Steal This Project

City Point, Virginia. Negro soldier guarding 12-pdr. Napoleon. (Model 1857?). Library of Congress.

City Point, Virginia. Negro soldier guarding 12-pdr. Napoleon. (Model 1857?). Library of Congress.

The Civil War Data 150 Project was started as a proof of concept to explore the potential of Linked Open Data in Libraries, Archives, and Museums, which has become known generally as #LODLAM.  An unsuccessful grant application to the NEH Office of Digital Humanities lead to the first International LODLAM Summit in June of 2011. Right after that I joined the Historypin team full time, and this project has not gotten much love since then.

It’s still a good idea though.  So if you’d like to adopt it and run with it, please do. Let me know and I’ll give you the keys.  There’s some great data to get started with, and a fantastic plan of action.  Seems like something a digital humanities or MLIS seminar could take on for awhile. Similar projects, like LinkedJazz, have taken the concept much farther in recent years, and they’ve shared their code and tools for you to utilize to boot.

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Civil War Data 150 at AASLH 2011

Mark Harvey, Archivist of the State of Michigan, lead a panel on the Civil War Data 150 project at this year’s American Association for State and Local History annual meeting.  Along with Mark, on the left, the panelists also included partners in the project: Scott Nesbit, Associate Director of the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond; Kathy Jordan, Digital Initiatives & Web Services Manager at the Library of Virginia; and Jon Voss, Strategic Partnerships Director at Historypin.

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Auto tweet bulk historic posts without programming

In the rush up to getting things in place before the beginning of the Civil War Sesquicentennial commemoration, we ended up setting up our tweets of significant Civil War battles without any programming, even though Ed Summers had laid out some great pointers for us.

I ended up sticking with the key battles identified by the National Park Service on their website,  This gave us the key data, as well as static web pages to link back to.  I put this into a CSV file, which is available at the Internet Archive.

From this file, in Excel, I concatenated the date, battle name, casualties, outcome, and a shortened link to the NPS battle page (I got the links by feeding them into the Spreadsheet template, though you can only do up to 50 at a time). Then I checked the tweets just to make sure they were less than 120 characters long (you want to leave enough room for people to easily retweet).

Next, I used the pro version of Hootsuite ($5.99/mo) to bulk upload the future tweets (you can also try that feature for free for 7 days).  They allow up to 50 tweets at a time via a CSV file that has three columns: date and time for the future tweet, the tweet, and a link to embed in the tweet.  In order to format this CSV file, I needed to tweek my tweets from above just a little bit.  For the first column, I concatenated a future date by taking the day and month, adding 150 to the year, and then choosing an arbitrary time of 10am.  The second column is self-explanatory, and the third column will create an link.  In doing this, I lost the shortened version of US government pages, which is, which I like.  So for the next batch, I won’t use the link column but keep the links in the tweet column.

So far, I’ve loaded up battles for about the next year.  It makes me wonder what new social networking platforms we may be using by the time we get to the end of the Civil War Sesquicentennial commemoration four years from now…

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CWD150 in O’Reilly Radar

The O’Reilly Radar just published an article about the Civil War Data 150 project and the potential for Linked Open Data as a tool to aid historical analysis.  Audrey Watters interviewed Scott Nesbit, Civil War historian and associate director of the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond and Jon Voss, founder of LookBackMaps.

“With new links between data sources, historians will be able to imagine new questions to ask that would have been discarded as nearly impossible to answer before.” -Scott Nesbit

Read the full interview…

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The Civil War (+150) Has Begun

Interior view of Fort Sumter on the 14th April 1861, after its evacuation by Major Robert Anderson, 1st Artillery. U.S.A. Commanding. National Archives ARC Identifier 532292 / Local Identifier 121-B-A914A

The commemoration of the American Civil War has begun, one hundred and fifty years after the Battle of Fort Sumter first began. In two days, the battle would be won by the Confederacy.

We marked the beginning of the Civil War one hundred and fifty years later by kicking off a Twitter feed that will feature at least the 382 most prominent battles of the Civil War, as they began, 150 years ago to the day. We are working on gathering metadata and data sets from numerous local, state, and federal institutions and will be bringing those online in raw data form in the coming weeks and months. Over the next two years, we’ll be refining and linking that data to create a web of Civil War data that reaches beyond the boundaries of state and federal websites, and we’ll be recruiting your help to make all of this happen. So stay tuned, and follow CWD150 on Twitter, and soon other social media outlets like Facebook.

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Conflict History

source: utilizes the Freebase API and Google Maps Flash to present a dynamic view of the history of war. Note that the Freebase API provides text primarily from Wikipedia at this time, and when you click on a battle, you can go to the source article (on Wikipedia) or edit the information on Freebase.

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Civil War Data 150 at Linked Open Data Panel

Kris Carpenter Negulescu led a panel on December 14, 2010 at the Coalition for Networked Information’s Fall Membership Meeting entitled: Linked Open Data: The Promises and the Pitfalls. Beginning at 25:55 in the video, she explores Civil War Data 150 as a use case of Linked Open Data.

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Live Tweeting the Civil War + 150

One of the projects we’re beginning to embark upon is the “live” tweeting of the Civil War, 150 years after the fact, utilizing the battles and skirmishes outlined in Dyer’s Compendium. This is inspired by Ed Summers’ work to create a bot that tweets headlines from and links to 100 year old newspapers in the Library of Congress Chronicling America newspaper collection (his source code is available here). I’m still figuring out a few details with the help of Ed and others, but the following (a work in progress!) is what I’m considering for sources and tools.  As we work it out, we’ll be sure to provide a how-to in case this is something you’d like to use for state Civil War Sesquicentennial commemorations.

1. Primary source: Dyer’s Compendium.  Surprisingly, I haven’t found a fully digitized copy of this online–maybe it’s still under copyright, or not many copies of the original 1908 version exist to be digitized?  Got one you’d like to lend? update: in 2011, Emory University stepped up and put the 1908 version up on Internet Archive and in the Public Domain.

2. Structured data: Tufts University’s Perseus Project has made the text of Dyer’s Compendium available as structured data, downloadable in XML. Problem: It’s not Open Data, but should work for our purposes. Would love to see that issued as Open Data though!

3. XML to CSV conversion.  We need to get this XML translated to CSV so we can put it into a relational database and break down the selected events by date.

4. Choose the level of detail we want to highlight.  There’s a broad range of events listed, including skirmishes, occupations, engagements, battles, etc.  We’ll need to figure out how many events we want to broadcast.

4. Python script to automatically create tweets on the appropriate day, utilizing Twitter APIs.

5. I’d like to add a link to each tweet, directing readers to more information about the battle, but where should we point them to?  The National Park Service, Wikipedia, Freebase?

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Civil War Data 150 in ReadWriteWeb

Audrey Watters explored the Civil War Data 150 project in her recent post in the leading technology blog, ReadWriteWeb.  She touched on the technical and cultural importance and potential of utilizing Linked Open Data in libraries, archives and museums.

She closes her article with this provocative statement, “If part of the purpose of LookBackMaps is to help find the connections between places and photographs, the Civil War Data 150 Project has a far grander goal about location, history, and our cultural heritage – one that demonstrates a failure of imagination in those that think that the ‘location’ battle has been won by any Internet company.

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Jews in the Civil War: Exploring Primary Sources

I stumbled across an interesting site yesterday,, which includes quite a bit of information about a little researched topic: Jews in the Civil War.  It was the database on this site that drew me to it, containing the names of “over 7,000 Jewish-Americans who fought on both sides of the Civil War.”  The data was recorded by Lynn Berkowitz, who manages the site, from the original source, an 1895 book entitled The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier, and Citizen.

Fortunately for us, this book is available to read in its entirety on and Google Books.  It offers quite a bit of information on the subject, though it brought up a lot of interesting questions as well.  How was this data gathered, what were the authors sources?  How do these records compare with the data of the Dyer Compendium, which wouldn’t be published for another 13 years?  Can we trace any of these soldiers names to the original muster rolls, or the National Park Service Civil War Soldier and Sailor System?  Do photos of any of these soldiers exist in state or federal archives?  What were the enrollment numbers of American Jews compared to other ethnic groups of the day?

These are the kinds of questions we’ll be exploring in the coming months, together with a team of historians, students, enthusiasts, hobbyists and others, as we dig into the data of the Civil War on

*special thanks to Twitterers torqueflite and LoriSatter for research ideas, and Scott Nesbit and the team at University of Richmond for expert analysis.

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