The Reliability of the Linn Diary

All of the work that we have done in this course has focused on the Diary of James Merrill Linn.  During our time together this semester, aside from just learning the skills and tools of digital humanities research, we also developed a working knowledge of the Burnside Expedition, and the Civil War as a whole.  As a final project, I wanted to determine if our new historical knowledge was based on reliable evidence.


 Was James Merrill Linn a reliable, factual storyteller in the entries in his diary?


 

To answer this question, I decided to find another reputable source of information about events of the Burnside Expedition and compare the versions of events written in that source with the versions told by Linn.  In making these comparisons, I also hoped to learn more about what can be gained from looking at historical events from multiple perspectives.  I chose to compare Linn’s diary against the Burnside biography linked on our WordPress site because I believed that it could provide an objective, ‘zoomed out’ perspective on the events I wanted to examine.  I also chose to limit the scope of this project to the events leading up to and during the battle of South Mills.

Side by SideThe first step in the process was to go through the two texts and pull out lines where both authors were writing about the same event.  I viewed the two texts side-by-side, and copied over quotes of the similar areas into an organizational text document to begin a list of the events that I wanted to study more closely.

The Quote LogThough the main essence of this project is text based, I still wanted to present the results as a story; the story of the Battle of South Mills as told from two separate perspectives.  Out of all the visualization tools we worked with throughout the semester, I liked ArcGIS the most for storytelling, so I chose to use that to display my findings.  However, instead of trying to show the similarities and differences on the map, I would use it to draw the viewer’s attention to certain locations of interest, and explain the findings of the project using popups and later the map journal sidebar.

Once I knew I wanted to mark each event on the map, the next question to Linn Mapanswer was ‘how?’  I determined that by using icons available in the map notes feature of ArcGIS, I could create nodes on the map that had a visual relation to the event that it represented.  I feel that this choice of visual representation helped to keep visual clutter down to a minimum, as the icon was all that was needed to represent each point of interest in the project.

As for the maps I selected, the map of the Battle of South Mills was an obvious choice.  It allowed me to place mid-battle nodes in proper places relative to each other and to the bigger overall scale of the battle.  The pre-battle events were not nearly as location-specific, and so a less detailed map of a larger area was needed.  In this case, the other map I chose for those elements was the North Carolina east coast map.

While I was analyzing the differences between the two writings at each event, I was coming up with different conclusions at each one.  I realized that this was something I also wanted to convey to any viewers of the project, so I decided to include these conclusions along with the explanation of the interesting comparisons in the sidebar slides of the map journal publication.

The Reliability of the Linn DiaryAt each slide of the published map journal, I decided to have the pop-up caption for the current node automatically open.  These pop-ups all contain quotations from the original text which are very helpful for understanding the points being made in each slide of the sidebar.  These automatic pop-ups are also useful during the Battle of South Mills to delineate which node out of the small cluster iscurrently active and being discussed.

After finishing this project, I’m fairly confident that I managed to answer my initial question.  After cross-examination of both works of writing, I’m willing to say that Linn’s diary is accurate enough for us to gather reliable information about the Civil War and the Burnside Expedition from it.  There were differences between the two versions of the story, but most of those are able to be explained simply by the difference in point of view.  There were even a number of occasions where the Linn Diary went into more detail about an event than Burnside’s biography did, leading me to believe that Linn intended for his writings to be a reference for his actions in the Civil War.

In addition, I learned how important it is to check multiple references and points of view when analyzing a particular historical event.  By combining the information recorded in the two writings that I studied, I was able to form a more complete picture of the battle of South Mills than either one could have given me individually.  Every source seems to be likely to include some bit of data that all other references missed, and each bit can be added to the story like a puzzle piece, bringing you closer to fully understanding the event.

Overall, I thought that mapping using ArcGIS was the most effective of the methods we used in class for this project.  Although it didn’t help me to formulate or organize my thoughts about my research question, it did provide me with a way to easily share my results with others.The Reliability of the Linn Diary (1)

Works Cited

Linn, James Merrill. Diary. April 17-19 1862. MS. Bucknell University Archives and Special Collections, Lewisburg, PA.

Ibrahim, Mohamed.  Rowboat Map Icon.  clker.com  Retrieved 3 Dec. 2014

Woodbury, Augustus.  “Major General Ambrose E. Burnside and the Ninth…”  S.S. Rider & Brother, 1867.  As retrieved from course WordPress Site.

Linn’s Connection to Roanoke Island: Using GIS

Humans often think in terms of space: where things are, how far apart, in what direction.  When examining a story, whether it be real or fictional, mapping out a spatial representation of the events can be a powerful tool in understanding deeper meanings and reasons.  As Bodenhammer explains it, “space offers a way to understand fundamentally how we order our world” (14).

Many of the decisions we make every day are greatly dependent on how we examine the space around us.  This was no different for people living 100 or 1000 years ago.  When we look at historical recordings, the reasoning behind many actions can be lost or go unseen, simply because we can’t see what they saw.  However, using GIS mapping, historical maps,  and other visual tools, we can recreate, to some extent, the world that these historical figures lived in.  By examining these maps and other visuals, we gain a better understanding of the circumstances and influences that led people to decide on the actions they took.  Bodenhammer mentions the example of the discovery of the New World (14-15).  It’s hard for us to imagine the allure of this land to the European countries 500 years ago because we know this place as our home.  However, historical maps and paths of the journeys of explorers let us see the vast open expanse that existed here.  Combine that with maps of population growth and religious turmoil in Spain, France, and England, and we can start to see the circumstances that led to the era of colonization.

Working in this way with Linn’s diary led to many interesting revelations.  The GIS mapping I did of his arrival to and departure from Roanoke island revealed a number of things about his experiences.  For instance, in his diary entry on February 7th, he mentions having to walk through a swamp to reach the rest of the regiment after making shore on the island.  With Linn’s short description, it was impossible to determine just how long he spent traversing these wetlands.  However, by drawing the path between the landing point and the regiment using GIS, I was able to see that most of that 2 mile journey was through swamp.  Once arriving at camp, Linn seems in a rather negative mood.  The difficulty that this march must have presented would explain his feelings at the time.

Bodenhammer describes a potential use of GIS technology as creating a myriad of different layers on a map, where each one “would contain the unique view over time – the dynamic memory – of an individual or a social unit” (27-28).  I think it would be very interesting to see what we could make of journal entries of different people with connections to Linn.  The personal stories of Beaver or General Reno could provide us with more insight into the things Linn didn’t write down, how these people were connected, and where their paths crossed and diverged.

 

Linn Diary  Arrival and Departure at Roanoke Island

Blog IV: TEI, XML, and Close Reading

The density of brown descriptive terms in the second day of the diary.

The density of brown descriptive terms in the second day of the diary.

Through the markup of Linn’s diary entries and close examination of the words and phrases he used to express himself, I have developed a deeper understanding of Linn’s words and have begun to formulate new questions based on the last two weeks’ exercises.  I consider myself lucky that my page of Linn’s diary contained two days worth of writings.  This has allowed me, through markup of descriptive terms, to witness how Linn’s writing styled changed by day, and by his emotions at the time.  By looking at the density of negative descriptive terms, I was able to pick out a distinct change in Linn’s tone between the 7th and the 8th.  More specifically, the occurrence of negative descriptors was roughly three times as dense on the 8th than it was on the 7th.  I was able to assume from this information that Linn’s mood dropped dramatically between the two days, likely a result of the incessant rain and cold weather he had to sleep in.  This kind of revelation is possible through the features Pierazzo describes as “Semantics,” the markup of “dates, names of people, of places, keywords.”  I would never have noticed this subtle change, nor really understood Linn’s feelings these days without close reading and markups of the text.

 

Collaborating with the rest of the class in creating a standardized markup style gave me insight into the workings of editorial boards; specifically how long the editorial decision process takes.  As a group of ten, we spent the better part of 15 minutes discussing the benefits of labeling boats as objects or places.  Both sides of the argument made good points, and we found it difficult to come to a consensus.  I think this illustrates a point made by Elena Pierazzo, “objectivity is not very productive or helpful in the case of transcription and subsequently of diplomatic edition… it is argued here for informed, circumspect, documented, scholarly interpretation.”  There was no right answer in the debate we had.  It was a matter of weighing the facts in front of us and making a subjective decision, a decision that was in part based on what information we wanted the markup to carry.  We ended up marking named boats as objects because we wanted readers to know that they were only referred to as places in specific circumstances.  This is an example of the purpose of a digital edition as defined by Pierazzo, that they are meant “to achieve the scholarly purpose of the edition–a purpose which, by definition, varies.”

A selection of my original markup...

A selection of my original markup…

... vs. the same selection after group editing.

… vs. the same selection after group editing.

Blog III: Representing Time with Space

Representing historical events in a written form can be a difficult process.  Writing is a medium that, once created, is unchanging, so the information needs to be represented in some way that can still show change and time.  We do this by manipulating space.  Grafton pointed out in his writing that traditional clocks trace time as a circle, and even when we look at a digital clock, we translate the numbers that we see into a line of the time in a day.

 

The same process happens with the longer-scale time of history as well.  It’s difficult to understand history by simply interpreting words on a page, so we translate the words into events and visualize those in space.  Commonly, those events go on a timeline.  Timelines are good at showing proximity and distance between events, and revealing patterns over time.

In our Timemapper timeline, we constructed a database of historical events that surround 1860s Events - TimeMapper - Make Timelines and TimeMaps fast! - from the Open Knowledge Foundation Labsthe time when Linn was writing his diary.  The creation and study of our completed timeline made me realize a few things.  For example, it’s very easy to get wrapped up in a particular set of events. As a result, it can be difficult to recognize, or pay significant mind to, larger events going on around the same time.  When reading Linn’s diary, I found myself forgetting that he was writing about events in a small corner of the Civil War.  Opening up the scale and comparing his story to the rest of history really put his story into perspective.  The scale of a historical graphic really depends on how detailed you make it, represented well by the annals from the 700s in Grafton’s essay.

 

Timemapper also revealed how independent history and different parts of the world can be.  While the Civil War was going on, life in the rest of the world went on as normal.  Even in many parts of the United States, major events happened that had nothing to do with the war.  This ties in with my previous observation, and helps to explain Linn’s writing.  Human history is a collection of the stories of individuals who move around, who make and lose connections.  It’s impossible to represent such a complicated system in a definitive, single-stream way.

1860s Events - TimeMapper - Make Timelines and TimeMaps fast! - from the Open Knowledge Foundation Labs (1)

The events of a decade

Blog Post II: Drawing Conclusions and Asking Questions

Thinking through  the hypothesis, the first words I decided to take a look at were “guns” and “arms.”  My initial thought was that maybe the usage of these terms would change as Linn went in and out of battle, either in frequency or in connotation.  A pattern did show up while looking at the trend chart, though it wasn’t what I was expecting to find.  While the frequency of these terms did increase once he got to the battlefront, there was no real change in his tone after the first battle was over.  These words didn’t really help me answer this question, so I decided to move on to a new search term.

Voyant Tools  Reveal Your Texts (2)

 

I decided that if the instruments of war weren’t going to give me my answer, I would have to take a step back.  I used the word trends graph to give me a comparison between the uses of the words “war” and “battle.”  It was this search that gave me my more interesting results.  Most of the 15 uses of the word “war” happened in the first half of the diary, while he was in Maryland before departing and while aboard the Cossack.  There is a long break where “war” does not appear once the first battle has started until after it had ended, where the gap was broken by the simple sentence “War is horrible.”  This very much seemed to prove Professor Jakacki’s hypothesis, at least in part.  Linn did not have such a negative view of war before that point, something had changed in his perception.  After that revealing search, I added a map of “battle” to my graph.  This revealed an entirely different trend.  The two words, “battle” and “war,” seemed to show up somewhat exclusive of each other; their frequencies were inversely related.

Voyant Tools  Reveal Your Texts (1)

This made me ask another question: Why are these two topics discussed exclusively of each other?  Was Linn unable to see the bigger picture of the war in the heat of battle?  Was he not imagining the battles that lay ahead when he was on campaign?  These are questions that I could seek to answer in the future.