Archive | April 2013

Last week of classes

And that means grading.

But the research projects for the semester are finally concluded, for which I’m thankful.

New posts will be on the way, including a summary of the Performances of Peace conference that I just returned from last week.

And given a particular book review of our Marlborough book that will remain semi-anonymous, this summer must be the summer of destroying Winston Churchill’s biography of the Duke. I didn’t think it was necessary, but apparently it is. Unfortunately I’m too impatient for Max Planck’s constant to take effect: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Maybe I’m tilting at windmills, but then English accounts of the war could use a bit more of the ‘windmill perspective.’

What else is coming up on the blog, you ask?

  • More on note-taking, with Devonthink Pro Office and Scrivener
  • More on battle
  • Martial music
  • Recent publications
  • Playing around with basic textual analysis
  • Random quotes and visualizations

SMHBLOG blog posts will include:

  • Review of a iPad app on the battle of the Bulge
  • The challenge of narrating war-years
  • The Ostwald Review Index
  • Other stuff I can’t remember right now.

But for now, gotta grade.

Google Books crackdown?

Is it just me, or has Google Books been taking down a lot of its pre-1923 works over the past year or so? Works that I’ve easily accessed before in ‘Full view’ (and fortunately downloaded) are now ‘No preview’, and many (particularly 18C English works) now only seem to link to those parasitical companies that republish and sell Google Book scans on Amazon (or maybe they even have a contract with Google).

Admittedly, Google Books’ metadata is still crap and its search results can be eclectic, but it seems there are far fewer useful hits than in the past. Anyone else notice this? Maybe I’m just losing my google-fu…

If this is a real trend, is this monetization in action? The impact of Google’s agreements with publishers? Have people been talking about this already?

In either case, I once again offer this public service announcement: always save online resources to your own drive – you never know when they’ll be disappeared.

Advice for book reviewers

  1. Familiarize yourself with the current market for the book you’re reviewing – say, hypothetically, early modern European military history books. This includes their prices, the cost of publishing works with over 100 full-color illustrations, the intended audience(s), and the possibility that a specific work might intentionally cross genres, and that that’s a good thing.
  2. Mention that the publisher’s website sells the book for the price listed at the top of your review.
  3. If, early on, you criticize a section of a book for “fail[ing] to come to terms with [the subject’s] genius and character,” you might want to unpack that statement.
  4. If you’re going to claim that a work simply repeats old arguments, it’s helpful to a) say where exactly these arguments have been made before, and b) say how the literature has responded to them. Share your expertise.
  5. And if you do claim that a work simply repeats old arguments, it’s probably worth dwelling on what you consider a “surprising” claim within said work.
  6. If you’re not an expert on a specific individual, consider providing evidence or reasoning before dismissing the views of the expert on the topic. Especially if that expert spent 20 years of his life editing and annotating 19 volumes of the individual’s correspondence, and has written the only articles on this individual to appear in print.
  7. Feel free to perfunctorily dismiss arguments with phrases like X “maintains” that, and “here we go again!”, but realize that you may be encouraging your reader to wonder about your own reasoning when assessing their arguments.
  8. Consider whether you want to describe artistic depictions glorifying a Great Captain (ones commissioned by said Great Captain) as “accurately portray[ing] [the subject’s] military greatness.” Maybe mention discussions of how such iconography is constructed.
  9. If you’re going to criticize a 408-page book (with over 100 illustrations, many full-page, as well as self-contained chapters) for being too “dense and detailed,” then you probably shouldn’t recommend a 500-page narrative as an alternative in the next sentence, much less a 2000-page work.
  10. Know your audience. “Scholars” are actually pretty good at dealing with dense books, and non-academics with a passing interest in military history can be voracious readers as well, as the detailed commentary on this blog indicates.
  11. If you’re going to criticize a book for not having a truly “international” perspective, or not discussing “new military history” topics, consider comparing it with every other book on the topic. Possibly even mention some criteria with which to measure that claim.
  12. Finally, if you find yourself recommending an 80-year old work as the best scholarship in the field, consider what that says about the historiography of that topic.

But that’s just how I’d do it.

Soldiering through Text

I figured I might as well add a bit more info to my posts on new books/articles/chapters – mostly because I can, rather than because it necessarily provides a fundamental insight into the work. Starting with our old friend the word cloud:

Defining Soldiers Word cloud
“Defining Soldiers” word cloud

The above cloud was made in, and allows for some customization. [For the record, had a bit more customizability, e.g. displaying the word count beside each word, although it has a text length limit]

Unfortunately, wordle doesn’t do what Google Books does, i.e. provide a list of words that are unique (or at least uncommon) in this source compared to other sources – this would require wordle to have a huge database of documents. And of course Google Books doesn’t include journal content.

If you want to play around with the text a bit more, the free Voyant (formerly the awkwardly-named Voyeur) website provides all sorts of bells and whistles, although it can be a bit buggy at times, especially when you’re trying to use it in the classroom 😦

An example of its features:

Voyant display

Voyant display

As you can see, Voyant gives you a whole bunch of additional info – word clouds (with extremely limited customization), word counts, the original text with chosen words highlighted (“identity” here), the occurrence of each word throughout the work (Word Trends), a KWIC (keywords in context) view of the chosen word, etc. You can also load multiple texts and do comparisons across documents.

One of my other recent software acquisitions (spoiler alert!), Devonthink Pro Office*, provides a few of the same functions, but it allows you to compare any document against all your other documents (a theoretical limit of 300 million words and 200,000 documents per database, I’m told – but you can have multiple databases). I’ll show just a couple screenshots of my far-from-complete system in DTPO. Currently it consists almost exclusively of secondary sources, totaling 14 million words (265,000 unique words), and 7,680 documents.

First, a word count of the article (which only counts words of three characters or more, hence some of the stats are different from Voyant above):

Article word count

Article word count – ‘drawer’ list on right

Then there’s a list of words that this article uses more frequently than other documents in my DTPO database use (mostly on the War of the Spanish Succession thus far) – if that makes any sense:

"Keywords" feature of DTPO

“Keywords” feature of DTPO – lower right popup list

I’m still playing around with how to organize things in DTPO. I’ve been focusing on secondary sources thus far because: 1) it’s helped me the most with my immediate projects, and 2) it’s obvious how I can use DTPO for secondary sources, whereas I still need to give some thought to whether DTPO will be able to replace my Access database or not.

There are lots of other applications for analyzing text sources, but I’ll end with these three for right now. Of course this is just the tip of the digital humanities iceberg.

* Yes, I finally bit the bullet and joined the Apple fan boys, mostly for two pieces of software: Scrivener and Devonthink Pro Office. I absolutely love my MacBook Air BTW (it’s the iPad with keyboard I’d been wanting). I am, however, currently typing on my old PC desktop – will keep both. I’ll post more about my use of them in the future.

Soldiers and Soldiering and Zombies

Lest you’re wondering why I just posted about a War in History issue from January, it’s because I was reminded of it when I received the latest email alert regarding the April issue.

The following article sounds interesting:

Linch, Kevin and Matthew McCormack, “Defining Soldiers: Britain’s Military, c. 1740-1815.” War in History 20, no. 2 (April 2013): 144-159.

This article offers a critique of the methodology of military history. The question of what constitutes a ‘soldier’ is usually taken for granted, but history of Britain’s military between the wars of the 1740s and the end of the Napoleonic Wars suggests that current definitions are inadequate. By focusing on the themes of language, law and citizenship, life cycles, masculinity, and collective identity, this article proposes new ways of thinking about ‘the soldier’. In so doing, it suggests that military historians should rethink the relationship between the military and society, and engage further with the methodologies of social and cultural history

A standard part of my research process is to google any scholars I’m not familiar with after they appear on my radar screen. Doing so with Kevin Linch resulting in the following website, which may be of interest:

Soldiers and Soldiering in Britain, 1750-1815

Courage and Cowardice and Zombies

In case anybody dabbles in ancient, medieval, revolutionary, or modern military history, the January 2013 issue of War in History focused on the topic of Courage and Cowardice. Articles on the Roman army, the First Crusade, the French Revolution, WWI, and WWII. If you’re into that kind of thing, that is.

Early European Books free trial

Courtesy of Early Modern Online Bibliography, there’s a free trial of EEB, through 22 April. This collection consists of pre-1700 books from Firenze (Florence for us anglos), Frahnce (France for us anglos), Denmark (always gotta remind students that the Dutch are from the Netherlands, not Denmark, and that the Pennsylvania Dutch are German), the KB in the Netherlands (not the Danes), and the Wellcome Library in London (a medical library).

Not sure how much military history there is in them thar’ collections, but check it out while you can.


I like Gallica. I really do. I’ve found lots of good things on the BN’s digital repository – many books, including some that aren’t even in Google Books.

But they still haven’t figured out exactly how the digital age works, and that confuses me. The particular problem that vexes me stems from their recent (within the past few years) inclusion of archival documents on their website. Downloadable. For free. That’s great. But then you find this:

Gallica archive

Gallica archive

What? A little too small you say? OK, let me just zoom it in, say 300% so it’s nice and big.

Gallica zoomed in at 300%

Gallica zoomed in at 300%

You can click the image to see a larger version. Yes. That’s what it actually looks like at full resolution. They’ve scanned thousands of volumes of archival documents (presumably from microfilm), and you can barely read them.