Civil War Navies Bookworm

Digital Humanities, Naval History
If you read my last post, you know that this semester I engaged in building a Bookworm using a government document collection. My professor challenged me to try my system for parsing the documents on a different, larger collection of government documents. The collection I chose to work with is the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies. My Barbary Bookworm took me all semester to build; this Civil War navies Bookworm took me less than a day. I learned things from making the first one! This collection is significantly larger than the Barbary Wars collection---26 volumes, as opposed to 6. It encompasses roughly the same time span, but 13 times as many words. Though it is still technically feasible to read through all 26 volumes, this collection is…
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Text Analysis on the Documents of the Barbary Wars

Digital Humanities, Naval History
This past semester, I took a graduate seminar in Humanities Data Analysis, taught by Professor Ben Schmidt. This post describes my final project. Stay tuned for more fun Bookworm stuff in the next few days (part 2 on Civil War Navies Bookworm is here).   In the 1920s, the United States government decided to create document collections for several of its early naval wars: the Quasi-War with France, the Barbary Wars, and the Civil War (the War of 1812 did not come until much later, for some reason). These document collections, particularly for the Quasi-War and the Barbary Wars, have become the standard resource for any scholar doing work on these wars. My work on the Barbary Wars relies heavily on this document collection. The Barbary Wars collection includes correspondence,…
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Named Entity Extraction: Productive Failure?

Digital Humanities, Naval History
This past week in my Humanities Data Analysis class, we looked at mapping as data. We explored ggplot2's map functions, as well as doing some work with ggmap's geocoding and other things. One thing that we just barely explored was automatically extracting place names through named entity recognition. It is possible to do named entity recognition in R, though people say it's probably not the best way. But in order to stay in R, I used a handy tutorial by the esteemed Lincoln Mullen, found here. I was interested in extracting place names from the data I've been cleaning up for use in a Bookworm, the text of the 6-volume document collection, Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars with the Barbary Powers, published in the 1920s by the…
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McMullen Naval History Symposium Recap

Digital Humanities, Naval History
This weekend, I had the privilege of presenting a paper at the McMullen Naval History Symposium. It was my second time at the U.S. Naval Academy, and I have had a great time. Our Panel I organized a panel titled "Politics of the Sea in the Early Republic," in which the panelists looked at how the navy and maritime concerns influenced political discourse (and vice versa). Bill Leeman argued that Thomas Jefferson's approach to the navy in the Barbary Wars was more pragmatic than idealistic. The question of who could declare war--was it the president or the Congress?--was a live one in the early republic. What were the president's powers when a foreign country declared war first? These are the questions that Jefferson had to grapple with as he sent…
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Reading List: Atlantic World

Naval History
At the moment, I'm in the process of determining my PhD exam fields for a degree in world history. The "world" part is important: it means that my exams and my dissertation will have a global focus. One of the requirements is a world-history-focused field. For my world history field, I've chosen to do Atlantic World, since that seems most relevant to a study of the American navy. I came up with my list based on this seminar website, as well as other books I've heard of, plus a few that my professor suggested. This semester I'll be doing a directed reading of about 1/3 of the books on my list, and the rest will be for me to read before exam time. I've often lamented that more graduate students…
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Lessons from From Enemies to Allies: Changing Scale in American Naval History

Naval History
In the plenary session at From Enemies to Allies: An International Conference about the War of 1812 and Its Aftermath, several senior scholars addressed (among other things) the direction scholarship on the War of 1812 should go. One major theme that emerged was the need to study the War of 1812 in a global context. American historians of the war often treat it as if it were the only thing going on in the United States and in Britain between 1812 and 1815, when in fact it wasn't the only thing going on in either place. This interest in globalizing the study of the War of 1812 correlates with a session I attended at THATCamp about how changing the scale of your research can open up new lines of inquiry.…
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Digital History and Naval History: Ships in the Night

Digital Humanities, Naval History
  Ships that pass in the night and speak each other in passing; Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness; So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another, Only a look and a voice; then darkness again and a silence. ---Henry Wadworth Longfellow This month I attended two very different professional conferences. The first, THATCamp CHNM (aka THATCamp Prime), is so unlike normal conferences that it's billed as an "unconference."[1. If you want to know exactly what an unconference is, read the THATCamp About page.] It brings together people from a wide swath of academic disciplines to talk about digital humanities. Sessions ranged from talking about programming languages to teaching digital history to talking about size and scale in academic research. Many…
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Another Look at Our Diplomatic Graph

Digital Humanities, Naval History
I wrote yesterday about my network graph about U.S.-Barbary diplomatic relations. The graph I showed was color-coded by nationality. That code was hand-inputted by me, no computation or algorithm necessary. A perhaps more interesting, and enigmatic, color-coding is the result of running a modularity algorithm in Gephi. This algorithm creates sub-communities from the large network graph. I will not lie: I do not understand the math behind the result. But the communities created by the algorithm are quite interesting. I find a few things interesting about these communities: James Leander Cathcart and Hasan, dey of Algiers, are in two different communities. This is interesting because Cathcart is probably the person with the most access to Hasan in the entire graph. He was an American captive who worked his way up…
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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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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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