Archive | November 2012

A Conferencing We Will Go

Just got word that our panel for the SMH conference next March 14-16 has been accepted. I’ll take the liberty of posting my proposal for the panel (Mark and Margaret: let me know if you want your proposals posted here as well). A fuller schedule of the conference should appear by mid-January. Let’s hope there are several early modern panels.

Panel Abstract: Remembering the War of the Spanish Succession

2013 marks the 300th anniversary of the Peace of Utrecht, a treaty that determined the end state of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). England – “Britain” from its 1707 union with Scotland – was central to the war’s initiation, and remained integral to the Grand Alliance’s struggle against Bourbon France and Spain. Allied arms enjoyed a string of military victories, yet Britain alone essentially ended the war when it abandoned its erstwhile allies in order to negotiate a separate peace with Louis XIV. The Dutch, and later the Empire, were forced to acquiesce to the resulting terms, which re-established a balance of power on the Continent and established the framework for future British growth overseas. In retrospect, it is clear that Britain’s successes in the Spanish Succession facilitated its ascent to great power status. But how did Britons remember the Spanish Succession before their later victories against the French, in 1763 and then again in 1815, cemented their status as a world power? What lessons did they draw from their first major victory on the Continent in over 300 years? This panel will discuss both short term and longer term memories of the war during the 18th century, contributing both to a larger discussion of the rise of Britain as well as the construction of martial memory.

To this end, Margaret Sankey’s paper (‘“It is Plain no comparisons are to be made for my justification”:  The Jacobite ’15 as Epilogue to the War of the Spanish Succession’) analyzes the final direct echo of the Spanish Succession, the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. Despite a change from Stuart to Hanover, the British would fight the ’15 in a strategic context reminiscent of the previous war. Many of the same British military personalities drew upon still-fresh memories of counterinsurgency and island defense, while both Hanoverians and Jacobites sought to enlist recently demobilized British troops in yet another struggle over the succession to the English crown.

Jamel Ostwald’s paper (“Remembering Marlborough after the War of the Spanish Succession”) examines the British memory of their most successful commander of the war, the Duke of Marlborough. Already a controversial figure by the time of his dismissal in 1712, Marlborough’s military career would be the subject of numerous biographies from 1712 into the 1740s. The Georgian Whig ascendancy, and the efforts of his wife Sarah, would guarantee that Marlborough would emerge as one of England’s greatest Captains. Ever since, British memory of the War of the Spanish Succession has revolved around England’s leading role as the arbiter of Europe.

Mark Danley’s paper (“British Strategy During the Seven Years’ War and the Historical Memory of Amphibious Operations during the War of the Spanish Succession”) provides a longer-term view of the war’s legacy, as he analyzes the way in which ‘lessons’ from the Spanish Succession reinforced British strategic thinking. Focusing on the mid-18th century debate over how best to defeat a resurgent France, Danley explores how the British sought to assimilate the mixed lessons of Allied amphibious operations from the Spanish Succession into workable strategy.

Remembering Marlborough after the War of the Spanish Succession (my paper)

Most details of past wars quickly fade from memory, yet battlefield victories of Great Captains live on. The story of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), alone among Louis XIV’s wars, continues to be repeated over the centuries, with almost two dozen histories penned within the past hundred years. The popularity of this war in Anglo-American memory can be attributed to the vigorous campaigns of Britain’s commander, John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough. But the triumphalist account of Marlborough’s’ battlefield victories over a French tyrant was not inevitable. Though widely hailed today, his status as a Great Captain was in doubt even before the Spanish Succession ended. To be sure, hundreds of sermons, poems and pamphlets had praised the Duke for his battlefield victories between 1704 and 1708 – Donauwert, Blenheim, Ramillies and Oudenaarde particularly. Celebrating these defeats of the traditional French foe also served a political purpose, enabling Whig partisans to make political hay from martial glory. Yet political advantage ebbed along with military advantage: the diminishing returns of British battlefield successes from 1708 onward allowed a new Tory administration to come to power in 1710. This ministry launched its own assault against the Duke’s military credentials, and by extension the war. The result was two polarized views of Marlborough as military commander – one portraying him as an English revival of past Great Captains, the other describing him as a money-grubbing mercenary captain seeking to control the Crown from behind the scenes. In the short term the Tory attack on his character took its toll: formerly one of the most powerful men in the country, he was dismissed from his offices at the end of 1711. The Duke was brought up on corruption charges the next year, and forced into exile. His return home coincided with the accession of George I, and was smoothed by a new Whig political ascendancy. Since his health and advanced age prevented him from authoring his own justification of his actions, his military legacy would be determined by others. It would be the tone of his first biographers, encouraged by his widow Sarah, which established his place in the pantheon of Britain’s greatest generals. The military memory of Marlborough had been set.

This paper will analyze Britain’s public discourse on the War of the Spanish Succession, and of the Duke of Marlborough in particular. Specifically, it will trace the evolution of British publications discussing the Duke: starting with a brief summary of the war-time discussion, then focusing on his dismissal in 1712, his return from exile in 1714, to the eulogies and retrospectives precipitated by his death in 1722, and finally to the biographical treatments that helped cement his reputation for future generations of Britons in the 1730s and 1740s. Throughout, the paper will trace the ebb and flow of particular themes in the portrayal of Marlborough as Great Captain: his role as vigorous battle-seeker versus his portrayal as a prudent general; Marlborough as peer of the Great Captains of the Ancient world; Marlborough as the midwife of a revived English courage; as well as the political ascendancy of the Whigs which allowed a pro-Marlborough, pro-Continental interpretation of the Spanish Succession to rule the field for several critical decades after 1712.


To come: a peek behind the curtain that is academic history conferences.

Clausewitzian sacrilege

I posted my latest entry on SMHBLOG, attempting to take Clausewitz down a peg or so.


Things That Annoy Pre-Modern Historians

I never cease to be annoyed at the ignorance of people who should really know better. The latest installment comes from this silly piece on MSNBC: “Medieval books hold surprising fossil record.”

The story summarizes the following article: S. Blair Hedges. “Wormholes record species history in space and time.” Biology Letters 9 (2013). An evolutionary biologist used the dimensions and paths of holes in woodcuts to trace the frequency of different species of beetles over time and space. An interesting use of old books, and a good example of how scientists and historians not only ask different questions about the same object, but also how they go about answering them in very different ways.

The original article is interesting, and the news account doesn’t do an awful job of summarizing the results. As an early modern historian, however, that “medieval” in the MSNBC title really sticks in my craw. Admittedly, the examined books dated from 1462-1899, so a few could be said to fall within the Middle Ages. But since we generally know that earlier books are more rare and thus any sample from that date range will likely be weighted towards the later periods, and since Hedges was kind enough to include a summary of his data in the article, it’s pretty clear that “medieval” is probably the worst summary one could choose:

History needs more of this!

Kudos to the original author of the study, who, from my brief skimming and text search, never actually used the words “medieval” or “Middle Ages” in the study (here). On the other hand, he was precise enough to mention specific centuries and even “Renaissance.”

If this were just a single instance of a historical howler, it wouldn’t merit a post. And yes, periods are fuzzy, but still, shouldn’t a science journalist (or the section editor?) think about how to accurately summarize the study?* (In fact, I just got done drilling this into my students’ heads: a summary of several points needs to be broad enough to incorporate every point in the list, yet not add additional information that isn’t in the original list.) And maybe we could use proper terms that have been around since the 1970s at least, especially in the title of an article, which is the one bit of info that almost everybody will read?

My broader complaint is that, as I’m sure you are all aware, our society is so historically challenged that we just use “medieval” to indicate stuff that’s really old, like from the 1920s or something. But, you’d think that if Wikipedia could get it right, it shouldn’t be that hard for a news site to do some basic research and pay attention to word choice. Of course scientists have been complaining about the inaccuracies of scientific journalism for a few decades, so I guess historians will just have to get in line and take a number.

It is worth noting that the journalist (writing for the Science & Tech section, after all) did bother to pay attention to explain scientific terminology, going out of her way to distinguish “trace fossils” from regular fossilized remains.

Damn you, Two Cultures!

Yet one more factoid to emphasize to my Reformation students next semester I guess.

* Another similar example came from this press release: “ProQuest is participating in a project at Texas A&M that will significantly advance research of the early modern era. In a nutshell, a collective of publishers and software companies are supporting the efforts of scholars and librarians to train OCR technology to read the peculiar fonts of the 14th through 17th centuries. When they’re done, researchers will be able to conduct key word searches of 600-year-old manuscripts, making them as easy to work with as born digital content. Fascinating! Read on to learn more — here or below…”.

Wow! That would change everything. But as was pointed out on the Humanist listserv, they actually meant books, not manuscripts. Still a big breakthrough I hope, but a bit of a letdown after the claim that early modern handwriting could be OCRed.

The Seven Years Wars You Rarely Hear About

A brand new book has just come out that seeks to provide a broad view of the Ancien Régime’s most famous war. Lots of interesting looking articles. And only one chapter deals exclusively with Frederick – we’re making progress!

Congrats Mark and Pat!

Danley, Mark and Pat Speelman, eds. The Seven Years’ War: Global Views. Leiden: Brill, 2012.


In The Seven Years’ War: Global Views, Mark H. Danley, Patrick J. Speelman, and sixteen other contributors reach beyond traditional approaches to illuminate the conflict as world war. An introduction addresses the challenges of discretely defining the war. Chapters examine theaters such as the Carnatic, Bengal, the Philippines, Portugal, Senegal, and the Caribbean. Other chapters treat understudied topics such as the Anglo-Cherokee campaigns, Sweden’s participation, Ottoman neutrality, the Vatican, European perceptions of Cossacks and Kalmyks, the Enlightenment and the war, the choosing of sides in Europe and North America, social and political aspects of French and British military life, operational reconnaissance, and the war’s complex ending in western Germany. A conclusion situates the war as a marker of modernity.

Table of Contents:

Introduction: The “Problem” of the Seven Years’ War …xxiii
Mark H. Danley

1. Frederick the Great and the First ‘World’ War …1
Juergen Luh
2. “To Encourage the Others”: The Philosophes and the War…23
Armstrong Starkey
3. Understanding Native American Alliances …47
Matthew C. Ward
4. The War in the Carnatic …73
G.J. Bryant
5. Religious or Imperial War? Views of the Seven Years’ War from Germany and Rome …107
Johannes Burkhardt
6. Sweden and the Pomeranian War …135
Gunnar Åselius
7. The Ottoman Absence from the Battlefields of the Seven Years’ War …165
Virginia H. Aksan
8. Pride, Prejudice and Prestige: French Officers in North America during the Seven Years’ War …191
Julia Osman
9. Battre l’estrade: Military Reconnaissance in the German Theatre of War …213
Ewa Anklam
10. “Féroces et barbares?” Cossacks, Kalmyks and Russian Irregular Warfare during the Seven Years’ War …243
Marian Füssel
11. The Seven Years’ War in West Africa: The End of Company Rule and the Emergence of the Habitants …263
James Searing
12. The War in the West Indies …293
Richard Harding
13. The Anglo-Cherokee War, 1759–1761 …325
John Oliphant
14. The British Political Press and Military Thought during the Seven Years’ War …359
Mark H. Danley
15. The War in Bengal …399
G.J. Bryant
16. Strategic Illusions and the Iberian War of 1762 …429
Patrick J. Speelman
17. The British Expedition to Manila …461
Nicholas Tracy
18. The End of the Seven Years’ War in Germany …487
Matt Schumann

Conclusion: Father of the Modern Age …519
Patrick J. Speelman

Select Bibliography …537
Index …549

To Tweak or to Chuck, that is the question

Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Access.

There comes a time in every person’s life when they see a fork in the road. Do you stick with the comfortable, the tried-and-true, or do you throw caution to the wind and embark down the path of the Great Unknown? Let me get back to you on that.

In other words, after playing around a bit with ConnectedText over the past two weeks, I’m starting to have misgivings about my headlong rush into personal wikis. I have a tendency to do that with technology: get really excited about a new idea (see the recent post on my Access database), and only later get buyer’s remorse, or else lose interest. With computers especially, it’s easy for me to be swayed by the new features available in a new piece of software – the siren song of What-Might-Be. Thus I dutifully planned out how I would create an even better note-taking system in CT:

Taking notes on note-taking software. Ironic, no?

I had written up a whole long list of the advantages of CT, but after some early frustration with the syntax and structure of CT, I went back and restudied the list of advantages. It turns out most of the ‘advantages’ of CT were actually just different ways of doing things that could be done in Access, but would require some additional work. Considering the amount of work I had already put into just learning (barely) the basics of CT, it made me reconsider whether it wouldn’t be easier to improve Access. I had made some headway with CT, but I realized I had a long long way yet to go.

ConnectedText mockup

As I surveyed what I needed to do in CT, I was reminded of the importance of making sure that a new approach would add to, not just substitute for, features that you currently have in your existing system. And the amount of time required to make the transition, and to redo already-done work, must be taken into consideration as well. Overwhelmed by the enormity of the project I was embarking upon, I realized that I should give my old Access database another chance, to see if I can make a few tweaks to replicate the features that I liked with CT, and to generally fix all the little things that were annoying me. My interest in CT was primarily motivated by two problems with my database: awkward searching, and an inability to see an overview of my data. Could I improve those capabilities in Access rather than convert to an entirely new system?

Upon closer study, a few of the CT wishlist features were already in my database – it’s easy to forget all the features you’ve created over twelve years of fiddling. With a broader perspective offered by my flirtation with CT, I also realized that several new features to speed up my workflow could be added relatively easily to Access – one, for example, cut the number of mouse clicks for a common action from six separate clicks down to one. There are one or two other improvements that will take the annoyance out of the process, which means I’ll be far more likely to do those things in the first place. A few features of CT are still beyond the reach of Access, such as using Python for textual analysis and visualizations, but these are “nice to have” features rather than “must have” features (and I was having problems getting Python to consistently work with CT in any case). As I’ll mention in future posts, many of these text-analysis features are increasingly to be found on various websites for free.

Playing around with CT has also left me with a new-found appreciation of the simplicity and power of having every keyword as a field – all fields are treated the same, and searched the same. The flexibility of every possible keyword or text field being queryable with Access’s simple query interface (or with SQL) is something I didn’t really appreciate until I saw how complicated querying was in CT. If you only have a few things you need to search by, you can choose from the five or so different ways of sorting and searching your info, but if you have a LOT of info to process (like I do), it’s a lot more complicated: some information should be in the name of the ‘page,’ other information is found in an attribute within the page (or demarcated subsections within a page), others in properties of that page, and all of these require different syntax for searching, not to mention whether you want your results to be displayed as a link to that page versus as the actual text content extracted from that page. CT does have some nice features to automate linking dates between pages, which I thought I could use, but that would require creating one page for each day. Just my lil’ ol’ Spanish Succession war lasted ten years, which would mean creating over 4,000 pages (one for each day from 1 January 1701 to 31 December 1712), in addition to the 10,000s of pages for all the notes I already have in my Access database. Way too much work there, just to be able to collect all the sources pertaining to a particular date – something that can be done on-the-fly in an Access query in a few seconds. Plus, doing mathematical manipulations of the data looks like it requires add-in Python code, yet another thing to learn. A CT power user also recommends using yet another program (Auto HotKeys) to automate some coding – yet another thing that you need to learn the syntax for and set up. Admittedly, if you know how to do all these things in CT already, it’s not difficult. But therein lies the rub. The user community for CT is supportive, but creating a sophisticated personal wiki from scratch is daunting, even for someone like myself who is well-versed in database design. When I find myself having to make a cheatsheet (the user manual isn’t very clear) to keep track of all the ways you can search your pages, that’s not a good sign. It’s even worse when I can’t get some of the searches to work.

ConnectedText search cheatsheet

So instead of assuming that CT would do everything I wanted, I decided to spend a little bit of time to make my Access database do what I want. My first significant upgrade took several hours, but it was the kind of effort I was comfortable with – fiddling with minor formatting tweaks in a familiar interface and the occasional code monkeying around with VBA. Though slightly tedious, it was nothing compared to the past couple of weeks reading up on CT and trying to develop a skeletal personal wiki that I still haven’t fully figured out, with only 15% of the features in my Access database.

The result of this labor? An overview of my notes, and a better way to navigate my notes on the sources. So here’s my first attempt:

Notes Switchboard, v 1.0

This will serve as the home screen for the Notes section of my database. The form makes it much easier to find a variety of notes by various fields. It includes (on the left) a list of all the sources I have notes on, and how many notes I have on each source. Most importantly, the right-hand list shows all the individual notes I have on the various sources – before now I only had the single record view from a previous post, which made it impossible to see the forest for the trees. Conveniently, Microsoft also includes an automatic filter feature on the list (as the right-click pop-up menu illustrates), so that I can quickly sort as well as narrow the list down by whichever field I desire – either by the current value in that field, or you can create your own criteria on the spot. You can also sort and filter each column with these same criteria (and sort multiple columns too), so I can filter out all notes but those on source X, and then sort by Author… And then you can double-click on any record and go to the full view. This is only the beginning, but already I’m starting to realize that I haven’t been keeping up with Access’ new features even as I’ve been mindlessly upgrading. Learning what Access could already do makes getting rid of it that much harder. I guess it’s another twelve years of MS Access.

So was my experiment with CT a failure, a colossal waste of time? Some might say so, but in retrospect I like to think of it as a once-every-twelve-years top-level review. It’s reminded me of some of the forgotten features in my existing database, as well as renewed my interest in taking advantage of the features it offers and making little improvements along the way (Kaizen, as the Japanese would say). I wouldn’t recommend the process more than once every twelve years though.

Any suggestions as to which features to include in a pimped-out note-taking system?

What is “Early Modern”?

My post on trying to define early modern warfare is up at the SMHBLOG. Check it out.

Medical Military History

Surely this combination of military and medical must be one of the rarest you’ll find in historiography, but here’s yet another article on the subject.

Neufeld, Matthew. “The Framework of Casualty Care during the Anglo-Dutch Wars.” War in History 19, no. 4 (2012): 427-444.


The framework of casualty care during the Anglo-Dutch Wars has been found severely wanting by historians of naval medicine. This judgement is grounded on the fact that naval hospitals were constructed eventually in the 1750s, and because the hospitalization of sick and hurt mariners conforms better to a Weberian model of state and military modernization. This article argues that the measures for casualty care erected during the Dutch wars adhered to an early modern model of state formation. The framework of care extended the scope and social depth of politically involved people. It failed because the carers were consistently underfunded, not because locally based care was inherently unworkable or insufficiently bureaucratic and centralized.

Take that, historiography!