Now that my sabbatical has officially ended, the summer begins. I’ll gradually share with the world all the wonderful digital discoveries from my Year of the Digital. Discoveries that have so engulfed my world that I’ve slighted the blog for several months. But a short teaser list will suffice for now.
What did I do over the past year+ of “me-time”? Why, I…
- Learned enough Python to become a danger to myself, and the historical community more generally.
- Learned enough QGIS (Geographical Information Systems) to visualize the fruition of my 25-year dream to map early modern military operations.
- Reacquainted myself with some of the gritty details of MS Access and relational databases. Because somebody’s gotta make a giant dataset of all those early modern wars.
Don’t worry, there are still plenty of digital skills/tools to work on, including learning graph databases and learning enough web tools to host custom databases and maps. And let’s not forget collecting the data to put in those digital tools. Digital history is the wave of the future, after all. Today.
But first on the list is to share my first (major) Python project with the world – code that will clean EEBO TCP text documents, making them easier to analyze with natural language processing (NLP) techniques. Coming soon…
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.
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:
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:
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.