Tag Archive | maps

Time to put the toys away and get back to work

I spent the last few days playing around with small multiple maps in Adobe Illustrator:

Alliances, War of the Spanish Succession, 1701-1703

Alliances, War of the Spanish Succession, 1701-1703

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!

A Never-Ending MapQuest

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…

The theory behind historical visualizations

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.

Napoleon's march into and out of Russia, 1812 (Minard)

Napoleon’s march into and out of Russia, 1812 (Minard)

Minard’s map is considered successful because it makes a *very* simple and focused argument using high-information variables. Let me explain. Read More…

Most Awesomest Idea Ever?

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.

An actual drawing of Europe by me. Autographed copies available.

Read More…

Horsing around with scale bars

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).

Carte d'une partie de Piemont

Carte d’une partie de Piemont

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.

Other interpretations?

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.

Animating Maps

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.

Animated map of Allied holdings in Iberia, War of the Spanish Succession

(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.


  1. Do you find animations like the above effective?
  2. How would you improve it?
  3. Is animating a map like the above worth the effort, or is it better to just do a static map, such as:

    Static Version of Allied-held Territory in Iberia

The Geography of War

You’ve probably heard the saying (often attributed to Mark Twain) that “God created war so that Americans would learn geography.” That may be true, or not, since too many college students still don’t know where Iraq and Afghanistan are on a map. But the idea goes back much further.

As the preface to The Art of War in Four Parts (1707) explained:

“It would be altogether needless to go about to extol the usefulness of this Work, at a time when all Europe is involv’d in bloody Wars. The Continuance of them has made Thousands aspire to some little Knowledge in Geography, who would scare ever have look’d into a Map. The Marches of Armies, the Over-running of Provinces, and the Sieges of Towns, have rais’d a Curiosity to be inform’d of their Distances and Situation. If these, which are but the Consequences of War, do so far prompt us to desire Information that we may be in some Sort capable of comprehending them, how much more ought we to endeavour to gain some little Insight into that which produces those great Events we daily hearken after, and which is the Art of War?”

The inclusion of a preface or note to the reader was a common device used by publishers to justify the purchase of their work, and you frequently find in military reference works arguments to the effect that since everybody is reading and talking about the war, you’d better be familiar with the terminology too or you’ll end up looking like an idiot: “those who are fond of, or satisfy’d with their Ignorance, when they hear the Language of the Army, either answer absurdly, or stand gazing, without knowing what to say, as if they were spoken to in a strange and unknown Tongue.” Now we just prefer to be interviewed by Jay Leno (Jaywalking) so we can look like an idiot.

Of course it’s a little odd that this particular work doesn’t even deal with geography or include any maps. But oh well.