For those who’ve never been, or who need a refresher, or for those who want to check up on Spanish history before 1808, I offer you a pictorial tour of the early modern highlights of Spain, May 2018. Two weeks of art, churches, and war – can it get any better than that? There will be nothing surprising to seasoned travelers or experts on Spain, but I haven’t posted in a while. So read on for lots of big photos and historical allusions aplenty. Maybe you’ll even learn something. Read More…
Sabbatical. What academics look forward to for years – the ability to take time off from teaching and service to recharge and focus on me-time. On my last sabbatical seven years ago, I attended a few conferences, wrote a few papers, scanned in a ton of book chapters/journal articles, and even started a blog.
And now it’s back. This time around, it means further expanding my digital history toolkit, and reading and writing.
So once I get those final grades in (due Wednesday), I’ll be free! Free to travel to Spain for two weeks, where we’ll take in the sights of Madrid and Barcelona, which might even include a visit to the Sant Ferran citadel (c. 1750s), just outside of Figueres in Catalonia. In case we want to see what a real hornwork (or two) looks like. We’ve already seen the French side of the contested Pyrenean border (Perpignan and the little yellow train up to Mont-Louis), so now we’ll get to see it from the Spanish side.
After that, I’ll be free to finish the long-awaited big book of Marlborough’s battles. And to refresh my rudimentary Python skills, learn R, and expand my knowledge of GIS. The latter tasks will allow me to embark on my next journey, a GIS-informed analysis of military operations during the War of the Spanish Succession and beyond. In the process, I’ll be developing my early modern European military history database, and try to get you faithful skulkers to crowdsource some basic data on these EME wars.
Hopefully that’s not too ambitious for a year-long sabbatical, but I’ve earned it.
Where I’m at now, after reading more on GIS, historical and Quantum. Here we have the beginnings of my Low Countries theater map, for operational military history.
Features include rivers, the (modern) coastline, capital cities, fortifications (fortresses and forts) by side of garrison, a light tracing of the pré carré fortresses in northern France, and, for kicks, the woods of northern Belgium traced from the Austrian Ferraris maps, c. 1770s.
And more to trace, e.g. from the Pelet 1837 atlas:
Still lots of work to do, cleaning things up and adding additional features, like army marches and camps. Eventually, I’ll even work up to Print Composer and stop taking screenshots.
But in the meantime, progress moves forward.
A few more random maps of the Wars of Italy, just because it’s all I’ve got time for.
First off, the locations of various combats (battles and sieges mostly) from 1494-1559, color-coded by war, with the Natural Earth topo layer as base map. It might be more useful to group the wars together into a smaller number of categories (make a calculated field). Or maybe make them small multiples by war. But it’s a start.
Then, using the Data defined override and Size Assistant style in QGIS 2.18, you can add army sizes to the symbols (sizeA+sizeB), to create a multivariate map. Note, however, that I don’t have very many army size statistics (the no-data events are all those tiny dots), but you get the idea – add a continuous variable to a categorical variable, and you’ve got two dimensions.
Remember, with GIS and a good data set, the world’s your oyster.
Next up – getting that good data set. In other words, setting up the Early Modern Wars database in MS Access. What? You want to see my entity-relationship diagram so far? Sure, why not:
And, once sabbatical hits this summer, I’ll be appealing to y’all (just got back from Texas) to help me fill in the details, to share our knowledge of early modern European warfare with the world.
So let’s say you’ve become obsessed with GIS (geographical information systems). And let’s also posit that you’re at a teaching institution, where you rotate teaching your twelve different courses plus senior seminars (three to four sections per semester) over multiple years, which makes it difficult to remember the ins-and-out of all those historical narratives of European history from the 14th century (the Crusades, actually) up through Napoleon – let’s ignore the Western Civ since 1500 courses for now. And let’s further grant that you are particularly interested in early modern European military history, yet can only teach it every other year or so.
So what’s our hypothetical professor at a regional, undergraduate, public university to do? How can this professor possibly try to keep these various periods, places and topics straight, without burdening his (errr, I mean “one’s”) students with one damned fact after another? How to keep the view of the forest in mind, without getting lost among the tree trunks? More selfishly, how can one avoid spending way too much prep time rereading the same narrative accounts every few years?
Why, visualize, of course! I’ve posted various examples before (check out the graphics tag), but now that GIS makes large-scale mapping feasible (trust me, you don’t want to manually place every feature on a map in Adobe Illustrator), things are starting to fall in place. And, in the process, I – oops, I mean our hypothetical professor – ends up wondering what historical research should look like going forward, and what we should be teaching our students.
I’ll break my thoughts into two posts: first, the gritty details of mapping the Italian Wars in GIS (QGIS, to be precise); and then a second post on collecting the data for all this.
So let’s start with the eye-candy first – and focus our attention on a subject just covered in my European Warfare class: the Italian Wars of the early 16th century (aka Wars of Italy). I’ve already posted my souped-up timechart of the Italian Wars, but just to be redundant:
That’s great and all, but it really requires you to already have the geography in your head. And, I suppose, even to know what all those little icons mean.
Maps, though, actually show the space, and by extension the spatial relationships. If you use PowerPoint or other slides in your classes, hopefully you’re not reduced to re-using a map you’d digitized in AutoCAD twenty years earlier, covering a few centuries in the future:
Instead, you’ve undoubtedly found pre-made maps of the period/place online – either from textbooks, or from other historian’s works – Google Images is your friend. You could incorporate raster maps that you happen across:
Maybe you found some decent maps with more political detail:
Maybe you are lucky enough that part of your subject matter has been deemed important enough to merit its own custom map, like this digitized version of that old West Point historical atlas:
If you’re a bit more digitally-focused, you probably noticed a while back that Wikipedia editors have started posting vector-based maps, allowing you to open them in a program like Adobe Illustrator and then modify them yourself, choosing different fills and line styles, maybe even adding a few new features:
Now we’re getting somewhere!
But, ultimately, you realize that you really want to be your own boss. And you have far more questions than what your bare-bones map(s) can answer. Don’t get me wrong – you certainly appreciate those historical atlases that illustrate Renaissance Italy in its myriad economic, cultural and political aspects. And you also appreciate the potential of the vector-based (Adobe Illustrator) approach, which allows you to add symbols and styling of your own. You can even search for text labels. Yet they’re just not enough. Because you’re stuck with that map’s projection. Maybe you’re stuck with a map in a foreign language – ok for you, but maybe a bit confusing for your students. And what if you want to remove distracting features from a pre-existing map? What if you care about what happened after Charles VIII occupied Naples in early 1495? What if you want to significantly alter the drawn borders, or add new features? What if you want to add a LOT of new features? There are no geospatial coordinates in the vector maps that would allow you to accurately draw Charles VIII’s 1494-95 march down to Naples, except by scanning in another map with the route, twisting the image to match the vector map’s boundaries, and then eye-balling it. Or what if you want to locate where all of the sieges occurred, the dozens of sieges? You could, as some have done, add some basic features to Google Maps or Google Earth Pro, but you’re still stuck with the basemap provided, and, importantly, Google’s (or Microsoft’s, or whoever’s) willingness to continue their service in its current, open, form. The Graveyard of Digital History, so very young!, is already littered with great online tools that were born and then either died within a few short years, or slowly became obsolete and unusable as internet technology passed them by. Among those online tools that survive for more than a five years, they often do so by transforming into a proprietary, fee-based service, or get swallowed up by one of the big boys. And what if you want to conduct actual spatial analysis, looking for geospatial patterns among your data? Enter GIS.
So here’s my first draft of a map visualizing the major military operations in the Italian peninsula during the Italian Wars. Or, more accurately, locating and classifying (some of) the major combat operations from 1494 to 1530:
Pretty cool, if you ask me. And it’s just the beginning.
How did I do it? Well, the sausage-making process is a lot uglier than the final product. But we must have sausage. Henry V made the connection between war and sausage quite clear: “War without fire is like sausages without mustard.”
So to the technical details, for those who already understand the basics of GIS (QGIS in this case). If you don’t know anything about GIS, there are one or two websites on the subject.
- I’m using Euratlas‘ 1500 boundaries shapefile, but I had to modify some of the owner attributes and alter the boundaries back to 1494, since things can change quickly, even in History. In 1500, the year Euratlas choose to trace the historical boundaries, France was technically ruling Milan and Naples. But, if you know your History, you know that this was a very recent change, and you also know that it didn’t last long, as Spain would come to dominate the peninsula sooner rather than later. So that requires some work fixing the boundaries to start at the beginning of the war in 1494. I should probably have shifted the borders from 1500 back to 1494 using a different technique (ideally in a SpatiaLite database where you could relate the sovereign_state table to the 2nd_level_divisions table), but I ended up doing it manually: merging some polygons, splitting other multi-polygons into single polygons, modifying existing polygons, and clipping yet other polygons. Unfortunately, these boundaries changed often enough that I foresee a lot of polygon modifications in my future…
- Notice my rotation of the Italian boot to a reclining angle – gotta mess with people’s conventional expectations. (Still haven’t played around with Print Composer yet, which would allow me to add a compass rose.) More important than being a cool rebel who blows people’s cartographic preconceptions, I think this non-standard orientation offers a couple of advantages. First, it allows you to zoom in a bit more, to fit the length of the boot along the width rather than height of the page. More subtly, it also reminds the reader that the Po river drains ‘down’ through Venice into the Adriatic. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has to explicitly remind myself that all those northern European rivers aren’t really flowing uphill into the Baltic. (You’re on you own to remember that the Tiber flows down into the Tyrrhenian Sea.) George “Mr. Metaphor” Lakoff would be proud.
- I converted all the layers to the Albers equal-area conic projection centered on Europe, for valid area calculations. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll zoom out, and add graticules and Tissot’s indicatrices, which illustrate the nature of the projection’s distortions of shape, area and distance as you move away from the European center (i.e. the main focus of the projection):
And in case you wanted my opinion, projections are really annoying to work with. But there’s still room for improvement here: if I could get SpatiaLite to work in QGIS (damn shapefiles saved as SpatiaLite layers won’t retain the geometry), I would be able to re-project layers on the fly with a SQL statement, rather than saving them as separate shapefiles.
- I’m still playing around with symbology, so I went with basic shape+color symbols to distinguish battles from sieges (rule-based styling). I did a little bit of customization with the labels – offsetting the labels and adding a shadow for greater contrast. Still plenty of room for improvement here, including figuring out how to make my timechart symbols (created in Illustrator) look good in QGIS.
After discovering the battle site symbol in the tourist folder of custom markers, it could look like this, if you have it randomly-color the major states, and include the 100 French battles that David Potter mentions in his Renaissance France at War, Appendix 1, plus the major combats of the Italian Wars and Valois-Habsburg Wars listed in Wikipedia:
Boy, there were a lot of battles in Milan and Venice, though I’d guess Potter’s appendix probably includes smaller combats involving hundreds of men. Haven’t had time to check.
- I used Euratlas’ topography layers, 200m, 500m, 1000m, 2000m, and 3500m of elevation, rather than use Natural Earth’s 1:10m raster geotiff (an image file with georeferenced coordinates). I wasn’t able to properly merge them onto a single layer (so I could do a proper categorical color ramp), so I grouped the separate layers together. For the mountain elevations I used the colors in a five-step yellow-to-red color ramp suggested by ColorBrewer 2.0.
- I saved the styles of some of the layers, e.g. the topo layer colors and combat symbols, as qml files, so I can easily apply them elsewhere if I have to make changes or start over.
- You can also illustrate the alliances for each year, or when they change, whichever happens more frequently – assuming you have the time to plot all those crazy Italian machinations. If you make them semi-transparent and turn several years’ alliances on at the same time, their overlap with allow you to see which countries switched sides (I’m looking at you, Florence and Rome), vs. which were consistent:
- Plotting the march routes is also a work in progress, starting by importing the camps as geocoded points, and then using the Points2One plugin to connect them up. With this version of Charles’ march down to Naples (did you catch that south-as-down metaphor?), I only had a few camps to mark, so the routes are direct lines, which means they might display as crossing water. More waypoints will fix that, though it’d be better if you could make the march routes follow roads, assuming they did. Which, needless to say, would require a road layer.
- Not to mention applying spatial analysis to the results. And animation. And…
More to come, including the exciting, wild world of data collection.
So what’s new in the world of EMEM historiography? The French are on the attack.
Sure, English historians continue to dominate the fiscal-military side of the ledger, as well as war-and-society topics. And, yes, the Germans continue their obsession with the Altagsgeschichte (everyday history) of the Thirty Years War. Italianists are even paying more attention to the Wars of Italy of the 16th century. Germanic scholars, both German and Dutch/Belgian, seem a bit more interested in the diplomatic history of these early modern wars as well. And even Spanish scholars are starting to write about their own wars from the period. And there are actually quite a few scholars working on those Terrible Turks as well, from what I can tell. But don’t worry, English-language collections still tend to serve as the default smorgasbord of different regions and decades, by scholars from around the globe.
Finally, though, French historians have embraced their inner giant. If you’ve read my past bibliography posts, you’ve already seen this trend in my shift to including foreign-language – primarily French-language – publications. And this trend has only increased over the past few years, now that there’s a cadre of young (and older) French historians who have rediscovered the early modern age in all its martial glory. And they’ve got the conferences and edited collections to prove it. I’ve already mentioned a few of the recent publications over the past few years, but I’ll briefly re-cite them in one place, so you can see the trend:
- Corvisier, André, ed. Le Soldat, la stratégie, la mort: mélanges André Corvisier. Economica, 1989.
Blanchard, Anne, Jean Meyer, Michel Mollat du Jourdain, André Corvisier, and Philippe Contamine. Histoire militaire de la France, tome 1: Des origines à 1715. Presses Universitaires de France – PUF, 1992.
- Bérenger, Jean. La Révolution militaire en Europe, XVe-XVIIIe siècles: actes du colloque organisé le 4 avril 1997 à Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan par le Centre de recherches des Écoles de Coëtquidan, par l’Institut de Recherches sur les civilisations de l’Occident Moderne (Université de Paris-Sorbonne) et par l’Institut de Stratégie Comparée. Institut de stratégie comparée, 1998.
Chagniot, Jean. Guerre et société à l’époque moderne. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France – PUF, 2001.
- Desplat, Christian, ed. Les villageois face à la guerre, XIVe-XVIIIe siècle: actes des XXIIes Journées internationales d’histoire de l’Abbaye de Flaran, 8, 9, 10 septembre 2000. Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 2002.
- Chagniot, Jean, ed. Combattre, gouverner, écrire: Etudes réunies en l’honneur de Jean Chagniot. Paris: Economica, 2003.
- Tollet, Daniel, ed. Guerres et paix en Europe centrale aux époques moderne et contemporaine: mélanges d’histoire des relations internationales offerts à Jean Bérenger. Presses Paris Sorbonne, 2003.
- Warmoes, Isabelle, and Victoria Sanger, eds. Vauban, bâtisseur du Roi-Soleil. Paris: Somogy éditions d’art, 2007.
- Salzmann, Jean-Pierre, ed. Vauban: militaire et économiste sous Louis XIV. Actes du colloque de 23-24 juin 2007 à Marsal. 2 vols. Luxembourg: Section Historique de l’Institut Grand-Ducal de Luxembourg, 2008.
- Chanet, Jean-François. Les ressources des faibles: Neutralités, sauvegardes, accommodements en temps de guerre (XVIe-XVIIIe siècle). Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2010.
- Saupin, Guy, and Eric Schnakenbourg, eds. Expériences de la guerre et pratiques de la paix de l’Antiquité au XXe siècle: Etudes réunies en l’honneur du professeur Jean-Pierre Bois. Rennes: PU Rennes, 2013.
- Deruelle, Benjamin, and Bernard Gainot, eds. La construction du militaire: Volume 1, Savoirs et savoir-faire militaires à l’époque moderne. Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2013.
- Baechler, Jean, and Jean-Vincent Holeindre, eds. Penseurs de la stratégie. Paris: Editions Hermann, 2014.
- Drévillon, Hervé, and Arnaud Guinier, eds. Les Lumières de la guerre : Mémoires militaires du XVIIIe siècle conservés au Service historique de la Défense. 2 vols. Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2015.
- Brunet, Serge, and José Javier Ruiz Ibáñez, eds. Les milices dans la première modernité. Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2015.
- Fonck, Bertrand, and Nathalie Genet-Rouffiac, eds. Combattre et gouverner: Dynamiques de l’histoire militaire de l’époque moderne (XVIIe-XVIIIe siècles. Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2015.
- Collectifs. D’Azincourt à Marignan: Chevaliers et bombardes, 1415-1515. Paris: Gallimard, 2015.
- Chauviré, Frédéric, and Bertrand Fonck, eds. L’âge d’or de la cavalerie. Paris: Gallimard, 2015.
- Boltanski, Ariane, Yann Lagadec, and Franck Mercier, eds. La bataille. Du fait d’armes au combat idéologique, XIe–XIXe siècle. Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2015.
- Jalabert, Laurent, and Stefano Simiz, eds. Le soldat face au clerc. Armée et religion en Europe occidentale (XVe-XIXe siècle). Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2016.
- Drévillon, Hervé, Bertrand Fonck, and Jean-Philippe Cénat, eds. Les dernières guerres de Louis XIV: 1688-1715. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2017.
If I were to include the chapters in these collections, they would easily number a couple hundred from several dozen authors. But just from the above titles and contributors, you can see the progression:
- from doyens of the French historical establishment – André Corvisier, Jean-Pierre Bois, Jean Bérenger and Jean Chagniot most prominently – being festschrifted at the tail end of their careers
- to a whole host of mid-career converts and newly-minted disciples. The military history of early modern France, and of Louis XIV’s age in particular, is definitely on the rise.
Just as interestingly, the French interest in war and society, evidenced in the early (1960s-1970s) works of scholars like Corvisier and Bois, has subsided a bit, many following the path of Corvisier, who turned, by the 1980s, to a more focused look at the sharp end of war in his La bataille de Malplaquet 1709: L’effondrement de la France évité (1997). After a brief flirtation with the Military Revolution, French military-historical scholarship of the past two decades has specialized in case studies (primarily of France) and topical analyses (primarily of France). Cultural and social topics continue to receive attention, bien sûr, but what’s striking is how traditional military subjects have also seen a renaissance. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that the Service historique de la Defense is supporting such researches with conferences and publication assistance.
This return to histoire événementielle appears a reverse image of what’s happened in the U.S. over the same timeframe. Even though Hervé Drévillon attributed the recent increase in early modern French military history to the influence of John Lynn’s Giant of the Grand Siècle (1997), Lynn’s own work has gone in a somewhat different direction ever since (after, it should be noted, beginning in the French Revolutionary armies). After his 1999 narrative of the Wars of Louis XIV, he shifted gears to works on women in early modern armies, just finished a book on modern terrorism, and is currently working on a broad history of surrender. This, I think, is more than a single example of a declining interest in the details of EMEMH among American academics: there are, to my knowledge, only a handful of young American scholars focusing on the period of 17C-18C European warfare (defined broadly), much less traditional military history (however that’s defined). And several of these focus much more on the later 18C into the Revolution.
Perhaps that’s not surprising, since I’d be hard-pressed to identify more than a handful of Ph.D. programs with more than a solitary European military historian (again, defined broadly) who could serve as advisor. I don’t mean to restart the old flame wars of ‘whither military history?’ and cast blame and rend garments, other than to suggest that, perhaps, the golden age of American students of EMEMH in the 1980s to late 1990s, advised by scholars like Joe Guilmartin, Geoffrey Parker and John Lynn at Ohio State and Illinois, where we had a dozen or more graduate students all working on the same general area, was an unsustainable deviation from the norm – unless you’re an American doing American history, or at least doing modern history. Maybe structural and institutional factors helped re-establish the normal state of affairs: the brutal job market for History Ph.D.s over the past several decades (or more!) certainly hasn’t helped matters. Last statistics I saw from the American Historical Association, a few years back, estimated about 1%-2% of academic historians were self-declared “military” historians, perhaps a bit more than the number of academic “diplomatic” historians. Perhaps it’s only natural, as well, that national history dominates a country’s historiographical interests, even in as large a country as the United States.
But back to the point: French military history is on the rise, and it’s hardly a surprise that they are focusing on their own nation’s martial past. In case we needed further evidence of the rise of EMFrenchMH, and of the concomitant necessity to read French, we can add one more publication to the above list, an edited collection which includes some familiar faces, as well as some new ones.
Chapters with an early modern focus include:
- Ambühl, Rémy. “Le statut de prisonnier de guerre et les lois de la rançon à la fin du Moyen Âge.” In Les prisonniers de guerre (XVe-XIXe siècle) Entre marginalisation et reconnaissance Laurent Jalabert (dir.), edited by Laurent Jalabert, 99–112. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2018. [If the medievalists.net website can include 17C stories under its rubric, we EMEMHians will annex late medieval!]
- Bardakçi, Özkan. “La figure des prisonniers de guerre (Européens et Ottomans) à travers les récits de l’expédition de Candie (1667-1669) : entre mort, souffrance et trahison.” In Les prisonniers de guerre (XVe-XIXe siècle) Entre marginalisation et reconnaissance Laurent Jalabert (dir.), edited by Laurent Jalabert, 41–50. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2018.
- Chaline, Olivier. “Conclusions.” In Les prisonniers de guerre (XVe-XIXe siècle) Entre marginalisation et reconnaissance Laurent Jalabert (dir.), edited by Laurent Jalabert, 285-. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2018.
- Chauviré, Frédéric. “Le sort des prisonniers sur le champ de bataille aux XVIIe-XVIIIe siècles, vers une humanisation?” In Les prisonniers de guerre (XVe-XIXe siècle) Entre marginalisation et reconnaissance Laurent Jalabert (dir.), edited by Laurent Jalabert, 113–26. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2018.
- Frijhoff, Willem. “Prisonniers de guerre néerlandais aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles.” In Les prisonniers de guerre (XVe-XIXe siècle) Entre marginalisation et reconnaissance Laurent Jalabert (dir.), edited by Laurent Jalabert, 233–48. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2018.
- Marquis, Hugues. “Le discours sur les prisonniers de guerre, des Lumières à la Révolution.” In Les prisonniers de guerre (XVe-XIXe siècle) Entre marginalisation et reconnaissance Laurent Jalabert (dir.), edited by Laurent Jalabert, 51–64. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2018.
- Martin, Philippe. “Vivre sa foi en captivité : les guerres indiennes 1640-1670.” In Les prisonniers de guerre (XVe-XIXe siècle) Entre marginalisation et reconnaissance Laurent Jalabert (dir.), edited by Laurent Jalabert, 267–84. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2018.
- Perréon, Stéphane. “Entre représailles et indispensable coopération : la gestion administrative des marins prisonniers de guerre pendant la guerre de la Ligue d’Augsbourg (1688-1697).” In Les prisonniers de guerre (XVe-XIXe siècle) Entre marginalisation et reconnaissance Laurent Jalabert (dir.), edited by Laurent Jalabert, 127–42. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2018.
- Picaud-Monnerat, Sandrine. “Les prisonniers de guerre pendant la guerre Succession d’Autriche.” In Les prisonniers de guerre (XVe-XIXe siècle) Entre marginalisation et reconnaissance Laurent Jalabert (dir.), edited by Laurent Jalabert, 143–58. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2018.
- Plassmann, Max. “Kriegsgefangene der Reichsarmee im Neunjährigen Krieg und im Spanischen Erbfolgekrieg (1688-1714).” In Les prisonniers de guerre (XVe-XIXe siècle) Entre marginalisation et reconnaissance Laurent Jalabert (dir.), edited by Laurent Jalabert, 199–212. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2018. [Hey, how did a German chapter get in here???]
- Vo-Ha, Paul. “Les prisonniers de guerre de la bataille de Fleurus (1690-1691).” In Les prisonniers de guerre (XVe-XIXe siècle) Entre marginalisation et reconnaissance Laurent Jalabert (dir.), edited by Laurent Jalabert, 249–66. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2018.
At the end of 2017, I’m able to catch my breath and reflect back on the past year. It was a digital year, among other things.
Most concretely, our History department’s Digital History Lab was finally completed. Two long years of planning and grant-writing, and almost 800 emails later, my quixotic labor of love is (almost) done! A generous anonymous donor gave us enough money to find a room one floor above our offices, and to find the money to stock it with PCs and iMacs, a Surface Hub touch-display, scanners (including a microfilm scanner and a ScannX book scanner), and a Surface Book tablet/laptop to pass around the seminar table and project to the Surface Hub. These tools will allow our undergraduate department to use the lab for a variety of projects: digital-centric history courses and digitally-inflected courses; independent studies and tutoring; faculty projects and internships; as well as public history projects with local museums. Not to mention the Skype-enabled Hub.
In the process of designing and overseeing the lab’s construction, I’ve learned a lot about institutional paranoia and the rules they necessitate, and how the digital humanities’ love of open-source software doesn’t play well with IT’s need for locked-down systems. So the lab had to forego many of the open-source tools used by digital historians and humanists. But I did try to provide the computers in the lab with commercial programs with similar features. The software includes:
- ABBYY FineReader for OCRing texts
- the standard Microsoft Office suite (including Access for relational databases)
- the standard Adobe Creative Suite, including Illustrator
- statistics software (SPSS and Minitab)
- EndNote (because we can’t install Zotero)
- Aeon 2 timeline software (for semi-interactive timelines like this)
- mapping software, including Google Earth Pro, ArcGIS, QGIS, Centennia and Euratlas historical digital maps, and MAPublisher to tweak geospatial data in Illustrator.
- OutWit Hub for web scraping and tagged entity extraction
- online software, such as Google Fusion Tables, Palladio, Voyant, etc.
- the machines also have Python, but I’m not sure about how easy it will be to constantly install/update new libraries and the like, given the school’s security concerns
- the department also has a subscription to Omeka, for our planned public history projects.
And there’s more to come. The anonymous donor made an additional donation which will allow us to replace that retro chalkboard with a 90″ monitor display. As well as purchase a few other software packages, and even a reference book or two. All the tools you need to do some digital history. And build a digital history curriculum for our undergraduate majors.
The DHL will be the centerpiece of our department’s new foray into digital history. Since we’re an undergraduate institution, our goals are modest. Having just taught the first iteration of my Introduction to Digital History course, it’s pretty clear that having undergraduates mess with lots of open-source package installations – much less try to learn a programming language like Python – would’ve been a nightmare (especially since I’m just learning Python myself). So our textbook, Exploring Big Historical Data, didn’t get as much use as I’d initially planned. But we did spend some time looking at the broader picture before we dove into the weeds.
And to make sure the students understood the importance of kaizen and the “There’s gotta be a better way!!!” ethic, I beat them over the head with the automation staircase:
As a result, the students were introduced to, and hopefully even learned how to use at least a few features of, the following tools:
- Adobe Acrobat automation
- Excel (don’t assume today’s college students know how to use computers beyond games and social media)
- MS Access
- OCR (ABBYY FineReader and Adobe Acrobat Pro)
- Regular expressions
- Google Sheets and ezGeocode add-in
- Google Fusion Tables
- Stanford Named Entity Recognition
- OutWit Hub
A digital smorgasbord, I realize, but I tried to give them a sampling of relational databases, text mining, and mapping. Unfortunately, we proved again and again that 60%-80% of every digital project is acquiring and cleaning the data, which meant there wasn’t as much time for analysis as I would’ve liked. And, to boot, several of the tools were extremely limited without purchasing the full version (OutWit Hub), or installing the local server version on your own computer (Stanford NER) – did I mention students had problems installing software on their own machines? But, at the least, the students were exposed to these tools, saw what they can do, and know where to look to explore further, as their interests and needs dictate. I’d call that an Introduction to Digital History.
Fortunately, I was able to play around with a few more sophisticated tools in the process, relying on the Programming Historian, among other resources:
- Vard 2 and GATE (cleaning up OCRed texts)
- MALLET topic modeling
- Gephi network software (Palladio also has some basic network graphing features)
- VOS Viewer for bibliometrics – if only JSTOR/Academic Search Premier/Historical Abstracts had the bibliometric citation datasets that Web of Science does (yes, JSTOR’s Text Analyzer is a start, but still…)
- Edinburgh geoparser
- Python (also with the help of Automating the Boring Stuff with Python).
So now I’ve at least successfully used most of the tools I see digital historians mention, and have established a foundation to build future work upon.
So, what are my resolutions for 2018?
More of the same, but applied toward EMEMH!
More digitalia – adding a few more toys to Eastern’s Digital History Lab, training the other History faculty on some of its tools (Zotero and Omeka, for starters), and practicing a bit more with GIS. And figuring out a way to efficiently clean all those 18C primary source texts I’ve got in PDFs. And, just as mind numbing, creating shapefiles of the boundaries of early modern European states.
More miltaria – I’m teaching my European Warfare, 1337-1815 course again this Spring, and will try to figure out a way to have the students’ projects contribute towards an EMEMH dataset that will eventually go online.
And did I mention a year-long sabbatical in 2018-19, so I can finish the big book of battles, and start the next project, a GIS-driven operational analysis of Louis XIV’s campaigns? Yeehaa!
So here’s to wishing your 2018 might be a bit more digital too.