History 615


Fun with NSD and Harpers Ferry…
October 16, 2010, 2:54 pm
Filed under: History 615

I actually started experimenting more in depth with Natural Scene Designer last weekend, was having fun, and just kind of kept going with it, putting off other stuff (like the Martin Brückner reading).  I had wanted to post this up last Tuesday, but just never got around to it.

So here’s my map I started with…

You may recognize it from one of my earlier posts (but without the elevation contours).  Its a military map of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia from 1863.  The map comes from The Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, which was also the source for the “Routes and Positions” map I used in my Illustrator made freehand map.  Again, the map can be found here…

http://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/detail/RUMSEY~8~1~26871~1100170:Military-map-showing-the-topographi

While the topography here at Harpers Ferry is no Grand Canyon, I feel that when combined with this map in NSD, it makes for some really fascinating views and perspectives and adds a whole new element to the historical analysis of Harpers Ferry during the Civil War.

To give you a sense of the overall topography, here is the map after I georeferenced it in ArcMap and overlaid it on top of the elevation data in NSD.

I tried to get as much of the map as I could to line up properly with the elevation data, but seeing as how this map was produced in 1863, its unlikely that I would be able to get all parts of the map to match perfectly.  There are areas where the topography in the map suggests there should be cliffs but in the scenes they are on flat ground (such as the eastern banks of the Shenandoah), and train tracks running on the edges of hillsides (such as those seen in the views from Fort Duncan), but I think that really these are only minor issues and don’t really takeaway from the overall use of the maps.

So below you will find all the scenes I’ve created from different locations across the map.  I tried to make sure that I picked camera locations that produced views from significant spots such as military positions or hill tops.  I haven’t had the time to test out the flyby camera functionality yet, but maybe that is something I will try to do before next week when this assignment is really due.  We’ll see though, I’ve got a lot of reading to catch up on and thinking to do about my final project topic…

The following are pictures generated from key military positions on the Maryland side of the Potomac starting at the six gun battery on Maryland heights and working downhill and to the west from there.  All are oriented so that they look towards the town at Harpers Ferry.

Looking down on Harpers Ferry from the six gun battery on Maryland Heights…

View of Harpers Ferry from the naval battery which you can see just down and to the right in the image above…

Views looking East/Southeast towards Harpers Ferry/Bolivar from Fort Duncan…

I also wanted to get some shots from the Union line in between Bolivar and Harpers Ferry.

Looking east towards Maryland and Loudoun Heights from the Union line defending Harpers Ferry…

Looking west towards Bolivar from the Union line defending Harpers Ferry…

When you consider the rivers to the left, the right, and the river junction behind you, it appears that the Union had a nice, well defended triangle with only one direction to really worry about being attacked from (as seen in the picture above).

Now the Civil War generally doesn’t fall under my area of historical interest, and therefore my knowledge of that period is somewhat limited, but I do know this.  Harpers Ferry is steep in Civil War history and was definitely a major place of interest as it changed hands between the Union and Confederacy multiple times throughout the war.  It was not only the location of an arsenal, but with several key railroads coming into and through the town, it was a very important location to maintain along the supply line to Virginia.  Looking at the map, Harpers Ferry seems pretty well defended by Union troops, and the pictures above I think just reinforce that notion.  For a town that seems to be so well defended, its odd to me that it could have been taken back and forth like it did.

So what if you were to attack Harpers Ferry?  If you were to attack from the SW, which because of the terrain and the rivers surrounding the town would most likely where you would be coming from, the following are pictures of what you might see…

Looking east towards Harpers Ferry from the northern part of Bolivar Heights…

Not a whole lot of room to work there.

This is probably my favorite scene, the main route to Harpers Ferry via Charlestown Pike…

In the foreground you can see Union front lines on Bolivar Heights, and further back you can see the Union lines closer to Harpers Ferry, Fort Duncan in the top left across the Potomac, the proposed Union position to the right of Fort Duncan, the naval battery to the right of that, and the six gun battery higher up to the right of that.  Not a very welcoming site if your goal is to take Harpers Ferry from those who occupy it.   But in the picture above you also see Loudoun Heights in the top right.

A quick internet search on the Battle of Harpers Ferry, and it appears Loudoun Heights may have been key.  And for good reason, check out the views below…

Looking down on Harpers Ferry from Loudoun Heights…

Imagine Union troops at the main line at Harpers Ferry trying to fend off Confederate troops coming from Bolivar with artillery raining down from Loudoun Heights behind you…

Apparently at the main battle of Harpers Ferry, Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson and the Confederate troops managed to surround the Union forces in that forementioned triangle that seemed so well defended in the pictures above.  After taking Loudoun Heights he ordered an artillery barrage from said location onto the Union forces hunkered down at Harpers Ferry, forcing them to surrender.  The Union simply had nowhere to go.  The Confederacy didn’t have to partake in a full on attack of those Union troops defending the town.  The topography allowed the Confederacy to seige Harpers Ferry instead, as one would a castle, which I think is essentially what Harpers Ferry had become.

While technically I could have figured all of this out by really scrutinizing the original map, viewing the map as it would appear naturally on the surface just illustrates it all in ways I probably wouldn’t have envisioned otherwise.

So after all this I few tips I have for working in NSD…

1) Try adjusting the placement of the light source.  The default placement in NSD seems to be from the SE corner of the map.  Yet standard practice is generally for the light source to be placed in the NW corner of the map (see http://www.reliefshading.com’s design section on light direction here).  Make sure you also try the interactive light direction tool with the Grand Canyon here so you can get a better feel for how much light direction can really change how you read and perceive elevation in a map.

Look at my picture below and then look at the one I posted at the top.  In the picture below the terrain appears to be reversed, and the mountains look like valleys.  In the picture below the light source was in the SE.  In the picture at the top the light source was in the NW.  It wasn’t until after I rendered ALL of my other pictures and rendered the scene below that I realized something was wasn’t quite right with the light direction.

The light directions is less of an issue though when you render pictures at ground level, but it can make a difference and sometimes it may be better not to have the light source in the NW.  Look at the two pictures I rendered below.

Both are views taken from Loudoun Heights looking down on Harpers Ferry.  The one on the top has the light source set from the SE and the on on the bottom has the light source set at the NW.  In this specific case I think having the light source set to the SE makes the scene more effective in that it creates shadows and therefore better portrays how high Loudoun Heights actually is above the river junction and Harpers Ferry.  So try adjusting the light source and see how it changes your scenes.

2) When you render your picture, set your “Anti-aliasing” and “Maximum Levels” bar as high as your computer will allow.  It takes more time for the picture to be created, but I found that the pictures were of much better quality. 

3) NSD only gives you limited functionality for placing and adjusting non-georeferenced overlays.  If you are using a USGS map that you downloaded with your elevation data, that map already has Lat and Long coordinates associated with it and you have nothing to worry about.  If you want to use a historical map or some other map without a coordinate system associated with it though like I did, you may have a harder time getting your map and the elevation data to match up.  Essentially you can make your overlay bigger or smaller, but I couldn’t find a way to rotate it in NSD.

I didn’t try this, but I think the following would probably work as sort of a georeferncing work around.  What I would suggest if you want to use another map is to bring that map and a USGS map into photoshop.  Apply a transparency to your map and then reshape, resize, and stretch your map so that major features such as rivers, boundaries, roads, or other easily identifiable features match up with those on the USGS map.   Then in NSD you can bring in your USGS map using the “Import DRD or DOQ” and then bring in your map using the “Import Overlay” option.  Then all you have to do is line up your adjusted map with your USGS map and then get rid of the USGS map.

4) Pick a large scale map (something at a local level/more detailed).  Use a 24K (1:24,000) USGS map if you are going to use one of those, not a 100K (1:100,000).  It’ll probably be less difficult to match up with the terrain and when you render your pictures the text and other features on the map will be more legible.

And now I have some final project research to do and some reading to catch up on…

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Sneak peak of what I’ve been doing in NSD…
October 13, 2010, 12:51 am
Filed under: History 615

I just thought I’d share a preview of the work I’ve been doing in Natural Scene Designer…

I’ve really kind of been enjoying working with this software.  I’ll have much more to post later, probably sometime late tomorrow night (working then heading to the Caps game tomorrow…C! A! P! S! CAPS! CAPS! CAPS!).  I think I might have a few tips or tricks type stuff I’ve learned while working with NSD the last few days too, so if your interested make sure you check back for the full post.  Just thought I’d throw something up here now though since I haven’t posted since this past Thursday.



“Freehand” maps…
October 6, 2010, 11:42 pm
Filed under: History 615

I’m always fascinated by the local history of my hometown.  So it’s no surprise I decided to stay close to DC with my maps for this assignment once again.

Hand drawn map –

I can’t draw.  Simple as that.  Given that fact, what made me think that I would be able to take on a birds eye view map is beyond me.  I chose this map though because…a) it fits in with my old town Alexandria, VA theme I have going on here…b) I have a framed print of this map hanging on the wall in my apartment…and c) while this map looks great hanging on a wall (at least I think so), there are no labels on it, and therefore it can only offer a limited amount of information.  So I decided to try to replicate it and add labels so the reader would have a greater idea of what they were looking at other than just “Alexandria”.  Unfortunately though, my hand drawn map didn’t turn out quite as well as I would have liked.  When I started I had this grand vision of what I was going to draw…I was going to label all the streets, pick out a few of the more landmark buildings, maybe even try to draw a ship or two.  But a few hours in I realized that that just wasn’t going to happen.  I tried to mimic the original as much as possible (which in hindsight maybe was the wrong approach).  You would never guess looking at it, but I spent a whole Saturday afternoon and evening drawing this map.  So in the end this will have to do.

Here’s the original map…

Here’s my hand drawn version…

And just for fun here’s the same view today from Google Earth with the 3D buildings layer turned on…

Illustrator Map –

For my map done in Illustrator I flipped through my copy of The Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies and decided on a map showing the Union’s First Corps, Army of Virgina’s route across Northern Virginia in the late summer of 1862, stopping to take part in the second battle of Bull Run along the way.  The map shows the First Corps main route, specific locations they stopped at and their positions on specific dates, numerous landmarks, and limited hydrographic and railway features.  What it doesn’t give you though is an overall context of where this map is situated.  It reminded me a little bit of the 1837 Ioway map we looked at a few weeks ago.  I essentially took this map and tried to make it more geographically accurate to give the reader a better sense of the distance traveled and where.  The locations are accurate per lat/long.  Yes, I used ArcMap to make my basemap and plot out the points, so I guess technically its not really completely “freehand”.  All of the actual finishing though was done in Illustrator.  I’m much more happy about the way this map turned out than my hand drawn map.  It’s not perfect, for example my map lacks railroads, and the rivers are just a shapefile downloaded from USGS (way too detailed), but I think it gets the job done.

Here’s the original…

For some reason I’m having trouble downloading the image from David Rumsey’s collection.  I’ll check back there again at some point later and see if I can get it to work and I’ll update it here then.  For the time being you can find the map in the bottom right hand corner of the plate shown here…Map of Routes and Positions.  Never mind…here it is.

And here’s my map I made in Illustrator…

Overall I think these were challenging but worthwhile assignments.  I have much more respect now for those who for centuries drew maps by hand, and I’ve gotten a little more comfortable working in Illustrator again, which I haven’t done a whole lot of the last two and half years.



Finding Mayan ruins with geospatial technology…
September 29, 2010, 11:29 pm
Filed under: History 615

This week’s readings focused on the application of GIS technologies in historical research.  You would think being a GIS professional that I would have jumped right into this book.  Oddly enough, I haven’t gotten past the second chapter yet.  After last week I needed a break from all the reading and the school work, so I’ve been lazy this week.  Since I haven’t done the reading, I don’t have a whole lot to comment on about it.  I did take the time to comment though on both Rosendo’s and Daniel Miller’s blog posts this week. I must admit, reading everybody’s blogs and thinking about the potential of applying GIS technologies to history has got me really excited and I’m interested to see what Prof. Petrik has to add in class tomorrow night.

NOVAscienceNOW|Maya

From PBS’s website:

“This NOVA scienceNOW video shows how experts are using NASA satellite photography to find ancient Maya architecture hidden deep in the rain forest of Guatemala. It’s a marriage of 21st-century technology and centuries-old archeological techniques that has already unearthed some striking Maya remains, including a jungle-covered temple containing an extremely rare, 2,000-year-old mural.”

For some reason the embedding code I got from PBS would not work on my blog, but PLEASE take the time to watch this video which I linked to above.  For me, this is probably one of the most fascinating applications of GIS and remote sensing I’ve seen to date.  I happened to come across it just flipping through the channels on TV one evening a few years ago.  It has stuck out in my mind ever since and I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to share it with you all.  It is more on the archaeological than the historical research side of things, and it is 14:07 long and it doesn’t get to the GIS/remote sensing part until just before halfway, but watch the whole thing, I promise you won’t be disappointed.



Live Paint in Illustrator…
September 25, 2010, 11:05 pm
Filed under: History 615

I’m going to be straight-forward here.  I did not like using live paint for this exercise.  I’ve played around with it enough now to know how to use it, but I’m still not sold on it…at least not for coloring in Sanborn maps.  I can see where it has it’s uses, but for this…no.  I’m very into the “do it right the first time” philosophy (I know…deep huh?) and I hate having a tool do something for me and then I have to go back and clean up whatever it didn’t do.  I would rather just take the time, even if it takes a little bit longer to do something like this myself and not have to close gaps or fill in a bunch of “B”s or “D”s or “O”s everywhere.  I have a similar problem with many other automated tools I use in ArcMap from time to time at work.  That problem is that they don’t do their job perfectly, and I’m less prone to end up with errors/sloppy work if I do something myself rather than having to look for things that a tool didn’t do that I have to fix.  Don’t give me some tool that “sort of works”.  If it works great, if it doesn’t, I don’t want it.

Anyway.  I took another Sanborn map of Alexandria, this one is from 1885 and is a block or two up King St from my map I did the overlay with, and I decided to color it in this time.  Rather than using live paint to fill in the buildings, I took what I thought was a simpler and cleaner route.  I created another layer, layered it underneath my Sanborn outlines, and started drawing different colored polygons in that layer.  For this go round I just put all the different colors in one “polygon” layer.  If this was for a real research project I probably would have made a layer for each different colored polygon.  Can you tell I work with GIS?

So here’s my colored in map…

Orange is dwellings.

Blue is retail/businesses.

Green is more industrial/supply type buildings.

Red is other (government buildings, schools, hotels).

The Yellow is the interesting one…negro dwellings/shanties/tenements.

I’ve got to admit, I was not expecting to come across buildings labeled “negro dwellings” when I downloaded this map.  I didn’t even realize they were on there until I started coloring in the buildings.  Looking at it colored in though, an interesting (though not so surprising) pattern emerges, and I imagine this pattern continues the further north and east (away from King St…the main thoroughfare in old town Alexandria) you go.  The further you are from King St. the more you start to see the “negro dwellings”.  I’m actually tempted to download and color in some of the adjacent maps to this one to see how true that really is…but I think I can resist that urge.  What is even more interesting, is that this is a pattern that I believe somewhat still exists in old town Alexandria today…



My final project topic…
September 24, 2010, 8:50 am
Filed under: History 615

For those who were wondering what a NIKE missile was…

Remember everybody…DUCK and COVER!



Historical Atlas Evaluation (Part 1)
September 23, 2010, 11:48 am
Filed under: History 615

So for my historical atlas evaluation I’ve chosen Derek Hayes’s Historical Atlas of the United States (with original maps) and a yet to be determined online historical atlas (which will be part 2).  Why am I splitting them into two parts?  First…I really want to explore the benefits and drawbacks of each method (print vs. digital).  And second, honestly after spending the last 3 or so days reading Jeremy Black’s Maps and History: Constructing Images of the Past (very helpful and interesting by the way), I’m struggling to find the time to get an evaluation of either one done.  So I intend on looking at one of the online atlases this weekend.  By the way, images to accompany the evaluation below will be added at some point this weekend as well.  I just don’t have the time to add them now.

Historical Atlas of the United States (with original maps) – Derek Hayes

On the front flap of the book jacket, the Historical Atlas of the United States (with original maps), authored by Derek Hayes, claims to be the “first [atlas] to tell the story of America’s past from a geographical perspective”.  Quite a bold statement for a first edition atlas published in 2007 and contains no maps created by the author.  While the Historical Atlas of the United States is certainly one of the more attractive atlases I have viewed, and displays a wide range and multitude of maps,  it is held back from being truly exceptional by its lack of new material and its disproportionate and at times even incoherent subject matter.

First off, the construction of the atlas itself.  Visually, Hayes’s atlas is stunning, and its overall design is my opinion, superb.  Nearly everything about the presentation and the way it was put together just seems to work.   True to good atlas style, the maps themselves are the most important pieces of the overall page layout and placement of the accompanying text comes secondary.  I agree with Hayes’s assessment that “Maps here take priority over words,” but I don’t always feel that “…the accompanying text tries to explain the stories behind the maps, how they were created, and what they show.”  (pg. 6).  What I particularly like about this atlas is that it is dynamic.  From what I could figure, no two plate layouts are exactly the same.  Different background colors for each topic signify a change in subject, and with the exception of the bright pinkish background color, the colors are well chosen.  To its advantage, there is no standard base map which is used to portray different topics across the same geographic area, though this is partially due to the fact that none of the maps displayed were designed for this atlas itself.  There were a few things about the design that I think could have been done better, but they were minor.  My only real gripe was that the font and font size for the map caption text was too similar to the narrative text.  Long captions tended to blend in with the non-caption text.  Something as simple as changing all of the caption text to italic or a different color probably would have done it for me. To sum things up, I think there is much that can be taken away in analyzing the design aspect of this atlas and applied to our own historical atlas final projects for this class.

The collection of maps displayed in this atlas is impressive as well.  In addition to numerous pictures, charts, etc. there are 530 maps, spread out over 257 atlas pages, covering the 58 topics as outlined in the table of contents.  The method used to display each and every one of these maps is different.  Some maps are shown as a whole and appear as if they are simply laid on top of the page.  Others have been “zoomed in” on and may display only a small portion of a particular map, but those portions are shown in much greater detail.  While I have obtained a greater understanding of the publication process and the limitations of the printed atlas (as addressed in Jeremy Black’s Maps and History:  Constructing Images of the Past), I can’t help but feel that many of these maps have been done a disservice. Every one of the maps shown in its entirety has been scaled down so much from their original size, that they are no more than really just a “thumbnail” of the real map.  It is consequently nearly impossible to use most of the maps as displayed in this atlas for any type of analytical purpose, and garner any information other than what Hayes tells you about them.  There does seem to be reasoning for this though, as the amount of detail shown in the maps displayed seems to be shown only as needed, and generally coincides with a point being made in the text. The maps portraying the state of “Franklin” are a good example (pg. 94).  Hayes does seem to recognize the problem with not showing the maps in their full glory though, and attempts to address this issue in the last paragraph of the introduction titled “A New Visual History”.  He points out that many of the maps he has displayed can be found in the Library of Congress collections and can be viewed either in person at the LOC, or online, “in detail, much enlarged from the printed versions”.  “The way of the future has been applied to artifacts from the past,” he says.  Ultimately, I feel that this atlas serves more as a catalogue of American historical maps than a real source for analysis of the maps themselves.

The organization of the atlas content and textual input from the author (not the map captions) however, leaves something else to be desired.  While this is not my atlas, and I will admit that my opinion is not without bias as my historical interest lie primarily in the 20th century, I am somewhat perplexed by the fact that though this is intended to be an atlas of the United States as a political entity (not the geographic area of North America in which the United States lies), more than a third of the atlas was devoted to the time period before the United States actually came into being.  That is not to say that the time period before American independence is not important, it just seems imbalanced to cover that period of time over such a large portion of the atlas.  Not until page 92 out of 257, do you actually get to the United States as a sovereign nation.  At the same time, roughly 60 years of American history, the period after World War II to the present, is compressed into a mere 9 pages and given the subject heading “Cold and Other Wars”.  I have no knowledge of Derek Hayes background, but for some reason his organization of content seems to emphasize the history of the United States pre-20th century.

In addition to browsing through the entire atlas, I chose three sections that not only were of personal interest to myself, but were somewhat evenly distributed throughout the atlas narrative as a whole to try to get a more complete feel of the subject matter.  They were:  “American Independent” (pg. 92-99), “The Transcontinental Link” (pg. 194-197), and “Cold and Other Wars” (pg. 248-257).  “American Independent” is a section that I think was done particularly well in this atlas.  It focuses on the initial formation and expansion of states as a union following the war for independence.  The maps shown effectively demonstrate the states initial territorial claims and resolutions, and the text compliments the maps.  The “Cold and Other Wars” section though I feel is somewhat of a disaster.  As already stated, it compresses 60 years of American history into 9 pages.    The Korean, Vietnam, and more recent wars in the Middle East and Asia are all discussed under this one subject heading.   Are they not important enough to on their own to have their own sections?  Other topics covered in the text in this section also include the American civil rights movement, Kennedy’s assassination, Nixon’s resignation, the environmental movement.  Yet these topics are represented very minimally by maps, if they are even represented at all.  This is an atlas, if there are no maps depicting these events, why include them?  There are some topics that this section does cover very well though, and where the text effectively puts the maps into context, such as the Cuban Missile crisis.  Even so, there just doesn’t seem to be any central theme of this last section.

I would have loved to have read and reviewed this entire atlas cover to cover, but time would not allow.  As such, I recognize that my overall comments here may not be applicable to the atlas as a whole, and therefore I suggest taking my critique of this work with a grain of salt.  Overall though, I am left with the impression that Hayes’ atlas amounts to not much more than a very well designed, American history text book, with a contemporary historical map theme.  Which is not to say that it has no purpose or value.  I do find it somewhat unfortunate though, because I really want to like this atlas.  On the back cover of the atlas you can find quotations of “Praise for Derek Hayes’s Previous Books”.  In that praise for one of his other books America Discovered, January Magazine is quoted as saying “…Another wonderful addition to the ‘armchair’ historian’s library.”  Coming from a self-proclaimed “armchair historian”,  I almost feel that it’s somewhat of a shame to say that the same could be said of Historical Atlas of the United States as well.

Am I wrong?

…And now I have to go to work.  See everyone in class.