Digital Humanities Naval History

Database of Officers of the Line

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.


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 was no way to isolate those records in the form the NHC provides. So I built a Google spreadsheet that tracks each line officer’s initial date of entry and his subsequent promotions.

Following my desire to track how social connections changed as the navy developed, I’ve divided the officers into 4 groups, or generations. I had initially planned to do 3 generations, but after doing all the data input, I realized that 4 was a more logical divide.

First generation officers entered the service before 1801, as a rank higher than midshipman.

Second generation officers entered the service before the Peace Establishment Act (or by the end of 1801), but as midshipman. Thus, they essentially became adults in the service, and they learned their craft from the first generation.

Third generation officers entered the service as midshipmen after the Peace Establishment Act but before the end of the War of 1812. Those officers in this generation who became captain rose to that rank in the 1830s and ’40s.

Fourth generation officers entered the service after the War of 1812 had ended. These officers saw almost no wartime service, and many of the ones who achieved captain found themselves having to decide whether to serve in the Union or the Confederacy during the Civil War.

I marked a few things that were interesting that weren’t specifically promotion-related. Though I didn’t record dates of exit from the service, if the officer was discharged under the Peace Establishment Act, I marked it in column G as “PEA.” I also marked records where the official record indicates that the officer was killed in a duel (an idle curiosity about whether duels were really as prevalent as most historians have claimed).


Promotions in the navy are a bit tricky because the system of ranks changed considerably from 1798 to 1849 (the end point I selected for my data). But there were four standard ranks that prevailed throughout that time period, so for consistency, I tracked only those four ranks: midshipman, lieutenant, master commandant (then commander, an equivalent rank), and captain. It took until the Civil War for ranks above captain (such as commodore and admiral) to be created, so I didn’t record those.

All told, there are 3441 line officers in the NHC database. I’m not interested in all 3441 of them, most of whom never made it past midshipman. Since my project involves social networks of influence, I’m mostly interested in those officers who stayed around long enough to have influence, generally those who made it at least to lieutenant. However, I put all the line officers into my spreadsheet in case someone else wants the data.

There are several specific limitations on my spreadsheet that anyone who wants to use it (all 2 of you in the world) should be aware of.

  1. There are a few rare instances in which an officer entered the service, resigned, and then re-entered later at the same rank or lower. In those instances, I did not mark the second entrance, but rather treated the officer as if he had never left the service.
  2. There are even rarer instances in which, during the late 1790s, officers were given the commission of captain in order to command galleys, but they were never subsequently given other commands. So I left them out of the record entirely.
  3. I noticed a few discrepancies in dates (promotion to lieutenant dated before promotion to midshipman, for instance). Where possible, I merely corrected the obvious typos. Otherwise, I highlighted the cell of the disputed date.


Merely recording all this data given me a better understanding of how the promotion system worked in the early navy. But I’d like to do some visualizations showing the relative speed of promotion, how batch promotions work, and a few smaller things. So far I haven’t found a visualization program that will do it. (Suggestions are welcome!)

I’m sure there are plenty of other uses for this data, as well. For myself, it will help me to see where promotions don’t follow the general pattern–these aberrant promotions may very well be indicative of an intervention by a social connection. But I hope other people will be able to use it as well.


Digital Humanities Naval History

2012: Year in Review

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 chosen the right career path.

There were a few new things about the start of classes. For one, it’s the first time I’ve taken any classes not from my undergrad alma mater. And on the surface, the contrasts between that institution and Northeastern are striking, to say the least. Nevertheless, my upper-level undergrad classes were more than adequate preparation for the courses I took this semester. And the values of hard work, integrity, and preparedness were the same here in Boston as they had been in South Carolina.

The bigger difference this time was additional responsibilities at home, namely, my daughter. She certainly makes school different from my BA and MA studies. (The general topic of having children while in grad school is one I will save for another blog post, perhaps.) But I think I did OK in managing my time so that she never felt neglected. Getting to spend lots of extra time with Daddy was probably a bonus in her mind, anyway. 🙂

2. Introduction to digital humanities. Getting involved in digital humanities has definitely been a highlight of this year. Again, here, there are continuities and new things. I had a backdoor entrance into some DH ideas because of my husband’s connections to the DH world, but I wasn’t really interested until I realized how it could work with my own ideas about history.

My newfound interest in DH has opened up more opportunities than I ever imagined. Of primary importance for me is the incredible community I now feel at least a minor part of. My initial forays into the DH community through HASTAC blossomed into other more valuable connections I gained through THATCamp New England and (mostly) through Twitter.

Twitter has proved to be my primary path into the DH community. I was assured early in the semester that the community is very welcoming, and that claim has been substantiated many times over. From getting simple technical support for silly questions, to involvement in DigiWriMo, to having a voice in discussions about the future of higher education, Twitter contacts have enriched my academic life in ways unique and unexpected. I hope that I have managed to provide at least a little enrichment of the same kind to my Twitter followers.

3. Watching M grow. OK, I know I already mentioned her, but I love that little girl, and watching her grow from a 4-month-old into a very intelligent, very sweet 16-month-old toddler has been nothing short of amazing. 🙂


As 2013 arrives, I’m anticipating that its highlight reel will look very similar to this year’s. I’m greatly looking forward to my courses this coming semester, not least because one of them is about DH. My TA assignments also split evenly between maritime history and DH, so I anticipate a lot of great work coming out of those two assignments. I’m hoping to attend another THATCamp in 2013, maybe two, as well as one or two naval history conferences, so I hope to continue to build and strengthen mutually beneficial connections with people in my fields.

So here’s to a great 2013!


Historical Literacy and Public History, Part 2

My first experience doing public history was in third grade, when I dressed up as Miles Standish to do a book report of a biography I’d read about him (yes, I was the only girl in my class to read about and dress up as a male). Looking back, I know that what I was wearing was not even close to correct as far as what Standish would have actually worn. But the experience–and even some facts about Standish–have remained with me despite the inaccuracy of my costume.

My other vivid memory of history was becoming a junior ranger at Jamestown and Yorktown National Park Service sites. I remember having to card wool, identify tools, and other somewhat mundane (to an adult) things. I’m sure that the rangers there made the junior ranger program as historically accurate as possible, and I benefited from their work. Less successful were junior ranger programs elsewhere that only asked me to write things down or solve word jumbles and such.

Based on my childhood experiences, it seems to me that the way to get kids to have a sense of history is to get them to experience it in some way. (I do recognize that, as a person who has ended up in graduate school for history, my experience may be abnormal.) And the experience does not necessarily need to be 100% historically accurate in order to be effective.

Before people can have an interest in history, they must be aware of history–not just that it happened in books, like a sort of true fairy-tale, but that it actually happened. The earlier this realization occurs, the more likely (I would guess) history will matter later.

In other words, children have to understand a narrative before the facts mean anything. Many people never get past the narrative and into the actual facts of history. But again, I wonder–is that so bad?


Historical Literacy and Public History, Part 1

Historians and political pundits often lament the woeful historical ignorance of the public. They claim that the lack of historical knowledge causes people to make bad political choices or appreciate their country less than they should. But I wonder whether the ignorance of the American public about history (which I’m not disputing) has the profound political ramifications that so many pundits claim.

For the final paper for Issues and Problems in Public History, our professor asked us to write a paper that synthesized our readings into an argument about how the mythic past and historical memory propel the practices of public history. Working on this paper made me think about how history really functions, at least in the United States. What follows is the theoretical background for a couple of future blog posts about historical literacy and public history.

History and politics interact on several levels. These levels are fluid, often working together to help form the basis of people’s historical consciousness.

First, identity. David Lowenthal suggests that “we alter the past to become part of it as well as to make it our own.”[1. David Lowenthal, The Past Is a Foreign Country (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 331.] Individuals base their identity in large part on their past, both their own past accomplishments and their forebears’. What is true for individuals is also true for nations. Lowenthal suggests that personal memory is to identity what history is to collective “self-awareness”: memory and history validate a sense of identity.[2. Lowenthal, 213.]

Forming a collective identity is difficult because the collective has to attempt to incorporate the identities of all its members. This means that collective historical memory is both something less  and something more than individual historical memory. It is less because it operates by consensus–only the things that the group agrees on are maintained in the collective memory–but more because it provides a historical grounding for people who do not have a personal past they can or want to identify with.

When individuals cannot claim their own past, they can identify with the past of a larger group they are part of. But when groups or nations do not have a past they can meaningfully identify with, they may turn instead to an invented tradition. These traditions are not just for nostalgic effect: Eric Hobsbawm argues that invented traditions are explicitly didactic, and they are used to cope with social change.[3. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, eds., The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 1, 5.] History can be used to establish political legitimacy for groups who can establish their historical identity, perhaps even more so when the tradition is invented: Hobsbawm suggests that “all invented traditions, so far as possible, use history as a legitimator of action and cement of group cohesion.”[4. Hobsbawm, 12.]

It is remarkable how powerful and pervasive an invented tradition can be. One only has to look at the obsession of Scotland (and the world) with tartans and clans to see that invented identity can hold as much weight as, if not more weight than, an identity based in historical fact. Most people who claim an invented identity probably do not even know that their tradition is fabricated. Those who do know either consciously choose to not care, or they change their way of identifying themselves. As Lowenthal points out, we almost always change the past to make it more positive and more coherent.[5. Lowenthal, 325.] But in the process of creating such a past, we exclude or marginalize those who were in the historical record but do not reflect well on our sense of ourselves.

Narratives. Identity is constructed most effectively through the use of narratives, which is the second point at which public history and politics intersect. A single person can be a part of many narratives, from the highly individual to the cosmic. These narratives are effective for at least two reasons. First, everyone remembers stories, especially about themselves. It is not necessary to know the facts of one’s history in order to be part of (and be aware of being a part of) a larger narrative. In fact, the specific details do not even matter all that much.

All people need to know in order to be a part of the American national narrative is that America has always been about about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all; if even that is too much to remember, then citizens of the United States need remember only that they live in the greatest nation on earth. That metanarrative will inform their political choices and all them to call others’ political choices into question if they appear to diminish America’s greatness.

Second, narratives are flexible. They can be leveraged on all sides in order to achieve political goals. Because they are not strictly fact-based, their interpretations can be multiple and even conflicting; they may be able to merely co-exist instead of colliding head-on.

Tragedies. Some events in history do not fit into the standard heroic narrative. The grave injustices, serious misjudgments, and horrifying tragedies in history do not fit into a narrative of progress and greatness. dealing with these events and injustices is the third point of intersection between public history and politics. When narratives in conflict cannot bend to co-exist, public historians must decide which narrative is the correct one and thus which to perpetuate. Often, historians fixed on a particular narrative simply ignore the ugly parts of their past; as Lowenthal says, “Americans for whom history has to be a chronicle of national greatness shun reminders of what seems shameful and demeaning.” But this type of historical forgetfulness, though impossible to avoid in the general public, is irresponsible in the hands of historians who ought to know better.

So, as historians, both public and academic, how do we work with ideas of identity and narrative? 

Naval History

Poetry and War: Constitution v. Guerriere

USS Constitution v. HMS Guerriere. Public domain image from Naval Historical Center.

In commemoration of the 200th anniversary of War of 1812, here’s an excerpt from Columbia’s Naval Victories, a poem about the naval victories of the Americans, written in 1813 by Benjamin Allen.

In war a lion, though a lamb in peace,

Hull [1. A brief biography of Isaac Hull can be found here.] bears the flag of freedom o’er the seas;[2. A motto often flown on ship’s flags was “Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights.”]

Ready to vindicate his country’s fame,

And add new honours to her injur’d name.

Soon Albion’s banner rises on his view [3. A few weeks previous to this battle, the Constitution had successfully evaded the Guerriere, which had then been sailing in a squadron with several other warships. This time, on August 19, 1812, Hull decided to take the chance that the Guerriere was alone.]—

His dauntless soul impels him to pursue.

Of equal force, the ready foemen meet,

And with the cheer of gladness loudly greet.

Here England’s Dacres,[4. Captain James Richard Dacres, captain of the Guerriere] with a gallant band–

There the firm sons of blest Columbia’s strand.

Now roaring rolls the deathful cannon’s sound,

A novel thunder frights the floods around:

The pious soul attendant angels guard,

Or wait to waft him to his last reward.

Short is the contest, carnage soon is o’er,

For Albion’s banner falls, to rise no more.

Low in the briny deep the Guerriere lies ;

The finny tribes of ocean o’er her rise :

Like some forgotten wave she sinks to rest,[5. The author is taking some poetic license here: Though the Guerriere was indeed too badly damaged to be claimed as a prize, Hull ordered it burned, which did of course result in its sinking.]

In all her futile, fleeting, boastings drest.

Modest, but firm, the victor Hull is seen,

With sympathising kindness in his mien,

Aiding the vanquished: he receives them well,

And bide them with himself, like brethren, dwell.



Digital Humanities

DigiWriMo Wrap-Up

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 my projects would take down the stretch. In retrospect, that was probably a wise decision.

Nevertheless, I did reap some rewards from doing DigiWriMo.

Because of the rapidity with which I wrote the officer bios, I saw some connections and similarities that I feel certain I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. In addition, the group has started to really cohere as a unit for me; before this month I viewed them as individuals who were just arbitrarily grouped together (although I do still think their grouping is somewhat arbitrary).

I also gained an appreciation for other people’s amazing work that they wrote about for DigiWriMo. I feel somewhat more connected to the DH community than I did before DigiWriMo, even if it’s a somewhat one-way connection for now.

Because I spent so much time in the blogosphere and on my Omeka site this month, when a speaker at Northeastern mentioned the possibility of doing a department-based group blog, I jumped at the idea. Thanks in part to DigiWriMo, we successfully launched Global History in the Digital Age in the middle of the month. This blog’s authors are members of Northeastern University’s history department, and we’re writing about things that we’re doing in history right now, digital or not. (Please read and follow!)

Global History in the Digital Age is giving some members of my cohort the chance to get their ideas out on the Web without having to deal with the admin stuff of running a blog. So DigiWriMo did something for not just me but also at least four (right now) people in my department. (Since I started the blog, I think I should get DigiWriMo credit for all of the posts on it right now–just kidding. 🙂 )


I’m sure the makers of DigiWriMo will be making structural changes to the event for next year (though mad props to them for a really fantastic month of writing!). For myself, there are a few things I’d like to do or see done for next year.

1. I’d like to see more historians participating. Perhaps I just wasn’t looking in the right place, but I seemed a bit like a horse among a herd of zebras.

I’ll probably be proselytizing DigiWriMo next year several months in advance of November. I’d love to see some of my cohort at Northeastern participate.  Now that we have our blog up and running, they have the platform to do the writing.

2. I’d like to do more substantive collaboration with other historians. This follows from No. 1, of course. I enjoyed participating in the opening-day collaborative poem and the collaborative novel, but I’m not that much of a creative writer like that. (I still need pen and paper to do most of my creative writing.) But I would love to see some serious historical research collaborations.

More historians would also be nice for the Twitter discussions, since the types of digital writing that might be discussed would be different from the literature-types’ writing.

3. Next year, I’m doing 50,000. You can hold me to that.


Total word count for the month (not counting FB and Twitter words): 13,800 words


Academic Hardcores and Academic Farbs

In the book Confederates in the Attic, Tony Horwitz encounters Civil War re-enactors of varying levels of seriousness about their craft. They divide into two main categories: hardcores and farbs. The hardcores get into their roles as accurately as possible, even starving themselves so they look like haggard Confederate soldiers. They eat, drink, and breathe the Civil War. (One hardcore says, “I don’t do drugs; I do the Civil War.”)[1.  Tony Horwitz, Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998), 14.] By contrast, the farbs dabble in re-enactment but do not trouble with the exacting details of appearance and behavior that hardcores do. Hardcores, of course, disdain farbs and farby behavior.

Horwitz gets involved in this dichotomy of re-enactor culture because he joins up with a super-hardcore named Robert Hodge. In the course of his travels with Hodge, Horwitz learns just how far hardcores will go to preserve the illusion of actually living in the past. He experiences, as much as is possible, the life of a Confederate soldier.

In a class discussion of the book, the question was raised: Are academic historians hardcore about their discipline, or are they farbs? 

The class suggested that most academic historians would call themselves hardcore. However, many historians have never lived where their subjects lived, or worked with their subject matter, so perhaps they are in fact farbs. (Our professor gave the example of a historian writing a book about wood without ever having done any woodworking.)

The question about hardcores and farbs, re-enactors or historians, is whether painstaking and total immersion into the culture about which you are focused is really beneficial to your understanding. Do you have to have experienced in some way your subject in order for you to write about it intelligibly?

For some subjects, it seems impossible to have any meaningful present experiential connection with your work. (For instance, there’s not really enough information about ancient Sumer to definitively experience it.) But for a subject like mine, the navy, I do wonder whether learning to sail would help me to understand a ship’s culture in a more meaningful way.

This idea dovetails with the reading for my other class for this week: Clifford Geertz’s “Thick Description” and “Deep Play,” as well as Robert Darnton’s “The Great Cat Massacre.” These works demonstrate that no matter how ingrained you get in a foreign culture (whether present or past), you will always be Other. You can’t be in the Civil War just because you look like you’re from the Civil War. But you can read about the Civil War, and apply the principles of thick description, trying to understand the symbolic meaning of the rituals of the Confederacy instead of emulating their hygiene practices.

My reading of Geertz indicates to me that no one can ever be 100% hardcore. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that a historian ought not try.


What do you think? Are you a hardcore? If you are, why are you? If not, why not? (Also, if you’re in another discipline, are there parallels for your discipline?)


Digital Humanities

Lessons from a Google Fusion Table Graph

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. (This isn’t a huge problem for a graph with only 34 edges, but it would be a pain for something bigger.)

Google Fusion Tables

For this small network graph, Google Fusion Tables seemed to have worked out very well. The graph itself is clear and easily readable, and it’s a relatively simple proposition to remove nodes and see what happens. Fewer options for manipulating the data mean that the graph renders quickly. It’s also nice to be able to hover over a node and see the attached edges highlighted.

Google Fusion Tables does do a few annoying things, which may be able to be disabled. It would be nice if the nodes were able to be moved to a specific location for ease of reading (as is, you can pull a node to a general area, but it won’t stay exactly where you put it). Also, it would be nice if the graph would hold still! It seems like some element of the graph is always moving all the time.

More options for edges would be helpful too. I’d like to be able to see the edge labels that are in my chart, and I’d also like to be able to click on an edge for more data, just like you can see the highlighted edges when you hover over a node.

Observations about the Graph

I’ve been doing some reading up about social network graphs in this book. But this network I’ve created is not actually a social network: there are not any connections that can accurately be predicted by network theory. Why? Because this set of data is about concurrent service, not something that the men themselves control (for the most part).

So how then is this helpful?

First, even though new connections cannot be posited, the graph does show the high degree of connectedness between some of the officers. Thomas Macdonough, for instance, has multiple connections to many people. The same is true for David Porter. Macdonough and Porter have some shared connections, but they also have some unique connections. Hopefully, seeing the connected officers through the eyes of Porter and Macdonough may yield information about them.

Second, once I do get the social networks mapped out, it will be interesting to compare the two graphs, seeing whether the connections established shipboard continue into correspondence. It seems unlikely that officers would write directly to each other without previous personal connections, and concurrent service seems the most likely place for that connection to have occurred.

The comparison will be a little tricky, because it will involve networks that evolve over time. In order to create these networks, I’ll probably have to move back over to Gephi. Maybe by then I’ll have figured it out a little more.

Mapping the service of just the Preble’s Boys connections to each other shows only an incomplete picture of their records. So the next step will be to add in connections to other officers, especially highly prominent officers such as Thomas Truxtun and John Rodgers. After that, mapping out squadron service will be the next step in establishing these formal connections.


The question I’ve been asked before about this sort of network is: how is this more helpful than a spreadsheet? The value here is how easy it is to remove nodes and see the resulting changes in the network. You can’t really do that with a spreadsheet. As the networks get more complex, and they have to change over time, visualization is going to be much more helpful than a spreadsheet.


As always, I’d welcome any insights on my network thoughts!


Digital Humanities

DigiWriMo Halftime Report

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 number one about the progress. Coming soon (in the next day or two): blog post number one about the challenges and benefits of DigiWriMo.

How’s the word count? Well, I never planned to make it to 50,000, which is good, since I’m at 7109. I do hope I can make it to around 25,000, but to me, getting the content up is more important than getting a certain number of words out. (Also, I’m not counting tweets. Maybe I should count them.)

Digital Humanities

The Lessons of a Bad Network Graph

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 through the Gephi readme to set up a very basic network in which the nodes were the officers and the ships were the edges.

I knew what was coming before I rendered the graph as a network visualization, but I was still a little surprised when I saw it. What I saw was a network that I knew from all my research heretofore to be completely false.

[gview file=””]

(I apologize for the crazy way the graph sort of goes off the page. I tried every setting I could find to get it not to do that. Some mysteries of Gephi remain hidden to me.)

My initial reaction was to scrap the whole thing and start my thinking about networks all over. But on further examination, I realized that this graph still had something to teach me.

First, I learned the importance of good data. This graph shows Stephen Decatur as having only two links to anyone, a fact that is false. Additionally, it looks like Edward Preble is almost a tangential figure, a fact that is false. The person with the most links is David Porter, who is an important figure but not that important. So why the graph that looks like this?

Simply put, this is a bad data set. It starts to get at my question (How do these people link together?) by a very small subset of their interactions with each other. I don’t even have complete service records for some of these men, so it’s possible that there are connections missing from my chart. In addition, these men had several levels of interaction beyond just concurrent service (squadron concurrent service, shoreside interaction, correspondence, indirect influences…the list goes on). So the data set is quite incomplete.

What this bad data set teaches me is that the meaningful network of these men is going to be quite complex. It’s likely to need to be organized on several different interaction levels, as well as interactions over time and even perhaps spatially (do men feel others’ influence more when they’re at sea than when they are landbound? I don’t know).

Second, I saw new connections, forged through unintended groupings. Since this is a bad graph, it’s tempting to say that all the links it made between people are bogus. However, I realized that there is at least one interesting phenomenon going on that I hadn’t thought of before, but that perhaps is borne out by the documentary evidence.

This phenomenon, which may actually be a real breakthrough in my analysis, is the appearance of two groups. If you draw a connection between Stephen Decatur and Edward Preble (in your mind), then you see the loose formation of a group around them. The graph already shows a clique: the group with David Porter and William Bainbridge. What’s the connection between these two groups?

Interestingly, the two groups roughly fall into (1) those who were aboard the USS Philadelphia when it grounded in Tripoli Harbor, and (2) those who volunteered for the mission led by Stephen Decatur to destroy the Philadelphia. There are some outliers, officers who were not involved in that series of events in any way (Lewis Warrington, for instance), and one interesting anomaly, Charles Stewart, who was not aboard the Philadelphia, though he is well-ensconced into that group of officers. It will be interesting to see what happens to those men once there’s more data.

Without having done any other research yet into this grouping, I have an inkling that this way of looking at Preble’s Boys may show more about their careers after 1803 than their link to Edward Preble.


So what’s the major lesson for me? When I next take on Gephi, I’ll be armed with a lot more data, but even if the results are surprising, I’ll be keeping my eyes open for possibilities that I didn’t see coming down the pike.

I’d welcome any other insights on my first foray into network analysis.