A Graph of Diplomatic Wrangling in Algiers

Digital Humanities, Naval History
When the United States became independent after the American Revolution, it had to struggle to protect its seaborne commerce in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Americans had to rely on the goodwill of France, Portugal, and other European powers because the United States lacked the naval power necessary to protect its own shipping. Historical Background  Americans had to negotiate with the Barbary states to secure the release of hostages, taken by Barbary corsairs, and to decide how much tribute would guarantee the safety of American shipping. The United States quickly felt the bite of diplomatic and military impotence. American diplomats, who had little power of their own, had to rely on the good graces of many others with better connections to the Algerine court. Sometimes, those others helped the American cause; at other times,…
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Boston-Area Days of DH Wrap-up

Digital Humanities, NULab
[cross-posted to HASTAC.org] Now that it's been almost a month since the Boston-Area Days of DH, I figured I'd better write a wrap-up of the conference. It was my very great pleasure to help Prof. Ryan Cordell organize the conference, and along the way I learned a lot about DH and about scholarly work in general (and about scheduling and organization and making sure the coffee gets to the right place...). The Boston-Area Days of DH conference was sponsored by Northeastern University's NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks. Originally, it was designed to coincide with the worldwide Day of DH, sponsored by CenterNet. It would do in a conference what Day of DH does online: highlight the work that Boston-area digital humanists are doing and start conversations based on that…
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Developing High- and Low-Tech Digital Competencies

Digital Humanities, NULab
Last week, Ben Schmidt gave a talk at Northeastern, part of which was about developing technical competency in digital methods. This semester, I’ve had the chance to develop my technical competency in working with data, mostly by jumping in with both feet and flailing around in all directions. The task I was given in the NULab has allowed me to play with several different digital methods. The base project was this: turn strings such as these 10138 sn86071378/1854-12-14/ed-1 sn85038518/1854-12-07/ed-1 8744 sn83030213/1842-12-08/ed-1 sn86053954/1842-12-14/ed-1 8099 sn84028820/1860-01-05/ed-1 sn88061076/1859-12-23/ed-2 7819 sn85026050/1860-12-06/ed-1 sn83035143/1860-12-06/ed-1 7792 sn86063325/1850-01-03/ed-1 sn89066057/1849-12-31/ed-1 into a usable representation of a pair of newspapers who share a printed text. This snippet is 5 lines of a document of over 2 million lines, so obviously doing the substitutions by hand was not really an option.…
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Space Matters

Digital Humanities
[Originally posted to the course blog for Doing Digital Humanities, Prof. Ryan Cordell.] In addition to our reading for class about mapping, several blog posts about mapping and GIS have been in my RSS feed reader this week. All these have combined to make me think more critically about space and its representations in historical research and presentation. As Jo Guldi points out, the spatial turn in history occurred as early as the modern study of history. It seems almost self-evident that historical analysis has to include a discussion of space, at least to historians now. The history of people is inextricably linked to the history of those people’s space. And as historians focused more on national history, space obviously had to be considered. Guldi says, “Telling a history of nation rather…
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Documenting Change over Time with Simile Timeline

Digital Humanities
The NULab project that I'm working on right now involves documenting connections between newspapers in the nineteenth-century United States. So far, my work has been researching the history of each individual newspaper. It's been an enlightening and entertaining process. (If you're interested in one of the most entertaining stories I discovered, check out my Omeka exhibit for my digital humanities class.) We're pulling data from the Chronicling America website at the Library of Congress. The newspapers we have range from 1836 to 1860. We don't have all the newspapers from that range, though. We're adding new papers all the time. The data I'm working with right now is from the first batch of data. One of the difficulties I encountered early into the process of research was the astonishing number…
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Witticism from the Holmes County Republican

Digital Humanities
As part of my work at the NULab, I've been researching newspapers from the mid-nineteenth century. This little tidbit from a newspaper in Millersburg, OH, caught my eye and I thought I'd share. P.S. If you know anything about Millersburg in the 1850s, or the Holmes County Republican or Holmes County Farmer, please contact me. I would like to know more about this town's news. About Girls' Names. If you are a very precise man and wish to be certain of what you get, never marry a girl named Ann; for we have the authority of Lindley Murray, and others, that "an is an indefinite article."[1. I've been listening to the Anne of Green Gables series on my commute to school, and this one seems to hold true, in that case at least.]…
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The Message of the Historical Medium

Digital Humanities, Naval History
[This post was written for my graduate class, "Doing Digital Humanities," and originally posted on that course's blog.] Literary scholars and creative writers spend quite a bit of time thinking about the medium in which they work. Historians tend to think about such things less, since literary theory often doesn’t work well with historical inquiry. Serious historical scholarship is almost always created in a standard medium: the monograph. Reading Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium Is the Message” for class, I thought that a more careful examination of the historical medium might be in order. Traditional Medium for Traditional History The historical monograph has several salient features. First, it’s a fixed document. Once it’s published, it really can’t be changed. Second, it has clear structural organization (table of contents, preface, introduction, chapters…
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High Seas Trader: Games and Maritime History

Digital Humanities, Naval History
Using video or computer games as pedagogical tools has always been a concept that I've harbored deep skepticism about. Perhaps it's the old fogey in me that wants to say, "If it's not hard work, it's not learning!" History is also more complicated than one person's ability to control it. Thus, old games like Oregon Trail, though highly enjoyable for indoor recess, teach that when you're faced with dysentery, for instance, your only two options are to (a) rest or (b) keep going. There's no mention of the fact that you may be traveling in a wagon train with, say, a doctor, even if you're not one yourself. But in real life, pioneers usually had other resources besides what was in their own wagons. Historical video games on a larger…
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Database of Officers of the Line

Digital Humanities, Naval History
Becoming an officer of the line in the navy is a bit like getting on the tenure track in academia. Not all officers are created equal--officers such as pursers, sailing masters, and chaplains were classified as officers and received the preferential treatment given to officers. But they could never be captains--they were not in line for those sorts of promotions. Data The Naval Historical Center has made lists available of the officers of the navy and Marine Corps from 1775 to 1900. This list is very useful, but it's not in a format that makes it easy to see the data in the aggregate. It includes both warrant officers (non-tenure-track) and line officers (tenure-track). I wanted to look at the promotion trends of line officers from the early republic. There…
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2012: Year in Review

Digital Humanities, Naval History
Today is my 27th birthday. This year has been a mixture of continuities and new things, sometimes both at once. I'd like to record just a few of the highlights of my year. 1. Starting my PhD at Northeastern University. It has been great to be back in school. I've been out of school for three years, so it felt a little strange at first, but I got over the awkward feelings pretty quickly. Taking classes is, of course, nothing new. in fact, after the initial adjustment period, it felt a little like I'd never been away. (That's actually a good feeling, I think.) Even though it takes more than emotional connections to accomplish something big like a PhD, the feelings of belonging and enjoyment certainly make me think I've…
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