Jamel Ostwald's
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A History Website Manifesto: A Call to Arms!

After reading and discussing with others the potential utility of the web to historical scholarship, I’ve been playing with the idea of getting some sort of early modern military history collaborative project going on the Web over the next several years. Tentatively titled EMWWeb (pronounced 'm web'), this Early Modern Warfare Web would encourage better communication among scholars researching military history in the early modern period. In my own research, collecting background information on historical actors ( la Dictionary of National Biography) and regiments ( la regimental histories like Richard Cannon) for my database is so time-consuming that I’m really annoyed that everyone who studies early modern warfare has to redo some of the same basic research over and over. If we pooled our resources, had a standardized format, and made the results available on the web, we could avoid duplication of effort and allow others to use the data and share their data as well. To see an excellent example of this consisting of quantitative data on early modern European finance, go to Richard Bonney's European State Finance Database at www.le.ac.uk/hi/bon/ESFDB/bapres.html. To see a recent New York Times article on how such a website works for the sciences, consult "Web Archive Opens a New Realm of Research" by James Glanz (May 1, 2001) at www.nytimes.com . The De Re Militari Society's website on medieval military history is a wonderful example of what this site could develop into; hopefully the two sites could collaborate on some things.

As an overarching theme, I’d like to stress COLLABORATION. I envision this potential website as an informal exchange of data and ideas rather than presentation of publication-quality research, since I think our field is sorely lacking in basic knowledge of the period - we need a Linnaeus or Mendeleyev before we can expect a Stephen Jay Gould or an E.O. Wilson. This emphasis on basic information could obviously change, depending on what the participants want. I have lots of ideas, but some that have jumped out at me as I’ve gone through the lengthy process of making my database are:

I’ve talked informally with several other people on this (Michiel de Jong, Derek Croxton, Dave Stewart and John Stapleton among others), and there’s been interest expressed – actually Michiel encouraged my thoughts on this after telling me of a similar desire of his see an early modern website developed (see the Dutch Republic website he helped develop at http://home-4.worldonline.nl/~t845911/republic/ ).

Credit where Credit's Due

After getting enough participants (I don't think we'd need a large number of people for the website to be useful and there probably aren't hundreds of scholars interested in the topic anyway), one major issue would be to overcome people’s fear of having their ideas and data stolen or go unrecognized. I don’t know of any perfect solution, but there are several possibilities that I can think of offhand:

I’m not expecting participation in this to be reflected in hiring/tenure committee decisions (although it really should, see web.uvic.ca/shakespeare/Foyer/CompRecog.html for a sample manifesto on taking e-history into account), but it should make scholarship and teaching better for the participants, and we could certainly talk up the website so that others would check it out.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions, including potential sources of support, I’d be glad to hear it. It’s quite possible that similar websites exist out there on the web (such as De Re Militari) – I’d be interested to hear about them, and we could certainly link to them in order to avoid duplication. I know of several regimental websites that provide some useful information. Id appreciate it also if youd point this page out to anyone you think might possibly be interested professors, graduate students, archivists, genealogists, etc.

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Last edited 10/22/2002