Archive | March 2013

A moment of silence please…

Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban

(15 May 1633 – 30 March 1707)

Vauban's final resting place (his heart at least)

Vauban’s final resting place at Les Invalides (his heart at least)

OMG! They’re nekkid!

Malplaquet battle

Malplaquet battle

I thought I had exhausted Google’s Image search on Malplaquet, but I apparently missed this image.

DuBosc engraving of Laguerre painting (click to enlarge)

DuBosc engraving of Laguerre painting (click to enlarge)

It’s a bit more interesting because it’s a  later 18C engraving of the original painting (c. 1713). Its higher-resolution and more stark lines provide a bit more detail. Noteworthy tidbits:

  • There’s definitely fighting in them thar’ woods.
  • The naked bodies are apparently being picked over by a woman (note the dress), who is fending off a pistol shot from a cavalier. Now I’m imagining women sneaking around the battlefield, dispatching the wounded to more easily acquire their plunder.
  • I’m assuming a large part of this particular nakedness relates to the composition of the work, as the woman and the bodies (along with the tree behind it) pretty neatly divide the image into two parts. The divider is more clear in Laguerre’s original, and is a bit muddled in DuBosc’s image because of the checker-red standard.
  • DuBosc changed the colors of some of the clothing, even reversing the blue and red on occasion, as with the cavalier shooting at the plunderer. Not sure how to interpret this. Laguerre, for example, has blue coats and red coats working together to lift the logs, whereas DuBosc turns them all red. I’m not sure if Laguerre’s buff coats around the cannon are supposed to be civilians (i.e. wagoneers), or just had different uniforms on…
  • The defender’s flag on the right appears to have changed from some kind of large white cross in Laguerre to small (presumably fleur-de-lis) in DuBosc’s engraving.
  • The officer on the far left (pointing) also apparently has a horse of gold now. Nice. Alternately, it looks like a lot of the white objects were turned yellow in the engraving (yet the clouds and perruques remain white).

So is all this artistic crap random? Thoughts?

Stripped bodies on the battlefield

I’m trying to finish up one of my main projects this semester (the West Point military art textbook), and have come across yet another example of the dead (and wounded) on early modern battlefields.

In a few near-contemporary paintings illustrating field battles during the War of the Spanish Succession (when else), there are several very prominent dead bodies, stripped naked. I want to use one (of the paintings, not the dead bodies) in my chapter, but will undoubtedly need to explain in the caption why those naked bodies are there.

Here’s one of Ramillies:

Ramillies pursuit (Laguerre)

Ramillies pursuit (Laguerre)

Note the dead bodies (at least partially stripped) in the foreground right and the proximate sword and pistol play around the tree. The (presumably dead) body with arms sprawled ‘up’ appears to be totally naked, his privates shielded from view by a conveniently-placed bush. Presumably the other victim’s blue pants link him to one of his still-living compatriots fleeing for his own life, sans shoes or any other accoutrements. I’ve heard of throwing down your weapons and equipment to flee, but that’s a bit much.

Here’s one from Malplaquet, perhaps giving a little more insight:



Notice on the left how a female camp follower is taking the shirt off of a wounded/dead soldier with some combat in the background.  I knew that the wounded/dead were often stripped after the battle; I guess I didn’t appreciate how quickly such wealth was redistributed. The early bird… I guess.

Finally, another from Malplaquet:

Malplaquet battle

Malplaquet battle

This last one is a bit more surprising to me, given how close the dead bodies (center left) are to the fighting. If accurate and not simply an artistic convention, it suggests the possibility that stripping the dead might have happened even in the midst of combat, presumably by soldiers.

Is that likely? Or is there some other explanation? There is clearly some significant fighting going on around it, which makes one think it isn’t the mop up phase of the battle, unless there was a lull and then a return to fighting. Perhaps it’s noteworthy that there appears to be a soldier over the bodies and not a female camp follower? Perhaps the wooded terrain of Malplaquet made it easier for people to avoid the heaviest fighting yet still claim their prizes?

Any thoughts, examples or parallels? If anyone has access to those expensive books on war in early modern art, they might give some guidance too.

Come with me
Into the trees
We’ll lay on the grass
And let the hours pass...

Prisoners and Popery

New publications:

Morieux, Renaud. “French Prisoners of War, Conflicts of Honour, and Social Inversions in England, 1744-1783.” The Historical Journal (2013).
During the wars of the eighteenth century, French prisoners on parole in Britain were placed in a paradoxical situation of captives with privileges. Instead of studying these men as if they dwelt in a world apart, this article focuses on captivity zones as a social laboratory, where people of different status would socialize. These spaces accordingly provide a lens through which to glimpse the repercussions of international conflicts at the level of local communities. The disputes which opposed these captives to the English population, which were the object of letters of complaints sent by the French prisoners to the authorities, shed light on the normative and moral resources which were used by eighteenth-century Englishmen and Frenchmen to legitimize themselves in situations of social conflict. As a configuration characterized by shifting social relations, the parole zone brought together local, national, and international issues, intertwined primarily in the rhetoric of honour. In these incidents, there was no systematic alignment of class and national discourses and actions, while the precise standing of these Frenchmen on the social ladder was constantly challenged and debated. The resulting quarrels therefore reveal a series of social inversions: dominant groups in France were in many respects dominated in England. Rather than being a mere reflection of pre-existing social hierarchies, such micro-incidents reinvented them.

And then there’s:

Glickman, Gabriel. “Christian Reunion, the Anglo-French Alliance and the English Catholic Imagination, 1660-72.” English Historical Review 128, no. 531 (2013): 263-291.
The Anglo-French Treaty of Dover has acquired notoriety due to its secret ‘Catholic’ clauses: the promised conversion of Charles II and the declared goal of reconciliation between the churches of England and Rome. Hitherto, these terms have been examined either as a cynical diplomatic gambit by Charles II or the start of a push towards catholic absolutism by a Stuart court faction. This article aims alternatively to locate the treaty within the ideological traditions of the English Catholic community, concentrating on the circle of priests and scholars connected to Lord Treasurer Thomas Clifford, whose writings incubated the vision of a grand reunion of Christendom. It argues that the new alliance was envisaged as an opportunity not merely to change the English religious settlement but to promote reform within the catholic world, unravelling Tridentine standards of uniformity to accommodate the practices of national churches. The project was designed to respond to trends in international diplomacy, to engage points of intellectual attraction between England and France, and, above all, to raise awareness of shared principles that could unite Gallican Catholicism with the Church of England. Yet the conception of French religion presented by the architects of the treaty was drawn out of encounters with an irenic minority within the Paris convents and seminaries, unrepresentative of the attitudes of church and state. As the treaty became exposed to public scrutiny, the disjuncture between this image and the reality embodied by Louis XIV brought serious implications for those English Catholics who had invested so heavily in the reputation of the kingdom of France.

Abstracts sure are getting long these days. But that’s a good thing.

It’s catching on

I’d like to take credit for it, but that would be sheer speculation.

Great Northern War timeline

Great Northern War timeline

On the original Wikipedia page here. Posted December 2012.

Historian Wanted: Cursive illiterates need not apply?

If several recent pieces in the media are any indication, I’m not the only one to notice how none of our students write their exams in cursive these days. Various commentators have naturally tied this to declining educational standards, specifically abandoning instruction in writing cursive. I’ve never been one to mindlessly insist on doing things the ‘old-fashioned’ way, but the following article from Inside Higher Ed brings it a bit closer to where historians live with the following claim:

One unexpected consequence of cursive’s decline shows up among recent graduate students working in archives. Those unable to write cursively, often experience difficulty reading the script of others. That was difficult enough in past times, but what we are seeing now is quasi-illiteracy in all things cursive. If a document hasn’t been transcribed, students won’t use it. Need I remind humanities professors how few documents have been transcribed?”


Whether this is verifiably true or not I’ll leave to the experimentalists, but I wouldn’t be surprised. In the Comments section, Kate Gladstone adds some historical perspective, going all Renaissance on cursive’s ass.

All of which prompts me to post a related graphic from my Historical Research and Writing class, reminding (undergraduate) students that almost all of the primary sources they will encounter are but the tip of the iceberg, and that they should give some thought as to why those sources and not others were deemed publish-worthy:

Types of Historical Sources

Types of Historical Sources


Welcome to Web 2.0

The idea of Web 2.0 has been around for a dozen years, but until recently, I’ve been firmly stuck in Web 1.5. A decade ago, I hoped to created an online space for EMEMHians to share resources: my website lives on, a historical relic of sorts, but the ‘EMWWeb‘ portion was stillborn. Even less successful was my foray into computerized social networking. Years ago I signed up for a Facebook account, mostly because I heard you could easily download student pictures there. I take a digital photo of each class to match names with faces, but I didn’t give much thought to the types of student photos one might find on Facebook. I don’t think I ever got beyond filling out some basic personal info, and haven’t looked at my account for years.

More recently I was forced to be more social with my online media. Due to the SHAT Archives de Guerre outage, I signed up for its Twitter feed, but am still regretting my experience in the Twitterverse: I continue to get more than one hundred tweets every freakin’ day, from only ten or so institutions that I chose follow. Sorry, but I’ve got better thing to do with my time than learn that somebody really liked the British Library’s Mughal exhibit. Signal-to-noise ratio, people.

But maybe social media isn’t all bad for us anti-social types. I finally bit the bullet and joined last week, primarily because (spoiler alert) I wanted to download a Scrivener template someone had posted. Turns out the site is a nice receptacle to advertise your work and follow other individuals and interest groups. It automatically finds works you (may) have written and asks you to verify your authorship. It also allows you to upload your works for open access, and allows you to download others’. For example, I just found notice of this work:

Campillo, Xavier Rubio, et al. “The development of new infantry tactics during the early eighteenth century: a computer simulation approach to modern military history.” Journal of Simulation advanced online publication, 18 January 2013. [I have no idea how to cite these kinds of online publications].
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.

The site seems to be more popular among European (and global) scholars than American, but that’s fine by me. is, however, a bit scattered, and lacks any sense of controlled vocabulary. I’m not really sure how useful it will be to follow an interest group being followed by 2,000 others (or half a dozen groups each with 1,000+ followers), particularly as you receive updates on all their activities. Can’t we label our interests more precisely than “Military History” or “War Studies” or “European History” or “Early Modern History”?

But if you are feeling young and hip, check it out.