Archive | March 2016

Twenty years of computer-assisted research

Our household has been in a bit of a spring cleaning vibe (new bookcases will do that), which inspired me to get rid of a bunch of old electronics dating from the Pleistocene. In addition to recycling some pocket electronics (an old digital recorder and an old Dell Digital Jukebox MP3 player – and where or where did my old c. 2004 Dell Axim go?), we also are unloading one very old (486?) PC and a bevy of laptops, which made me briefly reminisce on all the laptops I’ve loved, and hated, before (sung with a Willie Nelson twang): Read More…

John F. Guilmartin Jr.

If you haven’t already heard, John (“Joe”) Guilmartin died last week. Best known to early modern military historians for his detailed work on Mediterranean naval warfare, he was a wide-ranging scholar who published on topics ranging from the Ancient world to Europe to the Americas to aerial combat to the Vietnam War.

He taught at several schools, spending most of his academic career at Ohio State, where he advised 200 students through the graduate school process. His former students, this one at least, remembers him as a jovial fellow always sharing historical factoids whenever the mood struck. If you’ve read his classic Gunpowder and Galleys, you already know that his engineering background was hard to repress, even if that meant chalking the equation for drag coefficients on the board during a History seminar on military technology, to the befuddlement of at least one of his students. Just as irrepressible was his homespun wisdom, whether describing the vigorous military mindset as “Hey diddle, diddle, straight up the middle”, or reassuring his charges that if the earth were to split open between his feet, he would automatically jump left, lest, in his hesitation, the earth swallowed him. And, though I missed his class lecture on siege warfare, his encouragement of my research on the 1708 siege of Lille, along with his early adoption of graphics, had a major influence on my future research path.

Guilmartin's HIS 625 syllabus

For more evidence of his very full life, see his homepage here. Several of his former advisees are preparing a festschrift in his honor.

He will be missed.

Once again, the French take us Anglos to visualization school

I’ve commented before on how impressed I am when I read old French history from the 1970s (e.g. here). I just happened across another example as I tracked down a classic book that I’d seen cited on occasion, but had never actually looked at. And this is what I find on page 144, a map indicating how widely commentary on the 1214 battle of Bouvines spread in various medieval accounts:

From George Duby, The Legend of Bouvines, trans. Catherine Tihnayi (Polity Press, 1990), 144.

From Georges Duby, The Legend of Bouvines, trans. Catherine Tihanyi (Polity Press, 1990), 144.*

This map includes a few different point and area symbols (mostly nominal and ordinal data), and is, to my mind, as interesting for the questions it raises as what ‘argument’ it makes. But that’s what good visualizations should do, encourage us to dive into the details.

And if you really want to know what I think about visualizing historical information, and have an extra hour or two, I pontificated on the subject here.

* Yes, I know, it’s the English 1990 translation and not the 1973 French original. But I don’t have a massive research library at my beck and call, so it’ll do.