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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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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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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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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DigiWriMo Wrap-Up

Digital Humanities
Today's the last day of November. Advent starts in two days; classes end in four days (for me, anyhow); and today DigiWriMo is ending. So, what was DigiWriMo like for me? Maybe I should start with how I did on my goals. Goal #1: Completed. All officer bios on Preble's Boys are completed. Goal #2: Mostly completed. In the last few days, I did slack off. Bad Abby. But I got a fair number up. Goal #3: Technically completed. I didn't do the intensive reflection I was intending. But that's ok. I wrote some other pretty good blog posts.   I purposely didn't tax myself all that far for this DigiWriMo. This is my first semester in grad school in a long time, and I wasn't sure how much time…
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Lessons from a Google Fusion Table Graph

Digital Humanities
Armed with new and improved service record data, last night I set out to create a new network graph in Gephi, to see whether just new data would help to mitigate some of last time's problems. To be frank, Gephi beat me. My graph is so small, and my screen is so small, and the zoom function in the graph window is so bad (at least, I couldn't figure it out) that I couldn't really see my graph in order to draw any conclusions. All my data imported correctly, though, so I knew there was hope. I turned instead to Google Fusion Tables, an experimental data visualization app from Google. Unfortunately, it appears that the data tables work completely differently from Gephi's, so I did have to do some reformatting.…
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DigiWriMo Halftime Report

Digital Humanities
Today is November 15, the halfway mark in DigiWriMo/AcWriMo. It's time to check in and see how my DigiWriMo goals are progressing. Here are the goals: 1. Write one officer bio every day for the first 17 days, taking off Sundays. I'm happy to report that I'm right on target. Today, I completed the last of my officer bios: Stephen Decatur.  2. Write one or two ship bios for the remaining days. (Take Thanksgiving Day and Sundays off.) Since I just completed the officer bios, tomorrow begins the ship bios. These are going to take more work because for most of them, there is no one authoritative source to consult.  3. Blog about the progress and challenges of the site at least twice during the month. Well, here's blog post…
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The Lessons of a Bad Network Graph

Digital Humanities
Spurred by our DH reading group at Northeastern, as well as my general tendency to jump into things before really knowing what I'm doing, I decided a few weeks ago to download Gephi and see what sort of rudimentary networks I could create. I'd been cataloging the service record of each of my Preble's Boys officers, setting up the chart so that I could see concurrent service. I started out just looking to see whether any of the Boys had actually served on the same ship as Edward Preble, but as I created the chart (the link here is to a more fleshed-out chart with more comprehensive data), some other patterns began to emerge. So I thought, let's plug this into Gephi and see what happens! I set up my network, fumbling…
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