Just got back from a two-week excursion to central Europe, with a quick turnaround for other familial obligations.
But lest you think I was merely reading Georg Scherer’s sermons at a Viennese café while drinking my Wiener Melange (more like eating apfelstruedel mit schlagobers and reading reports of yet another act of hate/terrorism/gun violence in the U.S.), I was actually hard at work, traipsing across the historical flotsam and jetsam of what once was the crown jewel of the Austro-Hungarian empire. But that’s for another time.
To tide you over, in case you’re in Vienna over the next couple of months, and are interested in all things Karl V, the Kunsthistorisches Museum has a top-floor exhibit on Charles V’s capture of Tunis in 1535. There are apparently some tapestries of his successful North African campaign in the Prado, but Vienna has the “cartoons” (the paintings which were the basis of the tapestries) currently on display.
For a brief (English-language) overview of the exhibit, you can look here.
The KHM also has a (German-language) catalog of the exhibit. Which makes me think there really should be some art museum listserv to alert interested parties to military history-themed exhibits. Though something like this might be a start.
Here are some recent publications that illustrate pretty well the trends in EMEMHistoriography: mercs, military fiscs and infidels, oh my! Leaven with the occasional campaign history.
For those keeping track, I give you yet one more example of my desire to replace reading text with seeing icons (check the blog’s graphics tag for other examples). Turns out I can trace my fascination with visualizing info to my teen years. My first recollection of being amazed at the visual organization of lots of information was my high school periodic table of the elements. It was a fancy two-side sheet brimming with colorful detail – I can’t find that particular version online, but here’s an example:
In addition to the way in which the elements were organized into periods and groups, other info (in a smaller font, as above) was included as well. One side of the sheet included the atomic mass and many other numeric values for each element, while the other side illustrated some kind of 3D shape/structure associated with each element (haven’t taken chemistry since high school, so I don’t know what it would have been exactly, but I think it looked kinda like the shape of a crystal, or a molecule). I remember being excited, literally excited, at how much information was grouped into that little space – a very efficient micro-macro reference device.
Eventually (as a sophomore in college) I became a historian. What a let down in the visualization department (with the exception of those wacky Annalistes). So let’s talk one of the most frequent ways historians summarize historical info: the timeline. I hope I’m not the only one who hates simple two-column timelines that waste space by spelling out Battle of Mohács, Siege of Vienna… Not only does it take up a lot of extra space, but you can’t include any other info in the list with text alone (who won the battle? which sides were involved? what did it lead to?…). You can of course use a limited number of font style options to add one or two more dimensions to the info in the timeline, but why not use icons, which can manipulate Bertin’s visual variables of shape, orientation, color/hue, value, size, position and texture? Lots of permutations there. This ability to include much detail in a small amount of space is also the motivation behind Tufte’s sparklines, which would be awesome to include in campaign narratives: march rates, casualty rates, army size fluctuations… Yet such things almost never appear in military history, despite our heavy reliance on maps. It’s particularly odd how historians expect these kinds of symbols on maps, but don’t think about using them elsewhere. (Not that I’ve got anything against maps, mind you.)
Thus my mantra: Condense the info and add more, dammit! And, lest you fear, notice that a lot of this info doesn’t even require BIG DATA and massive quantitative datasets – it’s simple nominal and ordinal data.
But back to my timechart-of-the-day (wait for it), which illustrates the major military events of the Ottoman Empire in the first half of the 16C. It probably has a lot of mistakes, but it’s not my fault you see. When you try to create such campaign overviews for most early modern wars, you quickly discover that historians love to mention big events like major battles and sieges, but rarely do they mention the operational context, and they happily skip over entire years when there may (or may not) have been fighting. Half of the time we can’t even be bothered to specify the year: “Several years later the Turks returned…”. Yet even if every combat and campaign doesn’t merit narration, they could at least be included in an appendix or table/chart. (Note to publishers: I would gladly pay an extra $20 for a book that included such basic information, data absolutely critical to judging the quality of an author’s argument. Or I’d pay $20 for digital versions of the kinds of timecharts I post here. Am I the only one?)
So this chart (wait for it) provides yet another example of the challenge non-experts and experts alike face trying to assemble a systematic overview of a campaign based off of spotty narratives that leave out all sorts of details and important information. Reminds me of grad school, where I quickly realized that we could argue about Roberts’ or Parker’s Military Revolution (how much change? when did it change? how did it change?), but since we didn’t know the details of all the various battles/sieges and campaigns, it was a pretty speculative discussion, and not incredibly worthwhile. Now if we had systematic empirical evidence to back our hunches up rather than a decontextualized quotation or two…
In other words, I haven’t found the perfect source that provides Ottoman campaign narratives by year – most of what I have are thematic works by the likes of Rhoads Murphey, Gabor Agoston (apologies for the lack of accents), and Virginia Aksan.
So check out the Symbol page for my icons if you haven’t memorized them by now. And finally, without further ado, I give you the Ottoman wars chart.
So was it worth the wait? I think it works as a good reference sheet, but I won’t say too much about its content, other than to suggest that it does a decent job of illustrating how the Ottomans had to juggle expansion (and defense) along several different frontiers, from North Africa and the Mediterranean, to southeastern Europe and Hungary, to Persia to the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and Red Sea. Palace coups, revolts, plagues and fires, raids, battles and sieges – they sure were busy!
Feedback (corrections especially) appreciated. And please make your own timecharts and share them; feel free to use my iconography if it helps (I think it does, needless to say). As usual, feel free to use this chart (no publication), as long as you properly attribute it to this blog.