAD and, later, Adobe Illustrator. Though I will admit to spending several hundreds dollars in order to purchase a royalty-free vector map of Europe.
And now, some twenty-two years later, I’ve finally accomplished at least part of what I’d set out to do those many years ago. After about ten days of intermittently playing around with QGIS (free, open-source Geographical Information System software), I finally have a passable first draft of a map I’ll use for my upcoming Crusades course. Drum roll please:
First I downloaded Natural Earth base-maps. Second step was to create a list of significant towns, look up their coordinates and import them into QGIS, and then set up rule-based formatting to display the major cities in a larger, upper-case font (and a larger, square icon). Next, I scanned and georeferenced one of the maps from Nicolle’s Atlas of the Islamic World, then traced the (approximate) boundaries of Christian and Muslim states as polygons (snapping to adjacent polygons to avoid slivers) while keeping a wide berth of the coasts, before finally clipping the polygon layers to the coastline layer.
Not too bad, though the georeferencing goes awry once we reach the Baltic – but that’s why you only rely on the georeferenced map for the borders, and not the cities or coastlines. The labels need tweaking (both font style and positioning), and of course it lacks all the info expected of a professional map: scale, title, key, etc. But it’s good enough for showing in class (once I add a scale), and, what’s more, it will serve as the basis for tracing territorial changes over the various Crusades.
A more basic base-map that I can use for note taking (in Notability on my new iPad Pro 12.9″) looks like this, with a jaunty little rotation added for good measure:
Practicing with maps of the Crusades this semester will prepare me for even more fun next semester, when I teach my European Warfare, 1337-1815 course again. So I’ll finally be able to combine my crazy timecharts with ‘bespoke’ maps. After that, hopefully, a year-long sabbatical when I’ll be able to trace military operations in Flanders over the course of the War of the Spanish Succession in gory GIS detail. But I’ve gotta pace myself. There’s still a battle book to be written.
Took me long enough.
Since the whole US seems to be aflutter with today’s solar eclipse, I might as well jump on the bandwagon, and introduce an earlier solar eclipse and how it was interpreted. That would be, of course, the eclipse of the Sun King – le Roi Soleil himself, Louis XIV – during his annus horribilis of 1706.
In a way, Louis XIV asked for it. After all, he was the one who choose to dance as the sun god Apollo in ballets at Versailles, and he was the one who bestowed upon himself the moniker of the Sun King. (Even before twitter, it was still a good idea to think about how your brand could be twisted by your opponents.) Appropriately, the Sun King would see his most visible eclipse in the twilight of his reign, during the exhausting War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714).
France’s Sun King saw his military forces eclipsed most spectacularly in 1706. The failure of the Bourbon attempt to recapture Barcelona lead to the occupation of Madrid by mid-year. The 23 May battle of Ramillies allowed Allied forces under the Duke of Marlborough to sweep through the poorly-defended Spanish Netherlands and then conduct a series of successful sieges of Franco-Spanish fortresses along Louis’ northern border. As if these two reversals weren’t humbling enough, the Bourbon siege of Victor Amadeus of Savoy’s Turin capital turned into catastrophe when Prince Eugene of Savoy attacked French defenders in their trenches in early September. Within months, the French were forced to abandon Italy.
And what did early modern Europe make of such sudden and unprecedented reversals of fortune in multiple theaters? Helpfully, the deistic Supreme Being himself prophesized the upcoming eclipse of the Sun King. It just so happened that 12 May of that very year witnessed an actual eclipse of the Sun. The path of totality passed through Montpellier, France, encouraging a local professor of mathematics there to publish his own calculations of the event against empirical observation:
scientists natural philosophers, the events offered more than just an opportunity to improve the astronomical sciences. Contemporaries hardly needed the excuse of astrology, or of Huguenot prophecies, to draw the parallel between a real solar eclipse and a metaphorical Sun King eclipse. With the irrefutable proof of post hoc ergo propter hoc, literal and figurative solar eclipses became intertwined – a Protestant God couldn’t have provided a better PR opportunity, nor could anti-Bourbon powers ask for a better one. The parallel was obvious to all. One letter from Spain, published in the Present State of Europe, noted the connection:
“But what is remarkable, too, according to the course of the Planets there is no wonder in [the victory], is, that this Morning about a quarter past 9 a Clock, when the Enemy’s Army was in full march and Confusion, the Sun was eclipsed for 6 Minutes, so that the Day look’d like Night. Thus the Crown of France, which has the Sun for its Device, loses its Force before Barcelona; and must at last restore to the King and lawful Sovereign of Spain all the Monarchy usurp’d from him.”
Those of a more cynical bent placed more faith in Man than Heavenly constellations, one skeptic noting that on the retreat from Barcelona the French march “was overcast this morning with the darkest eclipse of the sun as almost ever was seen, by which the superstitious here portend the eternal setting of the Bourbon son, but I believe the attendance of the enraged Miguelets [Catalan partisan bands] from the mountains will prove most fatal in their way to Girone, whither we hear they are marched in very great confusion.”
Whether through powers divine or human, the outlook remained dark for Philippe V’s Spanish forces for months afterwards.
Meanwhile, to the north, an English soldier fighting in Marlborough’s Flanders army was unaware of the great events to come, and therefore chronicled more prosaically that “over a great heath there happened a greate eclipse of the sunn wch. begann about 9 o clock in the morning and held till half an hour after 10, vizible unto us and was the strangest and greatest that ever I beheld or could heare of by any souldier or officer amongst us.” Within weeks, the victory of Ramillies would make the eclipse’s meaning for the northern theater clear.
Since war is fought with pens as much as with swords, the eclipse was also enlisted into service in the visual war for hearts and minds. Yet perhaps interpreting visual metaphors isn’t as simple as it might seem. Two examples of how propagandists used the eclipse metaphor will suffice. The first is an English copy and translation of “cuts from beyond the Sea,” illustrating the symbolic eclipse, with Louis presciently commenting to his wife: “The Sun, my Dear, Is now eclips’d, and bodes some Ill, I fear.”
The second, more interesting example, comes from the Dutch,* whose had a long pedigree of mocking the pretensions of that tyrant Louis (see: Romeyn de Hooghe). The top half of the page consists of an image illustrating England’s Queen Anne siting on her throne, surrounded by courtiers and action scenes from the year’s military victories.
(See a version of the entire page here.)
The accompanying text, in both Dutch and French, first situates the event within the growing age of Enlightenment. It starts by noting that:
“Although it seems that we are no longer in the time of miracles, and that in such an Enlightened century as this, we know that everything that occurs on earth results from natural causes, nevertheless people naturally stray into superstition, seeing in the eclipse of the Sun which took place May 12 much similarity to the Eclipse of the grandeur of Louis XIV who take the Sun as his emblem…”
It continues by extending the metaphor: the Sun is being eclipsed by his “sister” the Moon, just as the terrestrial Sun King is eclipsed by his “soeur” Queen Anne:
L’Eclypse qui parut au Ciel l’autre semaine,
Fut aux yeux des Mortels un parlant Phenomene
D’une terrestre Eclypse, un Divin Precurseur
C’est celle de Louis, le Soleil de la France
Qu’aujourd’huy nous voyons tomber en defaillance
Par l’entremise de sa Soeur
But deconstructing the imagery takes a bit more work, which the editor is happy to assist us with, at least to the best of his abilities. Obviously enough, the editor suggests, the lunar eclipse of the sun drives the successive events. “You also see two astrologers who, with the assistance of a telescope, attempt to teach us some kind of new discovery” [Unfortunately, the editor remains silent as to whether a mirror, held by two characters on the opposite side, can serve the same protective purpose as eclipse glasses.] Queen Anne sits on her throne underneath the royal coat of arms adorned with English lions, Irish harp and French fleur-de-lis. She appears to be clipping the wings of the French coq “so that it cannot fly so high and so far from its own home.” What exactly all those courtiers want is admittedly uncertain, presumably something more than just clipping wings. Even less certain is the point of the fleet scene, though it “seems to me to represent those of Admirals Leake and Wassenaar” generically preventing the Comte de Toulouse from ruling the Two Seas. And we know that the combat scene has to represent the battle of Ramillies “because I see the Judoigne village church tower.” After another sonnet on the neutralization of the universal hegemon’s plans, we come to the final frame. What do you see happening with those people in the upper left? “I see,” continues our guide, Madame de Maintenon lecturing her husband (and his court) about the courage, strength, and abilities of his enemies, and of the need to extricate France from its losing war. Which, I suppose, is as good an interpretation of that single-frame snapshot as any.
So what, pray tell, is the lesson for those of us dealing with our own solar eclipse in 2017? Can we hope to interpret our celestial event and predict our own future with any greater certainty than our struggling art critic interpreted his?
My takeaway from the eclipse of August 21, 2017?
* It’s worth noting that the imprint at the bottom claims the print is based on a copy from London (and Jean Mosse), raising the possibility that this Anglo-centric illustration is, in fact, an English (Huguenot-exile-related?) creation being translated for dutcho- and franco-phone audiences, which might explain the [editor’s?] rather curious inclusion of the Dutch admiral Wassenaar alongside the English Leake. Undoubtedly, further research on the source would turn up additional details and context. Boy, History can be complicated.
Seriously though. I’ve known about the concept of ‘regular expressions’ for years, but for some reason I never took the plunge. And now that I have, my mind is absolutely blown away. Remember all those months in grad school (c. 1998-2000) when I was OCRing, proofing and manually parsing thousands of letters into my Access database? Well I sure do.
Twenty years later, I now discover that I could’ve shaved literally months off that work, if only I’d adopted the regex way of manipulating text. I’ll blame it on the fact that “digital humanities” wasn’t even a thing back then – check out Google Ngram Viewer if you don’t believe me.
So let’s start at the beginning. Entry-level text editing is easy enough: you undoubtedly learned long ago that in a text program like Microsoft Word you can find all the dates in a document – say 3/15/1702 and 3/7/1703 and 7/3/1704 – using a wildcard search like 170^#, where ^# is the wildcard for any digit (number). That kind of search will return 1701 and 1702 and 1703… But you’ve also undoubtedly been annoyed when you next learn that you can’t actually modify all those dates, because the wildcard character will be replaced in your basic find-replace with a single character. So, for example, you could easily convert all the forward slashes into periods, because you simply replace every slash with a period. But you can’t turn a variety of dates (text strings, mind you, not actual date data types) from MM/DD/YYYY into YYYY.MM.DD, because you need wildcards to find all the digit variations (3/15/1702, 6/7/1703…), but you can’t keep those values found by wildcards when you try to move them into a different order. In the above example, trying to replace 170^# with 1704 will convert every year with 1704, even if it’s 1701 or 1702. So you can cycle through each year and each month, like I did, but that takes a fair amount of time as the number of texts grow. This inability to do smart find-replace is a crying’ shame, and I’ve gnashed many a tooth over this quandary.
Enter regular expressions, aka regex or grep. I won’t bore you with the basics of regex (there’s a website or two on that), but will simply describe it as a way to search for patterns in text, not just specific characters. Not only can you find patterns in text, but with features called back references and look-aheads/look-backs (collectively: “lookarounds”), you can retain those wildcard characters and manipulate the entire text string without losing the characters found by the wildcards. It’s actually pretty easy: