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Q and A with History Shots' Larry Gormley on Civil War Information Graphics

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My August 16, 2009 post, Review of History Shots – History of the Union Army, American Civil War 1861 – 1865, promised a Q & A with History Shots creator Larry Gormley of History Shots. Larry was kind enough to shoot answers to my first barrage of questions this evening.

History of the Confederate Army (History Shots)

History of the Confederate Army (History Shots)

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of creating the two Civil War graphics?

A: The toughest challenge was how to display the multi-variable data sets within an easy to follow and interesting design. The subject matter dealt with both chronological and geographical content which is difficult to map in a two dimensional space. Selecting the scale and scope of the data took a lot of trial and error. The color palette was critical to the design and information flow and, therefore, required significant work.

Presenting accurate and objective information is very important to me as well. And the importance of accuracy and objectivity is directly related to the level of complexity found in each of the graphics. I wanted to provide enough information and context about the subject to allow people to understand the topic and to draw their own opinions and conclusions.

Q: What techniques do you use to research and create the graphics? I’m imaging a room with ceiling to floor white boards and lots of dry erase pens along with sticky pads.

A: The creation process was long and often difficult but it was always interesting and highly educational; I enjoy greatly the journey from raw idea to completed print. It took about a year to create the first print, History of the Confederate Army, and about nine months to complete the History of the Union Army. Half of the time was devoted to research and data collection. For the research, I started with books in my collection and quickly added material from many libraries located throughout the Boston area. In addition, I purchased a number of very specific, limited run editions that focused on Civil War statistics. Also, I spent hundreds of hours going through a CD version of the Official Records. I captured my research in a spiral notebook and many Excel spreadsheets.

After most of the data is collected I started to prototype micro parts of the story (for example, an individual army in 1862) and high-level views. I find working in both micro and macro levels helps me during the design process. I created about 10 rough ideas before settling on an overall design. I started the design process using paper and colored pens then I moved to Adobe Illustrator.

Q: In your mind, why is this form of social study powerful?

A: I think it is powerful because it presents a large and complex issue within a form that allows the viewer to learn and explore at their own pace. It provides detailed and multi-layered context about important stories within a beautiful design. The design draws you in and lets you dive as deep as you want into a lot data.

Q: Do you have any other Civil War graphics planned?

A: I have an idea for a third graphic but at this time I do not have a firm start date. The idea covers a more direct comparison between the Union and Confederate armies. In addition, I have an idea that includes the Civil War era plus other time periods as well. I have a long list of ideas and it keeps getting longer!

Manet and the American Civil War – 5: The Sea Battle Between The Kearsarge and the Alabama

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Continuing my series on “Manet and the American Civil War,” (see posts 1 here, 2 here, 3 here, and 4 here. In posts 3 and 4, I introduced the captains and vessels of one of the most famous naval engagements of the American Civil War, the sea battle between the C.S.S. Alabama and the U.S.S. Kearsarge. And now to the battle…

Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, in their fascinating book Manet and the American Civil War, do an excellent job of sifting through sources for a non-partisan view of the events of Sunday, June 19, 1864, a view without the “spin” of media. [2]

"The Fight Between the Alabama and the Kearsarge" [NH59354]
The Fight Between the Alabama and the Kearsarge. Contemporary line engraving, depicting an early stage in the battle. Alabama is on the right, with Kearsarge in the left distance. Courtesy of F.S. Hicks. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

The C.S.S. Alabama anchored in the Cherbourg roads, “a huge sheet of calm water sheltered from Channel currents by a breakwater,” on June 11, 1864. It had stopped to disembark 40 captives taken during raids on U.S. merchant ships and to refuel. Captain Semmes asked permission of “Vice Admiral Adolphe-Augustin Dupouy, head of the naval district headquartered in Cherbourg,” to have the Alabama undergo repairs in the naval doc. [3] The offer was denied and the request withdrawn. Semmes was now well aware that Captain Winslow and his U.S.S. Kearsarge had come after the Confederate raider and was hovering offshore in wait. While the French attempted diplomatic maneuvers, Captain Semmes informed Samuel Barron, “his senior officer in Paris,” that he intended to fight Winslow. [4]

“On the morning of Sunday, June 19, Alabama left the Cherbourg roads followed by the French navy flagship, Couronne, and accompanied by a steam yacht flying the Union Jack and a British yach club flag. Alabama fired the first shot. Having elected to fight starboard to starboard, Alabama and Kearsarge then steamed in interlocking circles five to seven times as the current pushed them west. Alabama sank, and Kearsarge returned to anchor on the land side of Cherbourg’s breakwater.” [5]

This from George Terry Sinclair, a native of Virginia sent to Europe in 1862 to buy ships for the Confederate Navy, in a letter to his immediate superior, Samuel Barron.

“After some exchanges at long range, they passed each other, using their starboard batteries. They then passed & repassed, always using the same battery (which Semmes had told me was his intention) after passing the seventh eighth time, I observed Semmes make sail forward, and stand in, and I thought I saw smoke issuing from the ship.” [6]

He was told by another observer that “Alabama ‘went down with her colors flying…the Flag… was the last thing to disappear.’ Sinclair’s own view of the climactic moment had been obscured by a house.” [7]
 

Charles Longueville. Combat naval (L’Alabama coulant sous le feu de Kearsage [sic]. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the next post, Edouard Manet’s painting, The Battle of the “Kearsarge” and the “Alabama,” 1864.

—-
[1] Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, Manet and the American Civil War, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 31.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 28-29.
[4] Ibid., 31.
[5] Ibid., 28, 31.
[6] Ibid., 31-32.
[7] Ibid., 32.

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Manet and the American Civil War – 2 The Artist

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Edouard Manet (1832 - 1883) [photographic portrait by Nadar (public domain, source: wikicommons)

Continuing from post 1 here, in this post I explore the life of Edouard Manet, the artist. Born in 1832 to upper-middle class parents, Manet’s father was a magistrate who had hopes that his oldest son would follow him in his profession. But young Edouard had no interest in law and though attracted to art, decided to go to sea. But he couldn’t pass the French Navy’s entrance exam. Authors Wilson-Bareau and Degener provide a fascinating glimpse into the system by which young men could qualify for careers in the French Navy in their book Manet and the American Civil War which provides the reference for this series. A sixteen year old Manet would spend several months aboard the vessel, Le Havre et Guadeloupe on a trip for the sons of the wealthy who had failed the exam and could qualify to retake it if they sailed across the equator. The ship was staffed with teachers tasked with drilling the boys in the topics required for the naval exam. Manet failed the test again regardless but was exposed to the sea to a greater extent than most Frenchmen. (Wilson-Bareau and Degener, 12-13)

Manet had another tie to the military. His interest in drawing and art was sparked by an uncle who was “attached to the [Army] artillery school who spent a lot of his time sketching…” (Wilson-Bareau and Degener, 13-14)

“The schoolboy soon fell under the spell of blended lines and blurred cross-hatching. [Note: For a great glimpse of crosshatching, see a post at the blog, Big Time Attic here.) From that moment on, he had only one calling. He neglected his compositions and translations and filled the blank pages of his notebooks not with schoolwork but with portraits, landscapes, and fantasies.” (Ibid)

This diversion would lead Manet to produce arguably one of the most famous paintings of the naval engagement between the U.S.S. Kearsarge and the C.S.S. Alabama, that took place in June of 1864 off France’s Normandy coast.

The Battle of U.S.S Kearsarge and C.S.S. Alabama

Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, Manet and the American Civil War, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).

In the next post, the ships engaged in the battle.

service

Manet and the American Civil War – 1

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A recently received a gift of a book that I am thrilled to add to my library. It is, Manet and the American Civil War published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York [which I had the opportunity to visit for the first time this year], and Yale University Press. It is co-authored by Juliet Wilson-Bareau, “an independent art historian based in London” and David C. Degener, an independent researcher based in San Francisco.

The Battle of U.S.S Kearsarge and C.S.S. Alabama

Click on image to be directed to my bookshelf listing.

 Manet and the American Civil War

  • Published on: 2003-06-10
  • Publisher: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and Yale University Press, New Haven and London
  • ISBN: 0-300-09962-2 
  • Binding: Paperback
  • 86 pages
  • The book’s primary focus is the battle of the U.S.S. Kearsarge and C.S.S. Alabama. This from the front flap which provides an eloquent introduction to the book which I could not better….

    “On June 19, 1864, the United States warship Kearsarge sank the Confederate raider Alabama off the coast of Cherbourg, France, in one of the most celebrated naval engagements of the American Civil War. The battle was widely reported in the illustrated press and riveted public attention on both sides of the Channel. When Kearsarge later anchored off the French resort town of Boulonge-sur-Mer it was thronged by curious visitors, one of whom was the artist Edouard Manet.  Although he did not witness the historic battle, Manet made a painting of it partly as an attempt to regain the respect of his colleagues after being ridiculed for his works in the 1864 Salon. Manet’s picture of the naval engagement and his portrait of the victorious Kearsarge belong to a group of his seascapes of Boulonge whose unorthodox perspective and composition would profoundly influence the course of French paintings.”

    In part 2, more on Edouard Manet followed in subsequent posts about the two ships and their encounter across the Atlantic.

    Note that I have added a shelf to my online library titled “Civil War Art and Artists.” You can access that shelf here. I will shortly cross-reference this book on the Naval History shelf as well.

    guidelines

    If you wrote history in the 19th century….

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    Russel Nye (1913-1993) provides a glimpse of what was expected of you if you wrote history in the early 19th century in his Pulitzer Prize winning biography of George Bancroft (1800-1891). I thought it worth sharing in that some of my readers are themselves authors of history. Those writing in the 19th century of the events leading up to and surrounding the American Civil War would have been aware of and influenced by these expectations.Thomas Carlyle

    • Historians were expected to deal with the history of living men. 

    Protocols, state papers, and controversies were not the stuff of history. Here Nye draws on the work of Thomas Carlyle (1795-1891)(right) who felt that history was not simply to be “philosophy teaching by experience” but the history of men “with passions in their stomachs, and the idioms, features and vitalities of men.” (146)

    • History was to be dramatic.

    “The historian gave the past form and structure, finding dramatic tension, climax, and resolution in chosen episodes and experience. He used quotations and set speeches as a playwright might – allowing ‘the parties,’ as William Hickling Prescott (1796-1859) (image right) saidPrescott, ‘not only to act but speak for themselves.’” (147) There had to be opposing forces battling against one another to achieve an effect of conflict. On one side might be the forces of liberty and on the other authoritarianism, popular government against absolutism, civilization versus barbarism, etc.

    • Proper historical writing had to have a theme.

    A theme bound events together and gave them focus and meaning. This was a quest for the “pervading principle” which was guiding history and flowing beneath the stream of events.

    • The historian was to write in the way of an artistic painter.

    His work has to be composed and arranged in and artistic, vivid and aesthetically pleasing way like that of a painting. “Historians habitually used such terms as ‘portrait,’ ‘canvas,’ and ‘sketch’; gave careful attention to composition and arrangement of details; and quite deliberately set up ‘scenes’ and ‘tableaux.’” (147)  [Image below of painting by Clarence Boyd from University of Kentucky Art Museum: Attacking Indians (or Pilgrims Being Attacked by Indians While at Church), ca. 1880]

    Attacking Indians (or Pilgrims Being Attacked by Indians While at Church), ca. 1880

    • The historian must create in his work a precise sense of place, time and immediacy.

    This task was about reconstructing the values and principles and the intellectual and moral atmosphere  of the times of which a writer wrote. Bancroft called it ‘the spirit of the age, the impalpable but necessary essence’ of a society.” (148)

    Historical writing began to change in the latter part of the 19th century but the points above make for some interesting background for discussion that continues today around academic versus popular history and what appeals to the general reader.

    George Bancroft, by Russel B. Nye, (New York: Washington Street Press, Inc., 1960), pp 146-148)
    Drawing of Thomas Carlyle fro Wikipedia Commons. Another excellent biography of Thomas Carlyle is available here.
    Thomas Carlyle- Project Gutenberg eText 13103
    From The Project Gutenberg eBook, Great Britain and Her Queen, by Anne E. Keeling
    http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/13103