85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History
Landscapes of War and Peace
April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky
Title: Using STEM and Digital Technologies to Create Historical Narratives
Abstract: Non-traditional historical methods can contribute to generation of historical analysis and narratives. These methods may include geospatial and other forms of digital and mathematical analysis. This panel will examine three projects using a variety of these techniques to discuss the processes scholars can use to enhance analysis and narrative.
Richard Ector, Georgia Southern University
Participant's Paper Title: Mathematical Analysis of the Battle of the Atlantic
Participant's Paper Abstract: During World War II the discipline of Operations Research originated from Allied efforts to improve anti-submarine warfare (ASW). Since the war, development of ever more powerful computer-based mathematical tools allows new forms of analysis, but analyzing and turning data into narrative remains problematic. One challenge for historians is the tedium of detailed work; another is programming or other mathematical manipulation skills. Overcoming these hurdles can be daunting, but the rewards can lead to startling new insights. The Battle of the Atlantic is a data-rich environment because so much study has gone into it. The data offers scholars new avenues of research. While military strategists like Jomini and Clausewitz have searched for "scientific" approaches to understanding war, the most influential mathematical approach to analyzing combat is known as Lanchester's Combat model, the differential equation f(x) = axNx2. Widely-available computer programs allow use of this equation to examine the data available. Once the data is processed, the results may be analyzed and a narrative derived from it. This paper discusses the techniques historians can use to process data and develop a narrative from it, as well as visual approaches to presenting the data in meaningful ways.
Jan-Ruth Mills, Florida State University
Participant's Paper Title: Messerschmitt 262 Production and Slave Labor: The Hidden Landscape of Upper Austria
Participant's Paper Abstract: The American Military Tribunal at Dachau's trial of SS administrators and prisoner-functionaries from the Nazi Concentration Camp Mauthausen (US v. Altfuldisch et al.) has been praised as an example of post-war cooperation by survivors and US military investigators working together to locate documents and witnesses, thus empowering the victims to construct the narrative, and criticized for exaggerating the extent of the crimes to expedite a conviction. Using an advanced DoD/Intel community originated geospatial software platform to analyze the war-crimes investigators' reports, interrogations, and trial exhibits, this paper seeks to answer the question, How did the narrative constructed during the trial result in the disappearance from the historical landscape of two camps, Gusen I and II, and a vast tunnel system in which fully functioning Messerschmitt 262 fuselages were constructed? How does one lose a labor camp involved in the construction of so storied a weapon system? Digital tools allow analysis of the documents informing the trial for all the elements of story (people, places, things, time and space), revealing patterns not previously understood as contributing to the accepted narrative. Far from exaggerating the crimes, preliminary results suggest that conditions on the ground in May 1945 during the early investigations may have caused the Military Tribunal to inadvertently deny the worst.
Gregory Burris, Florida State University
Participant's Paper Title: Plantation Book to Database: Reconstructing the Environment and Climate of the Civil War from the Shirley Plantation Papers
Participant's Paper Abstract: From early Spanish settlements until after Reconstruction, plantation owners kept meticulous records of activity on their land. These logs included what was being planted and where, but also included weather observations, planting and harvesting dates, and the changes in labor regimes as the seasons progressed. Phenology (study of the seasonal life cycles of plants and animals) and bioclimatology have shown that variation in climate conditions has a strong causal relationship with the development rate of plants. This relationship, along with qualitative observations about daily weather patterns and instrumental records where available, can be used to reconstruct the climate and environmental conditions of the past. It offers the potential of greater temporal resolution than dendrochronology and other paleoclimatic proxy records. This can be used to understand past climates, which can in turn be used to understand the role of the environment in the Civil War and other conflicts. This paper analyses early results of the new methodology and explores the constraints and limitations of historical bioclimate reconstructions.
Kristine Harper, Florida State University
Michael Pavelec, Air Command and Staff College