Historical Research Methods and Digital History

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Historical Research Methods  started Monday. I have my virtual pencils sharpened, Moleskine in hand,  and course books on my shelves. There is a GREAT group of students in the class from a variety of backgrounds and from all over the world. We also have an excellent professor (Barbara Kaplan). [Note to self: buy her books…they look excellent.]

Moleskine

Moleskine available at Levengers.com

In addition to the required texts (see listing in earlier post here), the following are recommended. I owned all but Novick’s book so picked it up.

Fischer, David Hackett. Historians’ Fallacies: Toward the Logic of Historical Thought. New York: Harper Perennial. 1970.

David Hackett Fischer

David Hackett Fischer

Novick, Peter. That Noble Dream: The “Objectivity Question” and the American Historical Profession. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

That Noble Dream

Storey, William Kelleher. Writing History: A Guide for Students. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2004.

Writing History- A Guide for Students

Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

On Digitization of History

I am impressed with the focus the class will have on research in the digital age. Much of the supplementary reading focuses on digging into digital sources. I peeked ahead and read “What is Digital History? A Look at Some Exemplar Projects” by Douglas Seefeldt and William G. Thomas which is posted in the Digital Commons of the University of Nebraska Lincoln accessible here. (1) Pivotal to their article is a working definition of what digital history is.

“Digital history might be understood broadly as an approach to examining and representing the past that works with the new communication technologies of the computer, the internet network, and software systems. On one level, digital history is an open arena of scholarly production and communication, encompassing the development of new course materials and scholarly data collection efforts. On another level, digital history is a methodological approach framed by the hypertextual power of these technologies to make, define, query, and annotate associations in the human record of the past. To do digital history, then, is to digitize the past certainly, but it is much more than that. It is to create a framework through the technology for people to experience, read, and follow an argument about a major historical problem.” (2)

Seefeldt and Thomas saw differentiation between digitization projects and digital history scholarship. Superb examples of digitization projects according to the authors are the Library of Congress’ American Memory project and the National Archives. (3) Examples of digital history, on the other hand, “tended to arrange a more discrete collection of sources and materials around a historiographical question.” (4)  They site as examples  The Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War, and Race and Place: An African American Community in the Jim Crow South among others. These illustrate how creative use of digital resources can open “the question up for readers to investigate and form interpretive associations of their own.” (5)  Seefeldt and Thomas characterize sites like this as game changing in that they aren’t just an “analog” presentation of information one might copy from a book or other media but a presentation of “a suite of interpretive elements” that position viewers as active participants to a degree in solving the problem. (6)

The following sites were given as examples of digital history evolved to a new level.

Andrew Torget’s (University of North Texas) The Texas Slavery Project. Think of spatial mapping of demographic data related to slaveholders. Very cool.
Texas Slavery Project

Richard White (Standford University) Spatial History Project. Incredible project.


You might also find interesting my post “Discovering the Civil War Online” about the March 3rd, 2010 webcast during which Civil War historian Steven E. Woodworth and educational technology specialist Tom Daccord explored utilizing online databases to research Civil War topics.

(1) Seefeldt, Douglas and William G. Thomas. What is Digital History? A Look at Some Exemplar Projects.” Perspectives on History 47 (May 2009): 40-43. Accessed online 13 June 2010 at http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/historyfacpub/98/.
(2) Ibid.
(3) Ibid.
(4) Ibid.
(5) Ibid.
(6) Ibid.

New Webcast Series on Civil War – AMU and Weider History Group

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AMU Civil War Webcasts

The American Military University (AMU) and the Weider History Group will be presenting a series of live webcasts on the Civil War that look promising. I’m excited to see this line up and think it a terrific educational venue made accessible to anyone. Here’s a quick run down. Oh and HEADS UP! The first webinar is tomorrow so be sure to register! The last one was terrific.

Civil War Soldier

The Common Soldier of the Civil War – Live Webcast
Tuesday, April 20, 2010 – 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. ET

There is a renewed and growing interest in the common soldier of the Civil War. From battling in muddy trenches to charging through fields of enemy fire, the common soldier also combated the equally-deadly diseases that plagued the theater of war. But what motivated him to fight? This live webcast will bring light to what it must have been like for these men to “see the elephant” and how they spent their time both on active campaigning and winter camp.

The Battle of Shiloh – Live Webcast
Thursday, May 6, 2010 – 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. ET

Could a decisive victory at Shiloh have changed the outcome of the war? This webcast will highlight the importance of the Battle of Shiloh and the effect it had on the outcome of the Civil War. Our speakers will also discuss what would have happened in case of a decisive Confederate victory at Shiloh.

The Battle of Gettysburg – Live Webcast
Tuesday, May 18, 2010 – 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. ET

How important is the Battle of Gettysburg to the study, discussion and portrayal of the Civil War today? How do historians interpret a single battle that changed the way Lincoln viewed the Civil War? This live webcast event will bring to light aspects of the Battle of Gettysburg ranging from the importance of the battle, to our memory of the Civil War, to how the battle is still being fought as Americans debate various interpretations of the battlefield.

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Books for class arrive! Civil War Command and Leadership

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Ah… the “ding dong” of the door and the Amazon boxes thump against the door. Love it.

Books

Full disclosure…I had to get some of these from resellers.

Here’s the stack.

Books

Note I bought the full three volume version of Lee’s Lieutenants (Vol 3 not pictured here).  All books on the list can be seen on my virtual bookshelves here.

For more on my upcoming class, see the post below or “the courses” page here.

Stephen Woodworth to Teach Civil War Command and Leadership

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Next Course – Civil War Strategy and Tactics

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I just registered for my next course,  Civil War Strategy and Tactics, which will start March 2nd. Book list looks terrific and is on order. It’s also loaded on my virtual bookshelves which you can access by clicking on any of the books. I’ve updated “the courses” page here.

Course Description: This course is a study of the American Civil War with emphasis on operational contributions of Union and Confederate military leadership. Students examine Civil War battles on two levels: the strategic doctrine as formed by the major commanders and tactical developments that affected the conduct of battle at a lower echelon of command. Special emphasis is on the interplay between these levels in order to gain a comprehensive view of strategy and tactics in both armies from 1861-1865.

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Next Class: Antebellum America: Prelude to Civil War

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After a short break, I’ll be diving into my next class which starts November 3rd. As is my custom, I’ve added this to “The Courses” page.

“Antebellum America: Prelude to Civil War” (starts November 3rd)

This course is an analysis of the conditions existing in the United States in the first half of the 19th century. The course focuses on the political, cultural/social, economic, security, leadership, and other issues that played roles in starting and shaping the Civil War. We will analyze the issues in the context of war and peace to determine whether or not such conflicts as civil wars can be avoided prior to their inception.

Required Texts:

TBD once the syllabus is available. For now, the list is as follows which is very light in comparison with my last class:

Half Slave and Half Free : The Roots of Civil War by Bruce Levine

Publisher: Hill and Wang

Road to Disunion : Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854, Volume 1 by William W. Freehling

Since I read 14 books in Studies in U.S. Military History (a challenge but I loved IT!), this may be a light reading term.
Because William Freehling’s book, Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina, 1816-1836, received such high acclaim, I’ve purchased it as well.
Finally, it would not surprise me at all if Daniel Walker Howe’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, What Hath God Wrought, was added to the reading list as well.
All of these texts can be found on the “Antebellum America” shelf of my virtual library here.
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On War and Words

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As I finish up my final paper, I’ve gone back to the first book read for my class, “Studies in U.S. Military History.”

The Name of War

King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity

Jill Lepore. The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity. Vintage Books, 1999.

In this unusual book about King Phillip’s War, Lepore sets out to study war and how people write about it. She suggests that writing about war can be almost as difficult as waging it. And writing can be essential to winning a war. Her work is thus in its essence about words and how they are used to both describe and impact the outcome of war. She concludes that “truth in war is relative,” a profoundly insightful statement that gets to the core of why many wars are waged in the first place, the clashing of points of view. And so, she concludes, “war is a contest of injuries and interpretation.” Lepore’s opening chapter, “What’s in a Name?” is nothing less than masterful.

To the victor go the spoils but also the power to explain the war completely to his advantage. For the loser, whether dead or defeated, loses his voice.

Technology in U.S. Military History – 1

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My current course on Studies in U. S. Military History (see courses page here) is drawing to a close. We have been examining the last of Millett and Maslowski’s major themes which is that “the United States has used increasingly sophisticated technology to overcome logistical limitations and to match enemy numbers with firepower.” [i] I find this supportable in the sense that it has been possible to see a steady progression of technological prowess over time. Nowhere, arguably, have technological advancements been felt more than in the arena of weaponry.

Patent drawing for R.J. Gatling's Battery Gun, 9 May 1865. (Source: Wikicommons, Public Domain)

Professor of history Alex Roland (Duke University) posits that “before the twentieth century, most soldiers and sailors ended their careers armed as they were at the beginning. New weapons were introduced slowly, if at all, and most professionals resisted the uncertainties new arms introduced.” But, Roland asserts, “by the second half of the twentieth century, this traditional suspicion of new weapons had changed to a reckless enthusiasm.”  The phenomena of obsolescence on introduction entered the national psyche in that, by the time many “weapons entered service, their successors were being planned. This was especially true in large-scale weapons systems such as ships and aircraft. It even found its way into thinking about less complex military technologies, such as radios and computers.” [ii]

More in Part 2. Note I provide a link below to Professor Roland’s excellent article titled “Technology and War” which can be read online.

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——-For the Common Defense

[i]   Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, xiii.

[ii] Alex Roland, “Technology and War,” http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/AD_Issues/amdipl_4/roland2.html Accessed 13 July 2008.

New Page – "the wars"

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I’ve added a new page to wig-wags titled, “the wars” which you can access here or on the sidebar any time. I am in the third week of a core course, “Studies in U.S. Military History” (see “The Courses here for more detail on this an other courses I’m taking at the American Military University). I am convinced that there has been mention of at least 20 – 30 “wars” so far in this class. I’m losing track. So as has been my practice on wigwags, I’m creating a page to log information I want to collect for reference, add to as I find more information, and be able to jump to quickly. I should have started this page with the first chapter read in the course!

I’ll begin with a chronicle of America’s wars. I will add to it as I discover and have time to post. I may also create sub-pages to dive into each war in more detail. I have a bit of catching up to do so won’t start “at the beginning” but rather where I am in my reading (War of 1812). But I’ll eventually get them all filled in. If interested, please come back from time-to-time to that page as I’ll hope to update regularly.

As always, I’ll try to make the page as visually interesting as possible.

Battle between the frigates HMS Shannon and USS Chesapeake off Boston during the War of 1812; detail of a lithograph by J.C. Schetky.

Photo: Battle between the frigates HMS Shannon and USS Chesapeake off Boston during the War of 1812; detail of a lithograph by J.C. Schetky.

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And so the reading begins… in earnest

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Historiography is a wrap. The new class, Studies in U.S. Military History, started yesterday. There was a slight change in texts. For the Korean War, Roy E. Appleman’s East of Chosin: Entrapment and Breakout in Korea, 1950  will be used rather than the one I mentioned earlier.

East of Chosin

I also picked up a book on the recommended reading list, One Hundred Years of Sea Power: The U.S. Navy, 1890 – 1990  by George W. Baer. I’ve added both to my virtual bookshelves here.

The U. S. Navy, 1890-1990

The class will be a challenging one. Thirteen books will be required reading as noted in my last post here. The pace will be more than one book per week in addition to writing assignments. Best get to it!

First up – jumping into Millett and Maslowski’s For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America – which will be the primary text for the course. Just a chapter this week dealing with the period between 1607 and 1689.

For the Common Defense

Second – reading in its entirety Jill Lepore’s The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity which was winner of the Bancroft Prize in 1999.

King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity

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Next Course – Books!

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Next class starts Monday – Studies in U.S. Military History. I posted earlier a description of the class here.

I stacked up all the the required reading texts today in “historical order.” IMPRESSIVE! All are listed on my bookshelves here.

 

Program of Study – M.A. Military History – American Civil War

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For those interested, I have posted the full program of study for my Masters program on “the courses” page here. It’s pretty solid at this point with the exception of an elective.

I’ve now purchased all required books for my upcoming course, “Studies in U.S. Military History” which starts April 7th. It’s a BIG stack. As is my custom, the full reading list is posted on “the courses” page. I had previously posted more detail on that course here. Recall that it covers most of America’s major wars and should provide an excellent survey.  Can’t wait!

I’m finishing up an essay on ethics as related to historians due today so will get back to my two series posts on (1) Jomini and (2) The Temperment of Military Leaders when completed.

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wig-wags in Greek!

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One of the very cool things about blogging is being able to see the sites from which some readers come (referrers as WordPress calls them). Tonight I saw for the first time a referral from a Google’s translation page. I clicked on the page and it appears that I have had a Greek reader checking out the courses page which describes my program! Here’s a screen print. Check it out…wig-wags in Greek! Made my day.

wig-wags in Greek