Category Archives: digital history

March 12, 2012, 7:27 am

Measuring Afghanistan

Repurposing a comment I made in this thread, I thought I would run a chart of American military fatalities in Afghanistan. I use American military fatalities “as a quick and dirty way to tell how things are going in a US counterinsurgency effort, figuring that killing an American soldier is always a valuable achievement for an insurgent, that American soldiers (especially in the respective surges) are in harm’s way, that killing one requires mobilizing a certain amount of effort on an insurgency’s part, and that (perhaps most importantly) the Pentagon can’t really fudge the number of deaths (they can with wounded; the definition of “wounded” changed in the middle of the Iraq War to, shock! surprise!, reduce the numbers). It’s not perfect (not nearly so), but it worked pretty well for me looking at Iraq in 2008 and 2009.” Note that this is not a statement about the morality …

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March 2, 2012, 11:51 am

American Defense Spending from 1792 to 2015

I was playing around with the data at and decided to share:

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We are still living in the aftermath of World War II.

February 16, 2012, 7:00 am

I’m Going To Need A Bigger Cup Of Coffee

Powers 2The sources available to historians jump exponentially for the post-1945 era. The rise of typewriters, copy machines, computers, and printers created a blizzard of paper that shows no sign of ending. Add into that all the electronic files, email, and the like, not to mention oral history recordings, and historians studying the years after World War II might be forgiven for having a thousand-yard stare and powerful bifocals. Google (which I am using as a generic word for search & indexing of all type. There goes the trademark) has helped some, but has its own problems.

Now comes the flood of video. The Air Force, the linked article notes, collects 6 petabytes (which is technical language for “Holy sh#$%$#%, that’s a lot of data”) of high-definition video per day. Such video could be remarkably useful for military historians (want to watch a combat engagement in real time?) but…

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January 29, 2012, 11:06 am

Process, Part III

(Part one here, part two here)

Having ended up with thousands of photographs from an archival research trip to Britain, I returned to the United States and realized that I had to figure out what to do with them. In essence, by using the digital camera, I had transferred the work of sifting, reading, and note-taking the sources from the archive itself to my home. What had been a concentrated effort in the archive, with multiple layers of seeking, finding, and judging all going on at the same time, had become more spread out.

The solution lay in both new tools and new methods. Unlike my earlier approach, I actually planned out ahead of time the process I was going to use to take notes. I would load the pictures into Scrivener, my writing tool of choice at the moment, and take notes on them directly into the program. That way I wouldn’t have to switch back and forth between photo…

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January 13, 2012, 1:18 pm

Process, Part II

[First post here]

But if laptops replaced paper as the main way of getting notes down, the difference in the actual physical process of research was not that much altered. Go to the archive, order the sources you needed, and spend days or weeks or months taking notes on them. Copying costs at most archives were much too high to consider wholesale reproduction, and so note-taking depended on how fast you could type. Portable scanners did not really work; either one had to put the document face down on the scanner or drag the scanner along the document. Neither of those things pleased most archivists. In addition, the scanners were slow and did not offer much storage. Thus, note taking remained resolutely textual, and resulted in the production of lots and lots of MS Word documents with notes on specific sources.Notetakingwindows

That changed dramatically with the advent of digital cameras with…

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October 29, 2011, 8:12 am


We’re having a nor’easter this weekend, here in the extremely eastern part of the American West. I had the grumpy-old-man thought that we didn’t have nearly as many nor’easters when I was growing up, grumble, grumble, aaarr, get off my lawn, you kids. So I went and checked, and oddly there’s some truth to the thought. From Google’s quite wonderful Ngram viewer, mentions of the word “nor’easter” from 1800 to 2008:


Meanwhile, the New York Times mentions “nor’easter” 254 times from 1851-1980, but 272 times since 1980. The word is being used more, though whether that means those kind of storms are more frequent? Unclear.

[UPDATE: A kind reader points out that a number of the more modern hits may come from the 1991 publication of Sebastian Junger's book A Perfect Storm, which uses "nor'easter" in its book description.]

But…grumble, grumble, aaarrr, get off my lawn, you kids.

October 1, 2010, 5:22 pm

Coalition Fatalities in Afghanistan by Month (January 2008-September 2010)

Coalition fatalities continue to drop, month over month, in Afghanistan. In addition, September 2010 was the first month in which fewer coalition soldiers were killed than in the same month of 2009:

June 15, 2010, 2:23 pm

Monthly Coalition Fatalities in the U.S.-Afghan War from January 2009 with Predicted Casualties to December 2010

The predicted fatalities are based on an extremely rough and ready calculation. Fatalities from Spring 2009 to Spring 2010 nearly doubled (1.78, actually), so I applied that same increase to the Summer 2009 figures to get to Summer 2010 estimates. I make no claims to any particular analytical value for this.


June 14, 2010, 9:28 am

Fatalities in the U.S.-Afghan War by Season, 2001-2010

Total coalition fatalities for each season since 2001.

June 13, 2010, 8:55 am

Fatalities in the U.S.-Afghan War by Month, 2001-2010


Fatalities are the total fatalities in each month from 2001-2010, so “January” is the sum of January, 2002 plus January, 2003, etc.

June 12, 2010, 1:41 pm

Monthly Fatalities in the U.S.-Afghan War

Monthly Fatalities

(Coalition, not just American, and both combat and non-combat)

January 17, 2010, 1:00 am

Military History Carnival

Welcome to the January 17, 2010 edition of the Military History Carnival, a roundup of the best recent military history from around the web. This is the first time that H-War and Edge of the American West have co-hosted. Today’s edition ranges widely, from the Ottoman Empire to the Atomic Bomb to the American Civil War.

Pre-19th Century

Scott Manning presents Joan of Arc’s Military Successes and Failures posted at Digital Survivors.

Jason presents 1683: Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha, for the Battle of Vienna posted at Executed Today.

19th Century

Tim Abbott presents Is the Richard Kirkland Story True? posted at Civil War Memory, saying, “A superb guest post at Kevin Levin’s Civil War memory by Michael Schaffner”

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October 29, 2009, 7:48 am

It’s Quiet. Yeah, Too Somnolent.

I’m hoping that Amazon doesn’t actually put this into action:

Method and apparatus for programmatically substituting synonyms into distributed text content. A synonym substitution mechanism may programmatically replace selected words in textual data with synonyms for the selected words. The modification to an excerpt performed by the synonym substitution mechanism may not significantly alter the meaning of the excerpt to a human reader. By replacing one or more selected words in an excerpt with synonyms for the words, illicit copies of the excerpt may be recognized by comparing a copy of the excerpt to the original. Particular permutations of synonym substitutions may be provided in excerpts to particular requestors. The particular permutations may be recorded and used to determine a requestor as the source of a copy of the excerpt. Synonym substitution may make programmatic excerpt…

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July 24, 2009, 2:06 pm

A Band of Boys [Boxers, July 16, 1900]

The effects of the crisis in China in 1900 were not confined to China, obviously. They could reach as far down as the streets of New York, and as deep as the children of that city:

Nicholas Ageno, an Italian boy of twelve years, living with his parents at 77 Oliver Street, and who the police say is leader of a band of boys, last night summoned his followers and set out to look for Boxers. As darkness fell over the city they reached Chatham Square. On Sunday evening Chinamen from all parts of the city and round about congregate at Chinatown. Young Gee, an inoffensive Chinaman who conducts a laundry at 221 East Broadway, came walking across the square toward Pell Street. The boys espied him and advanced to the attack with a well-directed volley of stones, dirt, and other missiles. Gee started for Chinatown on a run, but the boys cut off his retreat, crowded about him, tore his blouse, an…

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May 13, 2009, 8:48 am

Postblogging 1909

Brett Holman, whose series post-blogging the Sudeten Crisis inspired my Boxer Uprising Day to Day, is now starting to work his way through the “phantom airship wave” in 1909 Britain:

It’s 90 years since the phantom airship wave of 1909, when mysterious aerial visitors appeared in the night skies over Britain. Or at least, stories about mysterious aerial visitors filled the newspapers of Britain. It’s hard to tell from this distance: the only evidence we have about the scareships are the press reports, which could be a problem if you are interested in a possible underlying reality. But then again, since the number of (alleged) phantom airship witnesses is relatively small, the press was the only way most people would have learned that their sky was being invaded by Zeppelins every night. So for them as for us, the stories are the event itself.

If it lives up to his previous work, it…

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