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.
I spent the last few days playing around with small multiple maps in Adobe Illustrator:
Blue is Bourbon (vertical lines are allies, of which there are various kinds); red represents Allied countries; gray are neutrals; explosions are revolts. The bright colors (bright red and bright blue) indicate a change that occurs in that year, so you can not only see the overall alliance composition in any given year, but also focus on which changes occur in each year.
Still a work in progress: need more details on some of the minor powers, cut-off dates are a bit complicated, not sure how I’ll emphasize the change when the revolts go away, may add combat point symbols (e.g. circles for sieges, x’s for battles)… But you get the idea.
Next up on my to-do list: Way-overdue book reviews!
I find myself at the end of most semesters brainstorming on how I might ease my teaching burden. I teach about eight different upper-level courses on early modern Europe in rotation, on subjects, periods and places ranging from the Renaissance through Napoleon (in addition to Western Civ). Almost every course usually covers 100 years or more, as well as several different European countries. Heck, my Religion, War and Peace course even takes it back to the Old Testament. Since I only teach each course perhaps once every two or three years, I often only vaguely remember the details of many events. Memory really does benefit from repetition, it appears.
So as I reflect on the semester just ending, I wonder for the umpteenth time how I can make it easier to remember a myriad of historical details. I hate the fact that I’ll forget many of the details I covered this semester, and will have to relearn them when I teach the same course again in a couple of years – even rereading my notes requires a lot of time I’d prefer to save for other things. I want, in short, to efficiently prep for class by reviewing a visualization of my notes on the campaign or war or theater or commander or historical event under discussion, and then narrate off of it in class (and provide the visual to students for their own notes). Is that asking too much? Read More…
A comment by a reader on a previous post (contrasting my Ottoman timechart with Minard’s famous map of Russia 1812) merits further discussion. Warning: theoretical discussion of the visual display of (not just) quantitative information follows.
Minard’s map is considered successful because it makes a *very* simple and focused argument using high-information variables. Let me explain. Read More…
Perhaps you’re like me. You tend to think about things visually and perhaps after a cartography course and a Tufte book or two you appreciate that visualizations can be far more data dense than an equivalent area of prose. Preferring to think visually is indeed great, except when, like me, you have practically no artistic skills. So you don’t really use it very much because you can’t draw a smiley face, much less a semi-respectable outline of Europe.
Apropos a previous post on the different measurement systems used in early modern cartography, I just came across this example that is unique (to me at least).
I’m not positive, but it looks like the top bar indicates the distance one can travel in an hour on horseback, i.e. 2 heur[es] de ch[eval]. Of course it’s annoying that they don’t left justify the two bars, so you can directly compare the 1 hour to the number of Piemont milles.
Notice how the French text beneath the bars also lets the reader know that four Piemont milles (“miles” or “thousands”) equal two French lieus (leagues), each of 2500 toises. It ain’t easy being an early modern.
I spent several hours today playing around with animated GIFs. For those who aren’t among the technocenti (circa 1995), an animated GIF is a type of graphic file that allows you to animate its contents. You’ll see a fair number of them online, particularly if you read many blogs with animated cat icons. It’s a poor cousin to the more powerful animations and interactive websites available in Flash, which Steve Jobs declared war against about the time the iPad came out.
I’d dabbled with Flash before, and will again, but I wanted to keep my experimentation simple at first. So here’s my first attempt. I have lots of ideas for the medium-term future, but this will give you a sense of what they look like at their most basic.
(The blog may require you to click on the image in order to run the animation. Go ahead. I’ll wait.)
I was able to easily export my Adobe Illustrator file into Photoshop and then use its Animation feature. It’s actually a bit more complicated than that, because you need to rethink how you represent your content when you shift from static to animated, and essentially rethink your layering strategy.
- Do you find animations like the above effective?
- How would you improve it?
- Is animating a map like the above worth the effort, or is it better to just do a static map, such as: