Friday, February 25, 2011

What I'm All About

Hi, my name is Dennis. I love Military History. Specifically, I love Early Modern, or Renaissance, military history. There are lots of people who are also interested in the period and have lots of good questions - you may be one of them! Unfortunately, there are not a lot of places for people to go to get really good answers. It is my goal to provide a place where the curious can ask questions, get some answers, and receive direction to other sites, people, books, articles or anything that will give them an answer. In this post, I will outline what topics I will look at, what sources I will use, and what I hope to accomplish. Thanks for looking and enjoy!

Scope: The Questions I Will Ask
War in early modern Europe is infinitely fascinating. Guns are easy enough for even the weakest peasant to use. Medieval knights and other heavy cavalrymen are better armed and better armored than ever. Yet many forgo the lance and ditch much of the armor to carry a brace of pistols. Pikemen in massed ranks are steamrolling over just about anyone who stands in their way while halberd armed soldiers stand ready to hack, slash, bash and stab. Swordsmen with shields, something rarely seen in Medieval days believe it or not, are dashing under pikes, or storming breaches, or even protecting units with their ultra-thick steel shields. Double handed swords are wielded with bravado and courage to slaughter the ranks of massed pike and pole-armed men. Artillery is becoming cheap, accurate, and most importantly, light enough to use on the battlefield and not just stick in the fort. Commanders, captains and sergeants from across Europe lecture, debate and write about the best methods for winning, or just not losing, a battle or a siege. Leaders with experience, or hacks skilled at lying, turn to the ancients for advice while utilizing the newfangled printing press to publish books, pamphlets, and training manuals for how to train a soldier and then how to assure he will deal the most death possible.

And that soldier is what, who rather, I am interested in. I want to know how he fought. I want know about the weapons he fought with and how exactly he used them. Specifically, these are the questions I seek to answer in my studies:

  • How did pikemen fight?
  • For how long was the swordsman deployed on the battlefield? What was his role and how did he fight?
  • How did firearm armed men interact with with other units, such as pike?

Method: Intellectual Criteria 
If you are right now saying to yourself "These questions have already been asked and answered," then you are right. The catch is, these questions are divided up into a bunch of smaller sub-questions. Many of these smaller questions have not been answered, and most that have are not answered well. 

When I approach a question, I am looking to bring the following qualities with me as I research and formulate an answer:
  • Honesty: I truly believe it's o.k. to not have the answers to a question. That's why you are reading this - not just because you don't have the answers, but because you can help me, or help yourself, get them. 
  • Accuracy: Doing any sort of history is going to involve conjecture. That is fine. I cannot ever be as certain that Abe Lincoln actually existed as I am that my sister exists. But the evidence is good enough for me to be pretty darn sure that Honest Abe was president of the U.S. for a little while. I am looking for exactly that, good evidence and lots of it, when I make a claim about how a weapon was used, or what a group of soldiers looked like when they fought. Far too often, even in the best and most famous books on the subjects, there is a simple statement, without good historical proof. These answers are repeated as truth in books, documentaries, blogs and, God help us, Wiki articles until they seem like they can't even be argued against. I shall bring the best evidence that I can to bear on my claims so that we all can see how strong that claim is. 
  • Depth: The best historical claims will have a lot going for them. They will first match with common sense. They will have plenty of examples in training manuals, memoirs, correspondence. They will be exemplified in accurate contemporary paintings and drawings. And they will often be able to be verified by reenactors with know-how in period weapons.

Sources: Stuff I Will Look At
The questions I have simply are not covered by any books or other sources from the past century. Most of the questions I will ask have not been thoroughly researched by anyone before, as far as I am aware of. Frankly, the sources I use are anything I can get my hands on. Generally, most fall into the following catagories.
  • Primary Sources: Firsthand accounts, narrative, stories. Just about anything from a contemporary that will give us information or clues towards our question.
  • Secondary Sources: Basically looking at the primary evidence, drawing some conclusions, making arguments, and telling others what we know for sure, what we kind of know, and what we just don't really have a clue on. Basically what I am doing. This is done by folks who have examined primary and other secondary works.
  • Images: For many, this belongs in the Primary Sources section. But for some, paintings, pictures, etches, engravings and woodcuts may not always be the most accurate place to go for information about the things we want to know about.

Format: How This Blog Will Go Down
Rather than bite off more than I can chew, I will break questions down into nice, kiddy sized bites. This will make it easier to get at an answer. Also, it will make it easier for me to stick to my intellectual criteria. Fortunately, many little answers, well supported, will lead to really good big answers. And that's precisely what I'm after, well supported answers to really interesting questions.

Community: What You Can Do
History is best done in community. I can use your help in several ways.
  • Asking questions! There are a bunch of questions that I haven't asked that are just begging to be answered. Ask them stupid!
  • Recommending Sources: It is good to name a source that might deal with a topic at hand. It is better to name a source that definitely does so and to tell others where in the source we should look. Best of all, it is helpful to provide the location of a source, links to it, or quotes directly from it. Don't be lazy.
  • Reading: Often I will recommend sources that I have merely gleened. Alas, for if my superhuman strength and model-like looks could only help me read more quickly and with better precision. Fortunately you can pour over English state papers or go to a museum to examine an obscure sketch of a battle. 
  • Translation: I speak and read English and Portuguese. Though the latter makes me massively popular with the ladies, these are of limited use here. I am improving at German and French, but speakers of these two languages as well as Dutch and Italian can do much good for examining untranslated passages and texts. 

If you have any questions or if I can be of any help, please email me or leave comment.