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Twenty-two years ago, a map was born

Three years into my graduate school experience at Ohio State, this student of History went out on a limb and took Geography 580: Cartography. I recall that the professor was a bit of an eccentric tyrant – he’d berate students for chewing gum, and even made one male student take his ball cap off in the classroom. While I enjoyed the subject, the detail was, at times, a bit too much: I ended up getting a B+ in the course because even though I was able to trace a map of Australia into a CAD program via a digitizing tablet and puck, I refused to memorize the details of additive color systems and printing processes (this was 1995, after all). While my interest in mapping Australia’s population evaporated at the end of the semester, I retained the fascination with mapping. So much so that I forged ahead in creating my own maps for research, even as I knew that there was more to mapping than AutoCAD and, later, Adobe Illustrator. Though I will admit to spending several hundreds dollars in order to purchase a royalty-free vector map of Europe.

And now, some twenty-two years later, I’ve finally accomplished at least part of what I’d set out to do those many years ago. After about ten days of intermittently playing around with QGIS (free, open-source Geographical Information System software), I finally have a passable first draft of a map I’ll use for my upcoming Crusades course. Drum roll please:

 

Screenshot 2017-08-23 15.19.50.png

First I downloaded Natural Earth base-maps. Second step was to create a list of significant towns, look up their coordinates and import them into QGIS, and then set up rule-based formatting to display the major cities in a larger, upper-case font (and a larger, square icon). Next, I scanned and georeferenced one of the maps from Nicolle’s Atlas of the Islamic World, then traced the (approximate) boundaries of Christian and Muslim states as polygons (snapping to adjacent polygons to avoid slivers) while keeping a wide berth of the coasts, before finally clipping the polygon layers to the coastline layer.

Not too bad, though the georeferencing goes awry once we reach the Baltic – but that’s why you only rely on the georeferenced map for the borders, and not the cities or coastlines. The labels need tweaking (both font style and positioning), and of course it lacks all the info expected of a professional map: scale, title, key, etc. But it’s good enough for showing in class (once I add a scale), and, what’s more, it will serve as the basis for tracing territorial changes over the various Crusades.

A more basic base-map that I can use for note taking (in Notability on my new iPad Pro 12.9″) looks like this, with a jaunty little rotation added for good measure:

Crusades basemap.png

Practicing with maps of the Crusades this semester will prepare me for even more fun next semester, when I teach my European Warfare, 1337-1815 course again. So I’ll finally be able to combine my crazy timecharts with ‘bespoke’ maps. After that, hopefully, a year-long sabbatical when I’ll be able to trace military operations in Flanders over the course of the War of the Spanish Succession in gory GIS detail. But I’ve gotta pace myself. There’s still a battle book to be written.

Took me long enough.

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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:

Read More…

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…

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 http://www.jostwald.com/Timelines/CrusadesTimeline/aeontimeline.html. 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.”

 

Catch up, Post-First-Snow-Flurries 2016 edition

Busy with various projects, including designing a digital history lab.

But I did attend the Joe Guilmartin memorial conference earlier this semester, where the attendees alternated between laughing at our collective recitation of Guilmartin’s many bons mots, and growing contemplative (and perhaps wiping away a stray tear or two) as his former advisees testified to his impact on their academic careers.

My contribution to the proceedings was to open up the conference with a broad think-piece about developing a more precise taxonomy/typology of the levels of war, spurred by JFG’s introduction to the subject long long ago. A few examples of the course materials he handed out in his seminal European Warfare course.

1st page of JFG syllabus, circa 1993 - note the early use of visuals.

1st page of JFG syllabus, circa 1993 – note the early use of visuals.

JFG Definitions and Tactics handout

JFG Definitions and Tactics handout

 

So here’s the revised “strategy” matrix. There are plans for conference proceedings, wherein I’ll explicate the below chart (and much more), and add a few more levels. So feel free to leave suggestions or comments. especially about those pesky column labels.

Next draft of military techniques (was Strategy Matrix, but I'm having issues with the term "strategy")

Next draft of military operational techniques (was “Strategy Matrix”, but I’m having issues with the term “strategy”). The gray cells are generally more extreme war objectives, often described as “total war.”

Military Strategy For Dummies

Here is a simple operational-level map I created for my European Warfare class to try to reinforce the ideas of:

  1. What the operational level entails, and looks like on a map, particularly in contrast with a tactical-level map.
  2. How an army has multiple strategies available to it in order to achieve its strategic objectives. There are others I could have included if I’d had time (esp. amphibious).
Feel free to use, with proper attribution of course

Will the reds and blues ever just learn to get along?

Of course as we get further into the 18C and start talking about Napoleon et al, we’ll complicate it with the “operational art”: multiple armies, marching by different routes, etc.

And let’s not forget that whole DIMEFIL thing, courtesy of the DoD.

Feel free to use (because you know you want to), with proper attribution, of course.

Early modern movie battles

I’m thinking about making a few minor changes to my European Warfare, 1337-1815 course next semester. Past versions have focused a fair amount on the narratives of various wars: out of the 38 class meetings (50 minutes each), I devote one class meeting each on the 100YW, the Ottoman wars, the Wars of Italy, the French Wars of Religion, the Dutch Revolt, the 30YW, L14’s wars, Frederick the Great’s wars, the French Revolutionary wars, and the Napoleonic Wars. The rest are topical.

This time I’ll be condensing a few of the war narratives and warfare topics into a single class (sorry Dutch Revolt, sorry French Wars of Religion). Thus I’ll focus on the Italian Wars, the 30YW, Frederick’s wars, the Revolutionary/Napoleonic wars, but more and more Louis XIV’s wars. This will give me more space to read a few of the new French books out, and focus a bit more on the actual process of campaigning, Louis XIV-style. This includes dedicated classes on small war, professionalization (military ranks/organization…), maybe even the fiscal-military state. Shockingly, I hardly mention the Military Revolution in the course – I’m not a big fan of sweeping historiography at the undergrad level. Even in a course that covers almost 500 years of European military history!

But to the reason for my post: Any suggestions for good early modern combat sequences from movies? I’ll include a few scenes from Alatriste, and there are a few things on YouTube, but if you have any other favorites, let us know in the comments.