www.barbarywarfare.com is launched!

Route of William Eaton’s Army from Alexandria to Derne, 8 March-25 April 1805; prepared by the Office of Naval Records and Library.
www.barbarywarfare.com has arrived!  I thoroughly enjoyed making the website and look forward to educating the public and connecting to other people through it.  It has more pages than I anticipated (thirteen; see below), as I decided to break down topics into smaller units.  For instance, “The Tripolitan War of 1801-1805” and “Coup and Aftermath” were originally one page, as were the two “Cultural Legacies.”
The Beginnings of Barbary Warfare
Algerian Captivity Crisis
Interlude:  1796-1800
The Tripolitan War of 1801-1805
1805 Coup and Aftermath
Final Wars of 1815
Cultural Legacy- Literature
Cultural Legacy- Movies
About Me

As I mentioned in my project proposal, my goals include reaching the public, having a forum to share my own research ideas, and generating discussion with others.  The pages feature informative articles along with primary and visual sources; I want www.barbarywarfare.com to stimulate critical thinking about the events and show readers how historians create knowledge.  Communicating Design was especially useful in helping me plan my website and spurring me to create personas to simulate my target audience.

Fortunately for me, the definitive compilation of Barbary primary sources was published by the federal government, allowing me to freely include letters and pictures from this six-volume set without worrying about copyright restrictions.  The collection has been digitized and is available for free at (http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000367640), although the scans of the pictures are of poor quality.  Thankfully, though, my HP Officejet 6500 features an awesome scanner!

Regarding the technical details, I bought a domain name and web hosting services from DreamHost and downloaded WordPress software to use for constructing www.barbarywarfare.com.  I selected a theme with a crisp, minimalist design and blue color (redolent of the ocean); I want this website to be easy-to-read and for the pictures not to compete with other graphics.  For the header background, I chose a colorful and exciting painting from the mid-nineteenth century that depicts Stephen Decatur and Thomas Macdonough boarding a Tripolitan gunboat during the August 3, 1804 naval attacks.  I also installed Disqus to run the comments section, as I want to make it easy for readers to link www.barbarywarfare.com to their Facebook and Twitter profiles since this amounts to free advertising.

In order to maximize discussion and provide immediate context, I have comment sections on the bottom of each page.  I also created a separate blog, which I will use to reflect on general questions about the Barbary conflicts and my own research as it progresses.

What’s next?  I’m passionate about this website and want it to impact a wide audience.  As the Barbary Wars are rarely taught in middle and high school and college history courses, I plan to e-mail teachers and professors and tell them about my research and website.  And as www.barbarywarfare.com includes a thorough bibliography of primary and secondary sources, I’ll mention that it can be a great resource for students working on their own projects (although the Barbary Wars are not often taught in school, students can still write about them for research papers).  Also, I’ve included my website on my profiles on websites such as Facebook, Linkedin, www.academia.edu, and the various professional organizations to which I belong.

Altogether, I’m proud of what I accomplished during this class, as building www.barbarywarfare.com has been and will continue to be an asset to my research portfolio.  I continually want to refine my website and would appreciate any feedback!


Digital Project Proposal: Barbary Wars Website!

For my class project, I will create a website about the United States’ conflicts with the Barbary States (Algiers, Morocco, Tripoli, and Tunis) from 1785-1815:  www.barbarywarfare.com.  Geared toward the general public, it will feature commentary about the main events (initial problems with Morocco in 1784, the Algerine captive crisis of 1785-1795, the Tripolitan War, Tunisian Ambassador Sidi Soliman Mellimelli’s 1806 visit to America, and the final wars of 1815), textual and visual primary sources, and discussions about secondary sources, including films and books.

Reading Communicating Design has helped me visualize and organize my goals.  Having perused the first ten websites that turn up with a Google search for “Barbary Wars” (discussed below), I understand how my website will be unique.  Communicating Design suggests that prospective website builders create “personas” to anticipate what type of users the website will attract.  As the U.S.’s current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq coupled with the political unrest in Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen draw widespread news coverage and public interest, I envision people such as “Right-wing Ralph,” “Curious Katie,” and “Sam the Student” as visitors to my website.

“Right-wing Ralph” listens to pundits such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, supports a vigorous U.S. foreign policy, and would like perspective on modern events by learning about how previous generations of American leaders handled Middle East conflicts.  “Curious Katie” saw an allusion to the Barbary Wars in a New York Times article or heard a bit about them on NPR and would like to expand her knowledge.  “Sam the Student” represents a middle school, high school, or college student who is writing about the Barbary Wars for a homework assignment and needs to find an authoritative source for information.

To best serve all these users, www.thebarbarywars.net needs to be easy to navigate, have a learned but conversational tone, and be fun to use.  Visual sources such as paintings of participants and battle scenes will help make the Barbary Wars come alive, while a blog will allow users to both ask me questions and dialog with each other.  I have not yet decided which hosting provider to use; I will continue to weigh the merits of www.bluehost.com and www.dreamhost.com.

Surprisingly, no website solely devoted to the Barbary Wars exists!  Thus, I have an excellent opportunity to fill a vital need.  Most of the top ten results from the “Barbary Wars” Google search share many flaws:  they are amateurish (factual errors and not well-written), unexciting (lots of text, with few if any visual images), neglected (not updated for years), and passive in nature (only one allows user comments).  Moreover, some of them borrow text from another webpage; there is not much original information about the Barbary conflicts on the Internet.

The first result from the Google search is the Wikipedia article for the “First Barbary War” (i.e. the Tripolitan War of 1801-1805).  A solid effort, it details the war’s military and diplomatic components and includes some charts.  Interestingly, contrary to Wikipedia protocol, it is not objective:  it suggests that Barbary piracy stemmed from the Koran’s injunctions to attack non-Muslims.  Most scholars, however, disagree with this religious interpretation, instead arguing that piracy was just an economic activity that served as a convenient way for rulers to extract payments from foreign powers.

The second hit (http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/barbary.htm) is an encyclopedia article about the Barbary conflicts that contains inaccurate information about the origins of the word “Barbary,” the battle of Derne, and the burning of the Philadelphia.  It is frustrating to use (ads pop up all the time) and lists as its one source a website that is no longer running.  www.globalsecurity.org is operated by self-described national defense enthusiasts, who claim their website is “a trusted source of military information” used by news agencies.  Unfortunately, the Barbary Wars article reflects poorly on the website.

Hit number three is also from Wikipedia:  the entry for “Barbary Wars.”  This piece is very short, comprising just two paragraphs.  Interestingly, it has a substantially different suggested reading list from the Wikipedia article on the “First Barbary War”; perhaps a different user wrote it?

The fourth result takes one to a webpage from the Library of Congress’s American Memory project:  “The Thomas Jefferson Papers:  America and the Barbary Pirates” (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/jefferson_papers/mtjprece.html).  It features a very well-written article by a specialist that provides a good discussion of Jefferson’s attitudes and approaches to the conflicts.  It invites readers to explore the plethora of primary sources offered by the Library of Congress’s online database.

The fifth webpage is from a website run by a middle-school teacher: The History Guy (http://www.historyguy.com/ Barbary_Wars.html).  It makes a political statement by featuring a large advertisement for a current movie about the dangers of a nuclear-equipped Iran.  The page design screams mid-1990s and the Barbary Wars article is very brief.  Still, it is to be commended for adding a touch of nuance by mentioning that the Tripolitan War contained the first coup attempt in U.S. foreign policy history.  Also, the middle of the page includes a banner that lists Barbary Wars book for sale on www.amazon.com.

The sixth webpage is very disappointing:  “Barbary Wars 1801-1805, 1815” on the Department of the Navy’s education website (http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/stream/ faq45-4.htm).  As the navy played a huge role in the Barbary conflicts, one would surmise that the Department of the Navy would be an excellent and authoritative source for information.  However, all one finds here are two brief paragraphs, last updated on August 13, 2003.

The seventh result is a link to a 2009 New York Times article:  “Lesson from the Barbary Pirate Wars” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/12/weekinreview/12gettleman.html).   It is simply a newspaper article that briefly discusses how the Barbary Wars can shed light on modern problems with the Somali pirates.

Hit number eight is an article about Thomas Jefferson’s policy toward the Barbary Pirates (http://www.city-journal.org/html/17_2_urbanities-thomas_jefferson.html) on a website that describes itself as the “nation’s premier urban-policy magazine.” The article is more an opinion piece than a repository of factual information, although it suggests various books for further reading (including a couple written by academics).  However, like the Wikipedia entry for the “First Barbary War,” it advocates the non-scholarly position that the Barbary pirates acted primarily from religious motivations.  Stylistically, it is boring:  all text on a white background.

Hit number nine (http://www.answers.com/topic/barbary-wars) offers both a one-paragraph synopsis of the conflicts and an extended description of them.  It also includes a bibliography.

The tenth result is an encyclopedia article on about.com (http://history1800s.about.com/ od/americanwars/tp/barbarywars.htm).  Although the author says that he studied history at NYU, he is imprecise with dates, using “early years of the 19th century” instead of giving the exact years.  Still, it is an approachable article for the general public that is easy-to-read thanks to bullet points.

Thus, current webpages about the Barbary conflicts are lacking.   A need exists for a user-friendly website that combines accurate commentary, primary sources, a thorough bibliography, and a blog.  I hope for www.thebarbarywars.com or www.barbarywars.net to become the preeminent digital resource for information about the Barbary Wars and, ideally, it will also stimulate users to engage in research of their own.

Become a “Blogging Hero” with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com allows people to create and run their own blog that can reach a worldwide audience.   The basic package is free and various premium features are available for purchase, including a custom domain name that excludes “.wordpress,” extra storage, the ability to upload videos, and banning ads from your blog.  WordPress.com hosts more than seventeen million sites that are viewed by more than 281 million people.  http://en.wordpress.com/stats/

The WordPress.com website is simple and elegant.  The process of signing-up and creating a blog is very user-friendly, designed to be approachable and fun- not intimidating.  It emphasizes that users need know nothing about code!

Getting started is very simple.  Just click the orange “Sign up now” button on the top, right-hand side or read the 10-step walk-through guide that includes video demonstrations.  Everything is meant to be easy, especially for those with minimal experience with digital media.

In sum, one begins by doing the sorts of things common to registering on all websites:  choosing a username and providing a valid e-mail address.  The real fun begins upon completing this and personalizing your blog.

First, WordPress.com offers some brainstorming exercises deigned to simulate creativity and generate ideas for blogs.  A blog need not be restricted to text-only, but can also feature or incorporate videos or photos.  If you find yourself in need of some inspiration, just follow this link to WordPress.com’s most popular blogs so you can learn from the masters!  http://botd.wordpress.com/?lang=en.

Next, personalize your blog!  Set the tone by picking one of more than 100 available themes.  Add widgets to give flair.  Then start writing, click the publish button, and, presto, “you’re a published author!”

Now, you want to get people’s attention so that their desire to read your posts will be insatiable.  The web is a free-for-all fight for audiences and WordPress.com warns that “your competition isn’t just other blogs. It’s video sharing sites like YouTube, online games, email, Twitter updates, online social networks, and that’s before you even think about what’s going on beyond the computer screen.  Time to fight fire with fire!”  Beat your completion down by creating the most epic blog ever.

Once you’ve begun, WordPress.com is there to help you thrive.  Add “tags” so that your post will show up in the search engine.  The website also gives tips for comment etiquette (respond to comments about your posts and don’t delete critical ones just because you don’t like them) and encourages you to make it easy for fans to keep up with your blog by linking it to your Twitter account and adding the blog subscription widget.

Also, the site offers tons of “stats to obsess over”- these enable you to thoroughly know your audience and figure out how to target other demographics.  And spice it up and keep it loose by adding user polls.

Finally, you can manage your blog on-the-go from your mobile phone by e-mailing photos, videos, and new posts to a custom e-mail address that will automatically upload them.

Altogether, WordPress.com offers a spectacular product:  it’s free, easy-to-use, and makes the entire blogging experience fun.  No wonder it’s so popular!

Above all, the website has a very egalitarian ethos.  WordPress.com is built upon the premise that everyone can write something interesting and that the opportunity to reach other people in writing should not be limited to the few who can get published in print.  The website sprinkles quotes from Leonardo Da Vinci, Mark Twain, and other literary and historical figures throughout its set-up pages to convey the idea that digital media is the new frontier of communication.  It is equal, or perhaps superior, to printed texts.

In some ways, blogging is the most democratic method of communication of all.  Every person can be a pundit about any possible topic.  The trick, though, is to gain a following and become popular.  WordPress.com acknowledges the tensions and difficulties inherent in this.

While promoting the prospect of having a worldwide audience, it also concedes that people’s attention spans are limited and that innumerable other websites and forms of digital entertainment will compete with your blog.  It tries to resolve this crux by telling users that no matter how successful one’s blog may be, ultimately the process of creating and running it should be fun.  In that sense, you are your most important audience.

What do you think of WordPress.com and/or blogging?  Do you blog?  What is the ultimate point of blogging:  a means of self-expression or self-entertainment, to communicate information, to create community or something else entirely?

To the Shores of Tripoli- Print Project Proposal

I was very impressed with the research conducted by Michael Whitmore and Jonathan Hope in Shakespeare by the Numbers: On the Linguistic Texture of the Late Plays, as the article revealed how quantitative analyses of texts can enhance one’s comprehension of their literary features.  In a similar manner, I hope to more fully understand the “linguistic footprint[s]” of documents from the Barbary Wars.[1]

Although I intend on doing a digital project for this course, my hypothetical print project would entail using Voyeur to evaluate primary source documents from the U.S. conflicts with the Barbary States (Algiers, Morocco, Tripoli, and Tunis).  Collectively known as the Barbary “pirates,” beginning in the mid-1780s the navies from these four nations began capturing American merchant vessels, enslaving the crews, and offering ships and sailors back for ransom money.  For this project, though, I would focus on 1796-1805, as this time period saw escalating tensions that culminated in the Tripolitan War of 1801-1805 (the first U.S. war against a non-white country).

As I have mentioned in class, my dissertation takes a cultural and gender approach to examining America’s relations with the Barbary Powers from 1784-1815.  I argue that the Barbary Wars created an early sense of American cultural exceptionalism, as American participants constantly denigrated the North African men’s masculinity through describing them as effeminate, militarily inept, sexually deviant, and unfit for democracy.

As a brief background, Presidents Washington and Adams preferred to pay tribute to purchase temporary peace and ransom, creating a sense of humiliation and emasculation among many American officials.  Shortly after becoming president in May 1801, however, Thomas Jefferson dispatched the young American navy to the Mediterranean Sea; various naval battles occurred throughout the next four years.  Concurrently, U.S. consul in Tunis William Eaton aspired to implement a coup in Tripoli, which led to a smashing victory in the coastal city of Derne in March 1805 that is commemorated in the Marine Corps Hymn lyric “from the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli.”  Shortly after, a treaty was signed with the bashaw (ruler) of Tripoli, in which the U.S. paid $60,000 for peace and the freedom of three hundred captives from the ship Philadelphia.

By utilizing Voyeur to gather diction, grammar, and verb tense data from the correspondence among American diplomats, naval officers, and politicians, I could determine linguistic patterns from which to draw conclusions.  Sources are readily available, as the federal government printing office produced the six-volume Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars with the Barbary Powers during FDR’s administration.[2]

Using Voyeur would also add additional layers of subtlety to my research by allowing me to easily compare the correspondence of different classes of Americans to discover if they used significantly different language to describe the Barbary pirates.  American sailors came from the lower social order, while the diplomats and politicians hailed from the middle-to-high classes.  I would have to decide which documents to choose, as looking through volumes of sources for this course project would be unfeasible.  I think it would be best to draw both from texts that I have already cited in my research and those that I have reviewed, but did not include.  Perhaps Voyeur could help me see importance that I have overlooked.  Further, I would like to examine change over time.  Did descriptions of the North African men written by these groups of American participants change in intensity as the Barbary conflicts intensified?

I have known that my dissertation would be interdisciplinary in nature since it will incorporate a substantial amount of literature, including captivity narratives, plays, and poems (I can eventually use Voyeur to examine these, too).  Coming into this semester, I was unaware of the potential impact digital tools could have on my research.  I am delighted to have to learned about many of them and, although I intend to build a website about the Barbary Wars for my class project, I plan on using Voyeur during my dissertation research.

[1] Michael Whitmore and Jonathan Hope, “Shakespeare by the Numbers:  On the Linguistic Texture of the Late Plays,” Early Modern Tragicomedy, eds. Subha Mukherji and Raphael Lyne (Woodbridge, Suffolk:  D.S. Brewer, 2007), 150.

[2] Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars with the Barbary Powers, 6 vols. (Washington D.C.:  Government Printing Office, 1939).

All the World’s Digitized and the Men and Women Merely Bloggers…

How does digitizing texts impact the way we conduct research?   Michael Whitmore and Jonathan Hope believe that a literary criticism revolution is at hand, one in which scholars will discover new patterns and arrive at new conclusions.

Their 2007 article “Shakespeare by the Numbers:  On the Linguistic Features of the Late Plays” (from Early Modern Tragicomedy) first notes that the idea that genre is a nebulous concept, one that has changed over time.  Qualitative observations alone cannot accurately determine texts’ themes since commentators have different standards will  disagree among themselves.  How, then, can we create a widely acceptable means of analyzing?

Whitmore and Hope propose that we rely on a “quantitative analysis of linguistic features” (136).    Programs such as Docuscope take literature that has been digitized and allow scholars to search for key words and verb tenses.  With this raw data, they can more clearly decipher diction and stylistic patterns.

The article examines Shakespeare’s last seven plays, which various commentators since the 1870s had discribed as “romances” or “tragicomedies” (133).  Yet the First Folio, published in 1623, did not break them into a distinct group.  What elements within these plays caused later critics to see patterns that Shakespeare’s first editors evidently did not?

Whitmore and Hope broke plays into 1,000, 2,500, and 7,500 chunks (to allow for a larger sample size), ran them through Docuscope, and discovered that the later plays had unique linguistic characteristics.   1)  Verb Tense:  these plays more often used the past tense and referenced the past.  2)  Asides:  they also had more instances of characters’ speaking to the audience or referencing outside events.  3)  Use of “to be”:  characters more often used both forms of the verb “to be” and verb tense ending in “-ed.”

What does this raw data suggest?  The authors argue that the prevalence of the past tense reveals the past’s importance to the present, the asides enhance the “dreamlike” ambiance of the the plays, and that the “to be” usage shows a preference for telling, rather than showing, the audience about events and people.  Thus, Shakespeare used these linguistic features to create “focalised retrospection” (153) and the quantitative analysis reveals specific reasons why the later plays comprise a distinct group.

However, Whitmore and Hope are less aggressive with their general conclusion.  They note that such analysis complements, but does not replace, traditional qualitative commentary.  The door is wide open, though, for other scholars to use quantitative analysis with myriad other works.

How did you respond to their article?  Do you think quantitative analysis of the type they used on Shakespeare’s plays can tell us more about texts and authors’ intentions than we already know?  Or are they over-hyping its potential?