Archive | October 2012

A third post in a single day?!?

Well, Hurricane Sandy has put my cable on the fritz, imperiling my ability to watch the Celtics and the Heat play the NBA season opener tonight, so I might as well add a third post.

More to the point, I thought I’d let everyone know that I have been partially co-opted by The Man, and am now one of five bloggers on the Society for Military History‘s Official Blog. You can find us under the unimaginative name of SMH Blog; it’s also linked in the Blogroll on the right. I think I’ll refer to it as SMHBLOG since the military loves acronyms. My first post there just went up. I’m joined by Brian Sandberg (of Historical Perspectives fame) and several other modern military bloggers, including one of the original military history bloggers, Mark Grimsley (Blog Them out of the Stone Age). They’re already talking about Clausewitz in Nigeria (kinda like “Shakespeare in the Bush” I guess, or Lawrence of Arabia) and Trenchard-as-policeman, so I better get over there and make sure they don’t get too comfortable in their modernity. It’s so passé.

We’re planning on posting ten posts per month with a regular rotation – we’ll discuss all sorts of topics “that showcase or comment upon academic military history.” Since I’ll continue to maintain this blog in its current format, here’s how I conceive of the division of labor between the two:

“Skulking will continue delving into the minutiae of early modern warfare, while my contributions here [i.e. on SMHBLOG] will tend more towards the contextual: discussing broader debates in early modern military historiography and their relevance to military history more generally, hinting at early modern precedents to modern military phenomena, distinguishing early modern practices and mentalities from more recent ones, and generally pestering military historians to remember that war existed before Napoleon and Clausewitz, and that it needs to be understood on its own terms.” [Note to WordPress: can you please not suggest “early modern presidents” when I spell-check “early modern precedents”? Our students have enough spelling issues as it is.]

For SMHBLOG I’ll probably tone down the charming combination of smarm, sarcasm and stridency that I’m sure you’ve all come to love on Skulking. Need to be a bit more academic there for respectability’s sake.  Gotta represent.

So feel free to add SMHBLOG to your RSS feed. Until I get tired of doing it, I’ll mention here when I post there, or when there are any interesting discussions going on there, from an early modern perspective of course. My next post there is scheduled for 9 November, and will summarize how I see the field of EMEMH organized. I think somebody asked that question once in a comment – when does EMEMH start and end? You’ll just have to wait till the 9th to find out what I think.


New publication:

Storrs, Christopher. “The Spanish Risorgimento in the Western Mediterranean and Italy 1707–1748.” European History Quarterly 42, no. 4 (2012): 555-577.


The reign of Philip V of Spain (1700–46) remains one of the most neglected in the history of that country, and in terms of its significance for the rest of Europe. Philip is widely regarded, on the one hand, as little more than the instrument of his wives – above all, Isabel Farnese – and, on the other hand, as a major innovator in Spain. This article seeks to show that Philip’s revanchist aspirations in Italy – and in Africa – after the losses incurred during the War of the Spanish Succession, and which ensured that Spain represented the single greatest threat to peace in Europe between the end of that conflict and the conclusion of the War of the Austrian Succession, were not simply imposed by his spouse. It also suggests that Philip’s ambitions were backward looking, and that in seeking to reconstitute his Habsburg inheritance, Philip drew on traditional institutions, practices and values at least as much as he innovated.

It seems almost single-handedly, Storrs is trying to keep interest in the 17C-18C Mediterranean alive.

The Great Storm of 1703, 2012 edition

Having survived Hurricane Sandy with nothing more damaging than an overnight power outage, I’m reminded of yet another superstorm, the Great Storm of 1703, during the War of the Spanish Succession. Considered the most severe storm in southern British history, it spared no one – even Queen Anne was forced to flee its wrath in a cellar at St. James. (What would’ve happened to the war effort had Anne been killed then? Would the succession have passed to George as smoothly during the war?)

The Great Storm wreaked havoc at sea as well as on land. The Royal Navy’s main battle fleets had little to fear from the combined might of the Franco-Spanish navy: there were no major naval battles during the war as the French generally refused to fight a major engagement after the tactical stalemate (yet strategic loss) at the 1704 battle of Malaga, which saw fifty ships engage on each side. The lack of major combat on the open seas doesn’t, however, mean the Royal Navy didn’t suffer several significant reversals. In addition to the constant harassment of French privateers against English merchant shipping and occasionally their escorts, the Royal Navy suffered thousands of dead in each of two natural disasters – the 1703 Great Storm and the 1707 foundering of Admiral Cloudesley Shovell’s fleet on the Scilly Islands in 1707. Oh, yeah, let’s not forget Walker’s disaster off of Quebec in 1711, drowning close to a thousand more men. Yep, the Royal Navy at its finest. But fortunately for Britain and the Allies, the Indian silver fleet kept coming in, and the French privateers were deflected onto Dutch and neutral shipping as British naval efforts refocused attention on trade protection:

Royal Navy taskings during Spanish Succession, based off Hattendorf, England in the WSS.  Notes: graph not to scale across rows (only within each cell); %sol = % ships of the line.

So I thought I’d look back at English contemporaries’ immediate reaction to their own Great Storm – truth be told, I like their label better than “Sandy”, but I’ve never known a Sandy either.

The Daily Courant, England’s one and only daily at the time, reported a few ships in distress in its issue of November 27, but the first reports of the major disaster unfolding only appeared in newspapers on the 29th. Reports from Yarmouth on the 27th reported a “most dreadful storm last Night, no body knows what Ships are missing…. The Reserve to our great Surprise sunk down this Morning, and all her Men are lost. I cannot as yet give further particulars.” Another report from the same day notes that some houses and chimneys were blown down, and a pacquet-boat had been sunk. A correspondent from “Deale” noted that “we have had so violent a Storm at South West that the like has not been known in these parts in the Memory of Man,” blowing violently from 11 PM till 9 AM. It then listed 70 merchantmen missing and five men-of-war. A London account the next day (still in the 11/29 issue) noted that the “Storm of Wind” had reached London “before 2 a clock and lasted till after 6. It did so much Damage in and about this city, that we cannot undertake to give a full Account of it.” The stories were repeated in successive accounts: names of ships run aground, smaller vessels sent out to rescue their crews where possible, the flotsam of smashed pinks and lighters congregating in the eddies, chimneys and walls blown down, with some unfortunates, including “Lady Penepole Nicholas at Horsley in Sussex,” crushed underneath. (I hope her name really was Penepole and not Penelope – I’d hate for news of my death to speak of Jamal Oswald).

The English Post of 29 November similarly reported of the “blowing in a multitude of Chimnys, Houses, and tops of Houses, whereby many People were kill’d in their beds, and several Wounded: It would be almost endless to enumerate the mischief occasioned thereby in and about this City, as the blowing down of Trees at St. James’s Park, the Inns of Court, Moor-Fields, and divers other Places, abundance being torn up by the Roots, and others of a great bigness broken off in the middle…” Spires and weathercocks blown off the steeples, barges in the Thames staved to pieces, “And no doubt the damage done in the Country was very great, of which we may expect to hear dismal Accounts every day.” Some people were reported to have died of fright in their beds “without having any Wounds or other visible Causes of their Death,” while others managed to escape collapsing buildings just in the nick of time.

But faith springs eternal – “Yet it pleased God, that some Persons were almost miraculously Preserved, particularly two young Men at a Drugsters, near Cheapside, the Chamber in which they lay being broke down by the fall of a Stack of Chimnys from an House adjoining, which, with its weight, instantly broke through 2 Floors more, and carried them down in their Bed asleep to the Shop, and they were taken out from under the Rubble without any considerable harm.” That was awfully nice of God; I wonder what Penepole did to piss Him off? I guess everything happens for a reason…

An early assessment of the damage to the fleet was listed in the 3 December English Post:

Early naval damage report from the Great Storm of 1703

Despite all this damage to ship and shelter, England managed to recover – they kept calm and carried on. Already by early December orders were “issued out for finishing the Men of War on the Stocks, with all possible Expedition. And that several more will be built.” Within a few years England had replaced and exceeded its ship total, allowing it to counteract French privateering and set sail for much greater efforts later in the century.

As for the Great Storm of 2012, the most notable naval loss reported thus far is a replica of the HMS Bounty used in numerous movies. The more things change…

Note-Taking Under Siege!

After a brief diversion to real EMEMH, we now return to my regaling you with stories of my Indiana Jones-esque adventures with notes and quotes. But it gets even more exciting, if you can bear to stand it. For there were actually *two* tiers to my dissertation note-taking. First there were the notes on secondary sources and from primary sources, as described in the previous post. Another type of note was more specific to my research subject. As it became more clear that I was going to focus on the details of siegecraft for my dissertation, I realized that I needed a more systematic system for the sieges in particular, especially when I discovered the various errors in prior datasets. The result, after too much thought, was a template that allowed me to keep track of oodles of details, by source:

Siege form, circa 1997

I have possibly a hundred or so of these, usually several for each siege. This was an improvement in that there was some standardization: the template provided numerous (too many, as it turns out) prompts to look for certain pieces of info in each source. Plus, even though there is a ton of info, spatially it’s always found at the same location on the page: the timetable is always center right, etc.

But of course there are multiple problems that I didn’t consider early on. Comparing across sources (i.e. across multiple sheets of paper) was still a pain, and unfortunately I didn’t always record the exact page number for each factoid (didn’t have room in fact). The second fault was irreversible, at least without going back to the original source, or, as I did on occasion, fudge by citing the footnote as Millner, p. 224ff. The first shortcoming, however, could be rectified: I added more paperwork! Created yet another form in which I could summarize the various sources source siege forms. It looked like this:

Siege summary form, circa 1997

But that turned out to be less than ideal, since I needed to do calculations on the dates, averages for the sizes and casualties, and so on. So I quickly abandoned this summary siege form (which also served the purpose of showing me how many sources I had on each siege) and fearlessly struck out into the digital realm once again. All the siege length data was entered into a complicated Excel workbook, with different tabs for different authors, links across worksheets, graphs, etc. A right mess in fact, although at least it had the ability to calculate and compare sources:

Siege data Excel sheet, circa 1998ish

Much more useful, once I realized that I needed to fix the years since my date calculations were often a day off (something about the 1900 vs. 1904 system I think, plus leap years, plus it originally confusing my month-day for 2002 instead of 1702).

But I couldn’t be fully happy with Excel, just as I couldn’t stick with Word for my text notes. I had already gotten the hang of Access, so this part didn’t take nearly as much time. One form looked like this:

As it turned out, I didn’t actually use this part of the database that much, though I still use the various EventIDs all the time in my keywording.  But, I consoled myself, if I end up not getting a teaching job, maybe I could be a database administrator? Fortunately that hypothetical wasn’t tested. What might have been I suppose…

Hot off the presses!

For those who have been waiting with eager anticipation, it’s officially here – or at least I just got my copies. Karwansaray Press‘ lavish, densely-illustrated edited collection on John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough. You’ve probably heard of the guy, and now you get to hear a lot more about him, but in a European context. Get ’em while they’re hot.

Website here.

Marlborough: Soldier and Diplomat

I haven’t had a chance to read through it yet, but I can personally vouch for at least two of the chapters. And did I mention the lavish full-color illustrations – 400 pages, 140 color photographs, most full-page?

Table of Contents:

  1. Britain in Europe during the Age of Marlborough (Dr. David Onnekink, The Netherlands)
  2. Courtier, Army Officer, Politician and Diplomat. A Biographical sketch of John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough (Prof. John B. Hattendorf, The United States)
  3. John Churchill, Professional Soldiering, and the British Army, c1660-c1760 (Dr. Alan J. Guy, The United Kingdom)
  4. Marlborough and Siege Warfare (Prof. Jamel Ostwald, The United States)
  5. ‘By thes difficultys you may see the great disadvantage a confederat army has’. Marlborough, the Allies, and the Campaigns in the Low Countries, 1702-1706 (Prof. John Stapleton, The United States)
  6. Marlborough and Anthonie Heinsius. Friends, Colleagues, or just working together for the Common Cause? (Dr. Augustus J. Veenendaal, Jr, The Netherlands)
  7. Marlborough as an Enemy (Dr. Clément Oury, France)
  8. ‘The only thing that could save the Empire’. Marlborough, the States General, and the Imperial States: Diplomacy and Military Strategy in the War of the Spanish Succession and the Great Northern War, 1700-1711 (Prof. Bernhard R. Kroener, Germany)
  9. Friendship and Realpolitik. Marlborough and the Habsburg Monarchy (Dr. Michael Hochedlinger, Austria)
  10. The Anglo-Dutch Navies in Marlborough’s Wars (Prof. Jaap R. Bruijn, The Netherlands)
  11. A European general in the English press. The print image of Marlborough in the Stuart realms (Prof. Tony Claydon, The United Kingdom)
  12. ‘The British Caesar’. John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, and the visual arts (Dr. Richard Johns, The United Kingdom)

An Exciting Note-taking Adventure, Bibliography style

Surprise! Bonus coverage.

I didn’t even talk about the bibliographic database I created in my previous post, to replicate the main features of EndNote.  So I’ll keep it simple and just include a couple of screenshots for those curious:

First, the summary view where I can quickly perform searches. I click on the little arrow button on the left to go to a specific record. (You can ignore the fact that I titled it “Secondary Sources” even though it includes primary sources as well – a more accurate description would be published sources.)

Bibliography database – Summary view

Next, a screenshot of a single record in the bib database. All sorts of possibilities here, with keywords galore. Would you expect any less?

Bibliographic database – Individual record view

An Exciting Note-Taking Adventure!

Redundant I realize – how could note-taking not be exciting?

Thus we embark on yet another adventure in the wild-and-woolly underside of historical research. This time we’re hunting in holes and corners for that wily beast, the Note! So pay attention, take good notes, and maybe you’ll learn something along the way.

As I’ve discovered recently, any note-taking system worth its salt needs to fulfill several functions: store information, summarize information, search information, sort information, and site information (just checking to see if you were paying attention). And, since even Ancient Greek philosophers complained about having too much to read, we humans have felt the need to condense that overflowing basket of information down into a more digestible volume – i.e. to take notes. No surprise, then, that a whole variety of systems have been developed over the millennia to meet this need; Ann Blair’s Too Much To Know is a recent fascinating account of the history of note-taking up through the early modern period. A solution popular with 17C academics, and a supplement for the older commonplace book, was to take notes on little slips of paper – a small piece of paper was just large enough to record one piece of information on it, and it could easily be stored (on hooks, in drawers…) and quickly shuffled into a new order, even sorted several ways (first by a keyword, then by date…). Wikipedia credits our favorite Swedish botanist Linnaeus with the invention of the modern variation of these slips of paper, the notecard. By 1900 if not before, scholars everywhere were reading about the utility of notecards, particularly when you add keywords to the margins for even faster sorting. Turn-of-the-century contemporaries were also seeing one useful implementation of them in library card catalogs. So popular was this notecard idea that a few companies even introduced technical advances, befitting a mechanical age, such as an ingenious 1896 edge-notched version of a notecard that allowed one to quickly separate the cards with topic X from all the rest. The cards had prepunched holes along their edges, each hole representing a particular category. You (or cheap labor you hire) notched out those holes for the categories relevant to each card. Then, with a long needle you skewer through the hole of the topic you want to select. Since the cards you are looking for don’t have the ‘top’ of the hole for that category, they fall to the table while the rest dangle from the needle:

An improved 1961 version of the edge notched note card system.
This post has an interesting discussion of edge-notched notecard technology.

In short, the practice of notecards, and before that the idea of using little strips of paper organized on hooks and in little drawers, has been around for centuries.

Yet I don’t recall ever being taught anything about notecards when I was a kid. Admittedly, my earliest note-taking memories aren’t that memorable – probably because I didn’t take good notes. My recollections only date back to high school debate, when we had to carry around a briefcase full of notecards during our debate tournaments. Onto the front of the each 3″x5″ notecard we pasted a cut-out quote from a photocopied book, or else handwritten notes. I don’t even recall what we included beyond those quotes: I don’t remember including any summaries, but I’m sure we had to write a keyword or two somewhere on the margins. I do remember that those who had their act together would develop sheets of prepared arguments that they could just read off of, instead of rifling around in a notecard file for just the right card (time limits being a key part of a debate round). To be a master debater required a long notecard file; I can remember the deflated feeling seeing your opponent wheel into the debate arena with a handcart stacked with several boxes full of notecards. But I have no recollection of any broader or theoretical discussion of the notecard method, or of applying it to any other endeavor. The only other memory of notes in high school was when my mother, a nursing faculty and the proud recipient of EndNote (the year was 1988), asked me to teach her the software so she could keep a bibliography. Since I had no idea of the point of a bibliography at that stage, I wasn’t much help. Come to think of it, high school wasn’t much help at all when it came to note-taking.

Thus the utility of the notecard system managed to pass me by, if I had actually been taught it at all. I abandoned debate in college, and instead muddled my way through school without any particular note-taking system worthy of the name. I don’t recall much about my study process, other than the fact that I copied big chunks of several books on the library photocopies so I could have my own copy. Not much to learn there either.

Grad school – there you need to take good notes! But there too, nobody that I was around, including the profs, talked much about their note-taking system, just that you were supposed to have one that “worked for you.” Some friends used notecards, others used other systems. You could (and I did) take notes in the margins of books, but such annotations are stuck within the covers, not doing much good. With notecards still on the periphery of my consciousness, I did what many of my current students do as a default: read through Source A from the beginning, taking notes on paper as you go. In other words:

Grad School notes, circa 1994ish

Read More…