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Where have you been all my life?

Seriously though. I’ve known about the concept of ‘regular expressions’ for years, but for some reason I never took the plunge. And now that I have, my mind is absolutely blown away. Remember all those months in grad school (c. 1998-2000) when I was OCRing, proofing and manually parsing thousands of letters into my Access database? Well I sure do.

Twenty years later, I now discover that I could’ve shaved literally months off that work, if only I’d adopted the regex way of manipulating text. I’ll blame it on the fact that “digital humanities” wasn’t even a thing back then – check out Google Ngram Viewer if you don’t believe me.

So let’s start at the beginning. Entry-level text editing is easy enough: you undoubtedly learned long ago that in a text program like Microsoft Word you can find all the dates in a document – say 3/15/1702 and 3/7/1703 and 7/3/1704 – using a wildcard search like 170^#, where ^# is the wildcard for any digit (number). That kind of search will return 1701 and 1702 and 1703… But you’ve also undoubtedly been annoyed when you next learn that you can’t actually modify all those dates, because the wildcard character will be replaced in your basic find-replace with a single character. So, for example, you could easily convert all the forward slashes into periods, because you simply replace every slash with a period. But you can’t turn a variety of dates (text strings, mind you, not actual date data types) from MM/DD/YYYY into YYYY.MM.DD, because you need wildcards to find all the digit variations (3/15/1702, 6/7/1703…), but you can’t keep those values found by wildcards when you try to move them into a different order. In the above example, trying to replace 170^# with 1704 will convert every year with 1704, even if it’s 1701 or 1702. So you can cycle through each year and each month, like I did, but that takes a fair amount of time as the number of texts grow. This inability to do smart find-replace is a crying’ shame, and I’ve gnashed many a tooth over this quandary.

Enter regular expressions, aka regex or grep. I won’t bore you with the basics of regex (there’s a website or two on that), but will simply describe it as a way to search for patterns in text, not just specific characters. Not only can you find patterns in text, but with features called back references and look-aheads/look-backs (collectively: “lookarounds”), you can retain those wildcard characters and manipulate the entire text string without losing the characters found by the wildcards. It’s actually pretty easy:

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The Summer of Digital

Yep, it’s been a computational summer. Composed mostly of reading up on all things digital humanities. (Battle book? What battle book?) Most concretely, that’s meant setting up a modest Digital History Lab for our department (six computers, book-microfilm-photo scanners, a Microsoft Surface Hub touch display, and various software), and preparing for a brand new Intro to Digital History course, slated to kick off in a few weeks.

I’ve always been computer-curious, but it wasn’t until this summer that I fully committed to my inner nerdiness, and dove into the recent shenanigans of “digital humanities.” Primarily this meant finally committing to GIS, followed by lots of textual analysis tools, and brushing up on my database skills. But I’ve even started learning Python and a bit more AppleScript, if you can believe it.

So, in future posts, I’ll talk a little less about Devonthink and a bit more about other tools that will allow me to explore early modern European military history in a whole new way.

Stay tuned…

Voyant-to-web also a success

In case you need proof, here’s a link (collocate) graph from Voyant tools, based off the text from the second volume of the English translation of the “French” Duke of Berwick’s memoirs published in 1779: Curious which words Berwick used most frequently, and which other words they tended to be used with/near? (Or his translator, in any case.) Click the link above and hopefully you’ll see something like this, but interactive:

Screenshot 2017-06-25 14.49.23.png

After you upload your text corpus in the web version of Voyant, you can then export any of the tools and embed it in your own website using an iframe (inline frame). Note that you can also click on any of the terms in the embedded web version and it will open up the full web version of Voyant, with the corpus pre-loaded. Something like this, but oh-so-much-more-interactive:

Screenshot 2017-06-25 14.47.08.png

Apparently the Voyant server keeps a copy of the text you upload – no idea how long the Voyant servers keep the text, but I guess we’ll find out. There’s also a VoyantServer option, which you install on your own computer, for faster processing and greater privacy.

Never heard of Voyant? Then you’d best get yourself some early modern sources in full text format and head on over to

Testing, testing

…my export test from Aeon 2 timeline software to the web. Preparing to teach a new Introduction to Digital History course in the fall, while overseeing the creation of a modest Digital History Lab, will make you dust off all sorts of old, half-baked projects.

So we just reacquainted ourselves with my old website, started in 1998-1999, a period which coincided with me procrastinating after returning from my dissertation research in the French, English and Dutch archives. I had allowed the website to go fallow (but running) since 2006 or so – funny how a full-time job will do that. So today we reconnected, remembered the right password, downloaded local copies to sync on a new computer (using Dreamweaver), and now we’re up and running again.

Hopefully I’ll be able to put up a bunch of timelines for my various courses on the site, so I can give the URLs to students, as well as pull up the timelines in the classroom, rather than lug in my laptop and hook it up to the projector. Manually creating timelines in Illustrator has been fun (for example), but it takes a long time to make each one, and the data isn’t exportable, searchable, or manipulable like CSV files are. Which might be useful, say, if you were getting back into databases. Once I get GIS under my belt, I might possibly put up some maps as well – to replace those old AutoCAD map files from 1997. Oh yeah, I should probably replace that circa 1999 homepage too:

Screenshot 2017-06-24 23.26.10.png

It seemed cool 18 years ago (to me, at least), but I’m told styles have changed since then.

And I’d totally forgotten about my attempt to create a website for EMEMHers circa 2002. Turns out I even posted a few items, like the data from Erik Lund’s Austrian generals, and a PDF of John Lynn & George Satterfield’s Guide to Early Modern Military Sources in Midwestern Research Libraries (back when the proximity of rare book rooms was critical). Most amusing is my page where I include a list of books that it’d be great to have digital copies of. Good times. Of course, it’s also kinda depressing to realize that I’m now a part of history.

Jumping back to the present, my first experiment merging the early 21st century with the late 20th century seems successful – a timeline of various events and individuals from the Crusades. A course which, FWIW, I’ll be teaching again this fall. So if you’re interested in seeing how the Aeon timeline software translates to the Internet, take a peek at The timeline is dynamic: scrolling, zooming, searching, collapsing ‘arcs’, and clicking on arrows for further details. I haven’t updated the data to take advantage of Aeon version 2 yet, nor have I connected all the people and events or included many notes. But feel free to send any corrections my way.

Next up: figuring out the Simile widget, which will allow a bit more customization. An interesting example of combining an interactive timeline and map is here. Throw in embedded widgets for family trees, maps (Google or otherwise), argument maps, and Voyant text analysis – now you’ve got yourself a historical toolkit worthy of the 21st century!

Looking back over my own experience with twenty years of Internet history, I’m reminded of that old Virginia Slims cigarette ad: “We’ve come a long way, baby.”


The Google Giveth and the Google Taketh Away

In other words, hopefully you’ve already downloaded all those tasty EMEMH works from Google Books, like I’ve warned. Because some of them are disappearing from Full View, as publishing companies (I’m guessing) pay Google some money to sell print copies on Amazon and elsewhere. (See, I knew my hoarding instincts and general obsessive-compulsiveness would come in handy.)

But all hope is not lost, for if you can still find interest EMEMH PDFs, Google Books has recently decided to include the OCRed text layer with the PDF download as well, which means they are searchable. Just don’t look too closely at the results…

As I was saying

somebody should let people know when there are museum exhibits on early modern military subjects.

I’ve been writing up personal summaries of our recent trip to Vienna-Salzburg-Munich (and sprinkling them with photos off the web, which are usually far better than what we can manage), lest the memories fade from view too quickly. Pursuant to this task, I started looking up a bunch of early modern artists’ works in Google image search. Concurrently, my RSS feed alerted me to Amy Herman’s Visual Intelligence, which I acquired and have been reading with interest. In a suitably artistic state of mind, I thought I’d look up the Frick Collection (where Herman worked), just to see what kind of museum it was. Turns out, it’s in New York City (a few hours from me), and has some early modern works. So on a further whim, keenly aware of the fortuitous timing that allowed us to see the ephemeral Feste feiern and Kaiser Karl V erobert Tunis exhibits in Vienna, I checked to see what special exhibits the Frick had coming up. And, lo and behold, I find this exhibit, starting July 12 and running through October 2: Watteau’s Soldiers: Scenes of Military Life in Eighteenth-Century France. The description of the exhibit:

It would be difficult to think of an artist further removed from the muck and misery of war than Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684–1721), who is known as a painter of amorous aristocrats and melancholy actors. And yet, early in his career, Watteau painted a number of scenes of military life. They were produced during one of the darkest chapters of France’s history, the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14), but the martial glory on which most military painters trained their gaze held no interest for Watteau. Instead, he focused on the most prosaic aspects of war — marches, halts, and encampments. The resulting works show the quiet moments between the fighting, when soldiers could rest and daydream, smoke pipes and play cards.

Watteau's soldiers

Watteau’s soldiers chilling’ at a Valenciennes gate

Presented exclusively at The Frick Collection in the summer of 2016, Watteau’s Soldiers is the first exhibition devoted solely to these captivating pictures, introducing the artist’s engagement with military life to a larger audience while exploring his unusual working methods. Among the paintings, drawings, and prints will be four of the seven known military scenes — with the Frick’s own Portal of Valenciennes as the centerpiece — as well as the recently rediscovered Supply Train, which has never before been exhibited publicly in a museum. Also featured will be thirteen studies of soldiers in red chalk, many directly related to the paintings on view, as well as a selection of works by Watteau’s predecessors and followers, the Frick’s Calvary Camp by Philips Wouwerman among them.

An accompanying book by Anne L. Poulet Curatorial Fellow Aaron Wile, published by The Frick Collection in association with D Giles, Ltd., London, will be the first illustrated catalogue of all Watteau works related to military subjects.

So if you’ll be in the region this summer, make some time to check it out. I know I will. And if you can’t,  at least consider checking out the catalog. Hopefully it’ll explain why Watteau’s short career should be divided into “early” and “late” works.

More posts on the military art to come.



Short post on Vienna trip

Just got back from a two-week excursion to central Europe, with a quick turnaround for other familial obligations.

But lest you think I was merely reading Georg Scherer’s sermons at a Viennese café while drinking my Wiener Melange (more like eating apfelstruedel mit schlagobers and reading reports of yet another act of hate/terrorism/gun violence in the U.S.), I was actually hard at work, traipsing across the historical flotsam and jetsam of what once was the crown jewel of the Austro-Hungarian empire. But that’s for another time.

To tide you over, in case you’re in Vienna over the next couple of months, and are interested in all things Karl V, the Kunsthistorisches Museum has a top-floor exhibit on Charles V’s capture of Tunis in 1535. There are apparently some tapestries of his successful North African campaign in the Prado, but Vienna has the “cartoons” (the paintings which were the basis of the tapestries) currently on display.

Detail from Vermeyen cartoon of Tunis 1535 campaign

Detail from Vermeyen cartoon of Tunis 1535 campaign

For a brief (English-language) overview of the exhibit, you can look here.

The KHM also has a (German-language) catalog of the exhibit. Which makes me think there really should be some art museum listserv to alert interested parties to military history-themed exhibits. Though something like this might be a start.