Archive | June 2012

New bibliographies

Oxford Bibliographies (previously Oxford Bibliographies Online) unleashed its latest slate of annotated bibs, this time in the International Relations category.

Articles of EMEMH note include: The War of the Spanish Succession, and the Peace of Westphalia (1648).

Screenshot of OBO page

There are also a number of more general subjects, such as Battle, Just War Theory, and the Laws of War.

Cannon I have barely seen

Photo of a baby cannon fired during a 2007 Revolutionary war reenactment at the Nathan Hale Homestead.

The cannon was tiny (you can almost make out the kid in the smoke, with fingers in his ears). I assume it wasn’t intended to be a replica of a real cannon, or was it?

Also, anyone know if this is an accurate representation of how much smoke an early modern cannon would give off? I’m not a reenactor and haven’t attended many events, so I don’t know if original gunpowder recipes are actually used, or if reenactors like to add lots of smoke, à la Hollywood explosions…

[EDIT: Since I raised the question, I might as well give you all a better view of the cannon in question:

A one-pounder perhaps?]

Need naval distances?

Just found a cool way to measure naval distances. I’m positive there are reference books out there that list distances from port A to port B, and you could always get out your atlas and some string (or a compass) and navigate yourself. But if you’re in a hurry and are digitally inclined, this website might do the trick:

It uses Google Maps and you just add points on the map and it will keep track of the distance for you. Pretty cool.

My favorite poem about historians

After looking back over my previous post, I figured now was as good a time as any to present the following poem. It has at least a grain of truth, and it nicely dovetails with my blog’s title:

The Lesson for Yesterday

Historians, rather like primitive moles,
Live purposeless lives in particular holes
Which they dig with their noses, or else with their toeses,
(A few have invented small shovels and hoeses).
They’re burrowing blindly in Byzantine tunnels
Constructed like sinuous serpentine funnels;
They’re burrowing busily, back to the past:
A steady regression to nowhere – fast.

From David Hackett Fisher, Historian’s Fallacies, p. 130.

Making mountains out of molehills – it’s what historians do. But just ask William III how important molehills can be.

Early Modern Archaisms

One early modern convention leads to another. How self-perpetuating.

In a previous post I’d described the basic knowledge of early modern handwriting (paleography) that one needs in order to do well in the archives. In an attempt to crowdsource my research in the English archives, I included a photo of a particular word that was giving me fits. Several interpretations were offered, with the most plausible candidate (when measured by letter shapes) seemingly disqualified – it looked like that word (more or less), but that word didn’t make any sense in the context of that sentence. Or did it?

Welcome to the world of archaisms. Read More…

Rhymin’ and Drillin’

Venn, Military & Maritine Discipline (1672), p. 31:
For your experience in this Art of War,
With silence hear what your Instructions are.
Perform your Postures with a manly grace,
Observe your distances, and learn to face
To right, and left about, and as you were,
By Division, Intire and Anguler;
Then to your doublings of your depth and length,
When you perceive your Army wanteth strength:
Inverting Files, converting of your Ranks,
Brings ablest men in Front, or Reer, or Flanks:
Your Counter-marches, you must next perform
(Of dangerous use in fight in field, or storm)
The Chorean and Lacedemonian,
And the faining Macedonian:
Then last of all your motions, learn to wheel,
Which doth conclude this Martial Art to Drill.
Wherein, were all our Trained Bands well skil’d,
They’d leave their Ground to march into the Field;
And not be scar’d and frighted with Alarms,
For want of use in Handling their Arms;
Which Bingham, Hexham, Barriff, Elton, Ward,
And many others too (as I have heard)
Besides my self, who now have written part,
That from us all, you may learn all this Art:
And were I worthy, humbly should advise
Our Lord Lieutenant, and their Deputies,
To charge their Muster-master, when they view
Defaults of Armys, contempt of Persons too,
To see their Arms to be the Persons own,
And not then borrow’d, only to be shown,
And muster in Person, to fight by spell
Against our Foes, or Traytors that rebel:
Of whom our Church, or State, can’t be afraid
With fixed Arms, and ready men well paid;
Which will Restore to England and its Crown
The Subject’s Honour, and their King’s Renown.

Tactical drill broadsheet

And I shot those suckers and I’ll shoot the rest…

Paleography and Mystery Words

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of skulking in archival holes and corners, you’ve no doubt encountered the joy and despair associated with paleography. When I was a kid I wanted to be a paleontologist; little did I know that my future would take me in the slightly-different direction of paleography. Perhaps not as exciting as chasing after a T. Rex (but almost as dusty), being a paleographer means excavating knowledge from handwritten documents slightly younger than fossils. An American history grad student’s first introduction to paleography can be fear-inducing: about to set off on his great European archival adventure, a new professor suddenly introduces him to the concept of difficult handwriting in a class he was auditing. The level of panic only increased when a fellow grad student already across the Pond confirmed the challenge, warning that he had spent several *weeks* in the archives deciphering the handwriting, literally l-e-t-t-e-r by l-e-t-t-e-r, for day after day.

Over the years I’ve researched in numerous archives and therefore gotten pretty good at deciphering the paleography written by French and English hands c. 1700 – enough to impress most HIS 200 undergraduates at least. But paleography varies greatly not only by person, but by place and time as well, so I’ll post what little I’ve learned over the years – undoubtedly serious guides to paleography will discuss these more authoritatively than I can. What follows is a combination of observations and tips: Read More…

Animating Maps

I spent several hours today playing around with animated GIFs. For those who aren’t among the technocenti (circa 1995), an animated GIF is a type of graphic file that allows you to animate its contents. You’ll see a fair number of them online, particularly if you read many blogs with animated cat icons. It’s a poor cousin to the more powerful animations and interactive websites available in Flash, which Steve Jobs declared war against about the time the iPad came out.

I’d dabbled with Flash before, and will again, but I wanted to keep my experimentation simple at first. So here’s my first attempt. I have lots of ideas for the medium-term future, but this will give you a sense of what they look like at their most basic.

Animated map of Allied holdings in Iberia, War of the Spanish Succession

(The blog may require you to click on the image in order to run the animation. Go ahead. I’ll wait.)

I was able to easily export my Adobe Illustrator file into Photoshop and then use its Animation feature. It’s actually a bit more complicated than that, because you need to rethink how you represent your content when you shift from static to animated, and essentially rethink your layering strategy.


  1. Do you find animations like the above effective?
  2. How would you improve it?
  3. Is animating a map like the above worth the effort, or is it better to just do a static map, such as:

    Static Version of Allied-held Territory in Iberia

New book on English & Irish army 1714

Wienand Drenth has just published a snazzy-looking book on the regiments in the English & Irish armies (i.e. the British army minus the Scots) during the War of the Spanish Succession. It includes an introduction and context for British involvement in the war. Most importantly, however, it includes detailed lists of each of the more than 100 regiments that were reduced at the end of the war: when they were raised, their officers, the dates of their colonels, succinct summaries of their service, as well as when they were disbanded and their officers placed on half-pay. Several tables list the regiments involved in discrete British operations, and there are several appendices that lay out regimental precedence and other tidbits. Drawing on various published works, this footnoted and edited republication of the original 1714 list makes a useful reference for anyone seeking to locate these British regiments during the war. If you’re interested in the British army during the Spanish Succession or regimental history more generally, you should definitely check it out.

Check out his blog for more details and info on how to order (limited printing, so act now!).

Drenth, Wienand. A Regimental list of the Half-pay officers for the year 1714 on the English and Irish Establishments. Eindhoven: Drenth Publishing, 2012.

Wienand kindly sent me a copy. See my Reviews page for my review policy.

Mapping Conventions in Early Modern Europe

Having posted a few versions of maps I’ve attempted over the years, I should mention a few issues relating to early modern cartography. I’m far from an expert in the matter, so if you’re interested in the subject there’s a whole field of historical cartography out there – the journal Imago Mundi is the place to go to hear what the experts have to say.

As if early moderns weren’t confused enough keeping track of the multitude of ways they used names and dates, and even how they counted  men, they also had to deal with how to represent 3D space on a scaled-down 2D plane (i.e. paper): maps, in other words. The early modern period saw significant developments, from the late medieval development of maritime navigation charts to European explorers mapping the world, to the increasing precision of maps by the Cassini family in the mid-18C. Read More…