Archive | January 2014

Now you see the problem

Just got my login info for the e-version of the latest Journal of Military History, and skimmed through the early modern section of its Recent Journal Articles. This type of resource used to be critical in the pre-digital age – every journal seemed to have its own listing of recently published works. Before online databases and the Internets, you were pretty much limited to the journals your library subscribed to, the good ol’ Historical Abstracts, a few rare bibliographic journals (remember that War and Society newsletter Militärgeschichtliche Mitteilungen used to publish?), any citation indexes you could get your hands on, and of course pillaging the citations of the latest articles and books. Maybe you even traded citations within your scholarly network. OK, so maybe it’s not that different today.

But even back then, looking through the Recent Articles section, you’d notice how haphazard the selections were – some journals that you knew of weren’t included, others were included one year and not the next, and undoubtedly they’d list some new article in a journal you’d never think to explore, or even heard of before. All this serves not only to remind us that there are extremely few journals that specialize in EMEMH, that there is no central “go-to” source, but it also serves as a way to introduce an article of interest in a journal that’s really not been on my radar screen:

Buchan, Bruce. “Pandours, Partisans, and Petite Guerre: The Two Dimensions of Enlightenment Discourse on War.” Intellectual History Review 23, no. 3 (September 2013): 329–347.
During the Enlightenment period a certain notion of war came to prominence in European thought. This notion, which I here refer to as ‘civilized war’, centred on the idea that European war-making in the eighteenth century was characterised by humanity and honour. This image of European war-making was sustained by a variety of intellectuals and even some military practitioners who reflected not only on the practice of war in Europe in this period, but on the practice of war among supposedly less ‘civilised’ peoples in other parts of the world and in Europe’s barbaric past. In these other places, among other peoples, and at other times, warfare was characterised as altogether less ‘civilised’, less ordered, less humane and honourable, and was thus considered more ‘savage’. I will argue in this paper, however, that there were at least two dimensions to the Enlightenment discourse on civilised war: the first dimension stressed the moral qualities of civilised war, its honour and humanity above all; the second dimension emphasised its technical or rational qualities that gave European war-makers a decisive military advantage over non-European war-makers. These two dimensions applied to conventional or symmetrical war between sovereign militaries contending by massed fire power on the field of battle. They were less easily applicable to petite guerre, that is, unconventional, asymmetric or partisan war. Here, the two dimensions of the idea of civilised war were shadowed by persistent anxieties about the status of both dimensions of civilised war.
But wait, there’s more: nowadays the web allows us to descend further into the rabbit hole. Googling such articles tends to send you to the author’s homepage, which often mentions other articles of note. To wit:
Buchan, B. “Civilized Fictions: Warfare and Civilization in Enlightenment Thought.” Alternatives: Global, Local, Political 36, no. 1 (February 1, 2011): 64–71.
In range of recent articles, Barry Hindess has explored the intellectual foundations of European perceptions of other peoples as different from and in need of European models of government and society. In particular, he has focused on the European “conceit” of superior, more rapid, and more sophisticated historical development or civilization. In this article, I will take up Hindess’ view of European civilization as a conceit, and explore its deployment in relation to the influential idea of civilized war in Enlightenment political thought. In particular, I will trace the articulation of this conceit in Voltaire’s account of the battle of Fontenoy on May 11, 1745. I will argue that Voltaire’s account of the battle shows that the European notion of civilized war was not only a conceit but a fiction.
Another article of interest illustrates yet another complication. I’ll let you identify the problem:
Green-Mercado, Marya T. “The Mahdī in Valencia: Messianism, Apocalypticism and Morisco Rebellions in Late Sixteenth-Century Spain.” Medieval Encounters 19, no. 1–2 (January 1, 2013): 193–220. doi:10.1163/15700674-12342129.
Prophecies and apocalyptic prognostications circulated widely among the Moriscos—forcedly baptized Muslims in sixteenth-century Iberia. Messianism, however, is a phenomenon which had hitherto never been attested in traditional sources of Morisco history. This article studies the interrelated phenomena of apocalypticism and messianism among the Moriscos of the Crown of Aragon in the second half of the sixteenth century. Through a case study of a 1575 inquisitorial transcript, it analyzes an obscure messianic figure named Abrahim Fatimí, who was accused of attempting to lead the kingdom to rebellion, casting himself as the expected deliverer of Morisco tradition, el moro Alfatimí. The discovery of this case sheds light on the political and social implications of apocalyptic and messianic ideas among Moriscos in the late sixteenth century.
The problem? Those damn medievalists squatting on early modern land! A journal with a title like Medieval Encounters is pretty far down my list, but this article would fit nicely in my Religion, War and Peace course. Ever vigilant!
Venturing to that journal’s website pulls up other possible articles of note:
Coleman, David. “Of Corsairs, Converts and Renegades: Forms and Functions of Coastal Raiding on Both Sides of the Far Western Mediterranean, 1490-1540.” Medieval Encounters 19, no. 1–2 (January 1, 2013): 167–192.
Historians have long debated whether or not the cultures of the Mediterranean constitute a singular unit of geo-historical analysis. The Alborán Sea—the Mediterranean’s far western corner that narrowly separates the Iberian Peninsula from Africa’s northwestern shore—has long been an important “frontier” zone in which arguments for and against Mediterranean unity are put to the test. This essay contends that endemic practices of corsair activity and coastal raiding played analogous functions on both sides of this “frontier” in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. While the fact of systematized conflict in the form of raids lends some support to the notion of an enduring “clash of civilizations,” the parallel forms and functions of such raiding within the societies from which the corsairs came argue at least as persuasively for a significant degree of fundamental similarity and continuity. The Alborán corsairs along both coasts, for instance, typically received patronage and organizational aid from local and regional elites, and their raiding activities proved central to both economies. On both sides of the frontier, moreover, the world of the corsairs allowed a surprising degree of mobility and participation to converts and renegades of Muslim, Jewish and Christian origin alike.
And for those who need to be reminded that the British Empire existed in the 18C as well as the 19C, we have:
Muller, Hannah Weiss. “The Garrison Revisited: Gibraltar in the Eighteenth Century.” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 41, no. 3 (2013): 353–376.
In the 1940s, scholars across a variety of disciplines started using phrases such as ‘garrison state’ and ‘garrison mentality’ to describe societies where military imperatives predominated. They frequently argued that a perpetual sense of threat and a profound feeling of isolation shaped the outlook of residents in these communities. Such terms continue to surface in contemporary scholarship and popular media, where ‘the garrison’ often remains a stock image. Evidence from eighteenth-century Gibraltar, however, suggests that traditional readings of the garrison as an insulated fortress should be reconsidered. The survival of this strategic outpost actually required that colonial administrators rely on an array of foreigners to keep it supplied during times of both war and peace. At Gibraltar, the garrison was neither isolated from its surrounding environment nor perpetually threatened by its cosmopolitan residents—instead, inescapable dependence on a motley local population often rendered administrators willing to accommodate the alien in their midst and to acknowledge the interconnections between military and civilian.
And finally, for the sake of completeness, I should also give a hat tip to Wayne Lee’s Review Essay in the most recent JMilH on three of Jeremy Black’s recent works: “Military History in a Global Frame.” [Insert your preferred joke about Black’s publishing fecundity here.]
When do we get our EMEMH bibliography aggregator?

Keeping tabs on the discipline

The new issue of the Journal for Military History is out. A year ago, I decided to switch from the print version to the digital online. Unfortunately I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t receive any kind of email reminder to check when the new issue was up, and I’d keep forgetting my password and have to search for it in my email. Yet another reason to use that repeating reminder on your calendar app – or at least look and see if the journal’s publisher has an email alert setup. (Speaking of reminders, sometime I’ll do a post on my Pocket Informant setup – it won’t be useful for those who are quite happy with their calendar/task system, but it might be of interest to others.)

So I searched my way to the SMH webpage, and was pleased to find a webpage for each issue back to 2007. A few disjointed thoughts came to mind, all revolving around the question of how we should be ‘doing’ history in this digital age.

1. These webpages conveniently include the titles and abstracts of all the articles, including the articles on modern military history that I don’t read, as well as a list of the books under review. The abstracts in and of themselves are a significant advance, since the JMilH, and History generally, was surprisingly late to the abstract party. It used to be that most history journals didn’t print the abstracts along with the articles – they were only to be found in abstracting services like Historical Abstracts and America: History and Life (subscription only, of course). The JMilH only started including abstracts within the past several years I think – at least I recall I had to write one for my 2000 article, but it wasn’t published along with the article.

I can’t say why the historical discipline was so late to appreciate abstracts, unless it was seen as smelling too much of the sciences, natural and social. (Published abstracts also raises the question of what the point is in assigning students to abstract journal articles if the author already created one, though that wouldn’t be the only way we should be changing how undergraduate history is taught. But I digress…)

2. Such abstracts have a broader effect beyond simply identifying the argument of each article. I’m far more likely to read a 75-100 word abstract of an article on World War II than read the 25-page article; presumably modern military historians feel the same way about pre-modern topics, Europeanists about Asianists, and so on. I’m that much more likely to read them if all of the abstracts are on a single page, so I don’t have to page through the journal issue to the first page of every article. It’s thus much easier to see connections (or lack thereof) between different periods and places, without having to wait for the occasional historiographical article to be published. Now if only people would start publishing their ideas in argument maps.

3. What the provision of these pages also means, of course, is that you can easily import them into a DTPO database, making their full text available for any searches you might perform. Again, ease of use (ease of reading, ease of copying) makes a huge difference for items that are of marginal importance – probably why Zotero libraries (one-click and it’s downloaded) tend to be much larger than bibliographic databases where you have to enter all the information in manually.

4. You can also get a quick glance at what the (sub)field is interested in with this info – we’re finally starting to get easy access to our disciplinary information, rather than having it locked behind subscription databases like EBSCO, JSTOR, etc. I’ll post the word cloud to the SMHBLOG for those interested.

5. One of the articles in this issue is Jon Sumida, “A Concordance of Selected Subjects in Carl von Clausewitz’s On War,” The Journal of Military History, 78:1 (January 2014): 271-331. Its abstract:

This concordance of the standard English translation of Carl von Clausewitz’s On War by Michael Howard and Peter Paret breaks new ground in two important respects. First, it indexes the text in unprecedented detail by listing references to every significant proposition and distinctive phrase under major subject headings. Second, information about the location of indexed items includes the book and chapter of On War, and page numbers in both current editions of the standard translation.

I don’t have access to the issue yet, but it would be interesting to compare Sumida’s results with the original index in Howard/Paret – is Sumida’s article an indictment of the original? It would also be interesting to compare Sumida’s article with what one could uncover just taking the full text and using various forms of text analysis – how much effort and specialist expertise was required to add that value, vs. what you can get from basic text mining? Perhaps Sumida even addresses this issue. The article also reminds me of a somewhat similar effort several years back, John Lynn’s “The Treatment of Military Subjects in Diderot’s Encyclopédie.” Which in turn prompts me to wonder to what extent such efforts will be needed once we have the full text of the documents directly available to us? Will reference works like concordances soon become irrelevant? Isn’t this yet another reason why we should have these sources in full text, so we can perform the same analysis on any number of sources?

So read up.

Two months without a Devonthink post?!?

My Devonthink posts, marginally related to EMEMH proper I admit, continue to attract readers, and even comments/questions. So an update is in order.

To frame the discussion, here’s a reminder of what any note-taking setup should allow you to do:

  1. Collect: Amass all your documents, notes, thoughts, writings and images into a single interface. The wider the variety of files you can view, the better. The wider the variety of documents you can search with the same keywording scheme, the better.
  2. Summarize: Distinguish original documents from your notes on those originals. Provide a way to connect summaries to the originals.
  3. Sort: Organize your data in sortable lists, usually using metadata fields (date, author, place…) as the sorting variable.
  4. Search: Find specific documents quickly via title, author, and other metadata, or by navigating through a folder hierarchy. Find specific text strings within any documents. More powerful software (like DTPO) will allow proximity and fuzzy searching.
  5. Cite: Provide a place to store bibliographic information about each source, so that it can be cited when used.

[Reminder: I haven’t fully implemented all of my features, so some of the screenshots may show outdated features. Still a work in progress.] Read More…