Linn’s Letters During the Battle of New Bern

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Figure 1

As my final project for Digging into the Digital, I chose to look at the letters James Merrill Linn wrote home from March 16 to 26, 1862. I chose these particular dates because they are the letters that he sent as the Battle of NewBern was taking place. In the archives, the diary entries that he would have written during this battle are missing. Either they were lost on the way to Bucknell University’s archives, or he did not write in his diary during the battle. Either way, the letters he wrote home are the only pieces of his first hand occurrence of the battle. My research question is “Do the letters he wrote from March 16 to March 26 actually help to make sense of what happened during the Battle of New Bern?

To get the most accurate answer to my research question, I chose to do close reading. I did not think mapping would be as helpful since I was not worried about the particulars of his location, but rather what was said in the pages. I thought that this would be the most helpful because I could compare it to the diary entries before and after the battle, to see if it does accurately fill in what happened during the battle of New Bern. I was given ten letters from the archives to do a close reading of. I transcribed eight letters written to his brother, John that look like the page shown in Figure 1.

I did not find transcribing the pages too strenuous but I did come across a few difficulties in the letters. In one letter, he must have spilled water on the corner of the page because part of the first line was illegible due to

Figure 2

Figure 2

water damage (Figure 2). There were only a few words that I could not decipher. The majority of my difficulties came from words that Linn used that I have never heard before and had to look up, or words that I have never heard in that context before. The most interesting example of this is in Figure 3 where Linn writes, “I have an altered Harpers ferry which is boxed to send from here”. I had never heard of a ferry that you can box and send home before, so I turned to the Internet to do some research on “Harpers ferry”. At first I came up empty-handed, all the sites said was that this was a National Historic Park of a historic town in West Virginia. However, when I added the word “gun” to my search, it revealed that Harpers ferry was the first rifle made by an American armory.

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Figure 3

After transcribing the letters, I began to analyze them through TEI. I put the transcriptions into Oxygen and marked them up. We did the same for Linn’s diary entries in the beginning of the year so I was able to compare his letters to John during the battle of New Bern to other diary entries he wrote. While tagging the letters I noticed a few different things than when tagging the diary. I do not think we used the “affiliation” tag at all Screen shot 2014-12-16 at 9.55.39 PMduring the tagging of the diaries. This time around I used it much more often though. Such as when tagging his company, or the rebels, or anything that refers to a formal relationship with a group of some kind. I also used the “state” tag very often this time around. I think this is because the letters he wrote home to his family are much more personal than what he wrote in his diary. Most likely because he wrote this diary for himself for the future, or for the public to read so he doesn’t put more facts into it than his emotions.

The letters he wrote to John are not as factual, although he wrote about the dates a lot. Most likely because Linn constantly wanted his brother to know what he was doing and where he was going. He also wrote more about generals and the men higher up in the ranks, rather than his comrades, unlike what he wrote in the diaries. I think this is because the diaries are for him personally and he knows who the comrades he is writing about are. John does not know the soldiers fighting alongside James, so he wrote more about the men who tell him and his comrades where to go and what to do. For example he never once mentioned his friend and fellow soldier Beaver in the eight pages that I transcribed, while in the diary he talked about him more than anyone else. Linn wrote about home much more often in the letters than in the diary. He talked about sending relics home, like an altered Harpers ferry, sending money home, and the letters he receives from his family. One part that I found very interesting was when he wrote, “My don’t Annie or Laura write. I have not received anything from them for a long while. I am glad the old shop is gone, though I think you let it go cheap”. In all the diary entries I read, he barely mentioned his sisters, but in a letter to his brother he did. Also, he wrote of events going on at home, something he would rarely do in the diary entries.

Since his diary entries are much more factual than the letters this might seem unfortunate because I am trying to see if the letters written in this time period fill in what happened at the battle of New Bern. I do not have as much information as I would have in a diary entry about this battle, because he writes more about what is affecting him in the battle, and especially the annoyances. One was when he “loaned a pair of my boots to a little Jew belonging to my company, but he disgraced them by blacking out in the battle”. Fortunately, we do have facts about the battle besides through these letters to John.

03161862aThe first two letters, on March 16, were solely focused on the events that unfolded during the battle of New Bern. These letters were not to his brother John, but to a newspaper from his hometown of Lewisburg, called the Star & Chronicle. Captain Hassenplug asked Linn to forward to the newspaper the casualties, loss, and present state of his company. Linn wrote that more have died of disease than have been killed in battle. He also wrote of their advances, attacks, and retreats. On the top of one of the pages Linn wrote “Recapitulation” and gave a summary of who dies, who transferred, who was discharged, who deserted the company, and who was wounded and where they were hurt. He even dedicated a whole paragraph to experiments that him and his company performed in light of the sentence “I have often been reminded of the remark we often hear that it is a wonder so many escape”. Linn thought the newspaper would find their experiments of firing funs at different ranges, and the accuracy of the guns to be interesting.

Ultimately, transcribing Linn’s letters during the battle of New Bern did help me to comprehend the events that unfolded as Linn and his company were in the battle and the aftermath of it. Close reading allowed me to understand what happened during the battle, and also to look at how Linn wrote his letters compared to in his diary. I thought that this project was extremely interesting, and I enjoyed transcribing the letters to figure out how Linn wrote his letters home. It was also very fascinating to read the letter to the Star & Chronicle because it is very different from everything we have looked at in class. Overall, this project allowed me to have a better understanding of the battle of New Bern, and Linn’s writing techniques.

 

Links to my marked up files:

http://www.students.bucknell.edu/projects/HUMN10002/Wigginton/content/Wigginton_final.xml
http://www.students.bucknell.edu/projects/HUMN10002/Wigginton/Wigginton_file.xml

 

Works Cited

Linn, James Merrill. Letter to Star & Chronicle. March 16, 1862. MS. Bucknell University Archives and Special Collections, Lewisburg, PA.

Linn, James Merrill. Letters to John. March 19-26, 1862. MS. Bucknell University Archives and Special Collections, Lewisburg, PA.

Linn, James Merrill. Diary. March 12, 1862. MS. Bucknell University Archives and Special Collections, Lewisburg, PA.

Linn, James Merrill. Diary. March 24, 1862. MS. Bucknell University Archives and Special Collections, Lewisburg, PA.

Week Five Assignments, Readings, Exercises

Monday 9/29

  • Lab: Timemapper

Wednesday 10/1

  • Discussion: What does time visualization tell us about Linn?

Friday 10/3

  • Close reading module introduced
  • Transcription revised and re-compiled (using marked draft transcriptions)

Sunday 10/5

  • Blog post #3 “On Time” due (11pm)

Digital Archive

From the first glance at the new DH sample website, you can see much improvement from the previous link. The previous link was just a list of DH projects. The new website categorized all the projects making it much easier to navigate. There are 7 categories to choose from: Archive, Visualization, Mapping, Digital Edition, Network Analysis, Textual Analysis, and Audio Analysis. Depending on what you are working on, you can easily choose a category and pick a project.

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The interface of Indegenous People Archive

The first category I looked at was Archive. I saw three DH projects that are exceptionally well designed. They are all very well put together and easy to navigate. The one that struck me the most was the Indigenous People project, which is from Bucknell Bertrand library. It is very well organized. After clicking on Exploring Collections, the site shows you every document the project has to offer. With the searching mechanism, you can choose documents depending on Content Type, Document Type, Language, and Source Library.

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A picture of a Kiowa married couple

There are many advantages in making digital artifact from archival documents. It is easily accessible and it is widely available. The problem that original documents have is that they can be easily damaged. Similar to the video we watched in class, many documents are in bad state so we don’t have access to them. By putting them online, we can preserve the documents and make it available for anyone who is interested.

The only disadvantage I can think of is the hand-on experience. When holding the documents with your own hands, you can deduct many things from its physical state and the material it is made of. Without personal touch, it is hard to empathize with subject of the document.

There will be many obstacles in creating my DH project. The main challenge would be making it easy to navigate for others. It is hard to create an interface that can help people understand my intent and my thought process.

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The projects on the Sample DH projects link are based on a variation of artifacts.  The categories are: visualization, mapping, digital edition, and network, textual and audio analysis. The categories are found on the top of the page, which makes it easy for the reader to choose the artifact they want to read about.

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I will mainly be talking about the archive section. The three articles in this section are: Old Weather, Lincoln 200, andDatabase of Indigenous Peoples in North America. On the main page there are summaries listed which makes it really easy for the reader to figure out which project they want to click on and read more about.

I found the old weather project extremely interesting to view. This website enables people to view the documents of the boat they picked and then people can help with the transcriptions. The historians used the people’s work to track past ship movements and tell the stories of the people on board.

 

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Some of the advantages to creating a digital artifact from archival documents would be that your not damaging the artifacts you are preserving them. There is easy access to the digital artifacts which is helpful to people who are unable to travel around the world for research because it is too expensive for them.  Lastly, by using a digital artifact you are able to do more complex research with the access. Some of the disadvantages of creating a digital artifact from archival documents would be that there are things you can catch with the physical object that you wouldn’t be able to with the digital. There are fewer distractions with physical archives because you know you only have a certain amount of time to look at it. The idea of community opposed to an online course is another disadvantage. With a community there is an emotional connection that you wouldn’t get when you’re sitting alone looking at a digital artifact on a laptop. A long with that people tend to work better when they are working off of one another’s work.

Some challenges I might face as I build my digital humanities project may  be making sure the website is easy to navigate and interesting for the viewers and making sure I’m careful while scanning the artifacts because they are very delicate and the time I have with them is precious.

 

 

 

 

New DH Sample Projects

“Featured DH Project”

The new format of the sample DH projects webpage is now very easy to navigate and is user-friendly. Upon visiting the site, I noticed several categories listed at the top of the webpage. They included: archive, visualization, mapping, digital edition, network analysis, textual analysis, and audio analysis. Users can click on the each individual category to find sample digital humanities projects that fall under the selected category. It is now much easier to explore the webpage due to its recent re-organization that is beneficial to all users. On the sidebar of the sample DH projects webpage, there is a section called a “Featured Project.” As of this blog post, the featured project was “The Great Parchment Book.”

 

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Logbook of ship trapped in ice

 

One specific category is “archive.” Projects under this category are “Old Weather”, “Lincoln at 200”, and “Database of Indigenous Peoples in North America.” These contain artifacts that were scanned and put into a digital format. For example, in “Old Weather” this is a logbook for a ship that became trapped in ice.
While the average student may not have access to the original copy of the logbook, it is now more easily accessible through the use of digital humanities. Damage by human use is less likely to happen due to the fact that less and less people are physically touching the artifacts. The use of digital humanities is also beneficial in that it allows the researcher to be more organized through digital means. Copies of the artifacts create the opportunity to go back to the source multiple times to get most of the information that the artifact provides.

Digital humanities has a lot to offer in terms of advantages to the humanists; yet, there are some drawbacks when it comes to the use of technology. First of all, scanning the artifacts has a lot of room for error. That is something I will need to take into consideration and try to limit when I am using this process. Also, with transcribing the artifacts digitally, it leaves a lot of room for human error and subjectivity. Again, with my best efforts, I will try to not let this happen. Despite some sources of error with the use of digital humanities, it is very beneficial to students and researchers.