More of the Same

I see my last post was the last submission of a Manuscript to my advisor last February. Well, that one was good, but not great. We decided in April that I’d take another shot at the project. I got to work again in the fall. I now have a structure and two solid chapter drafts. I’m working on a third, which has turned into 2 chapters. I have two more body chapters after this pair, then I turn it all into a cohesive whole.

The good news is that this is doable. I have done this before. I can do it again. The bad news is I’ve done this three times already and I am tired of this. But it’s better than what I wrote before, even before I’ve polished it.

So right now I need to get unstuck in the writing process. I’m working on a chapter, I have the structure, I have the puzzle at the beginning, I’ve laid out what the problem is and I think I’ve laid out how I’m going to solve it, now I have to put in the primary source analysis. It’s something I just have to grind out, but I’m spinning my wheels right now.

The other problem is that I am severely distracted by politics right now. I am having a lot of trouble focusing when I want to be out fighting the horrible developments. I keep telling myself that there are other people who are fighting, too, and the way for me to best fight this anti-intellectual, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQIA+, anti-science, anti-human decency administration is to finish my dissertation, graduate, and raise some hell in classrooms.

I guess I’m taking the long view.

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Posted by on January 31, 2017 in Uncategorized


The Little Engine That Could…Write a Dissertation

The dissertation draft has been submitted. Again. But this time…this time it’s done. Formatted, a bibliography, an appendix of images…it’s done. I sent it to my advisor on February 29. I feel like it’s time for a bit of reflection.

(I think I can, I think I can…)

This took eight years of my life. Eight years of classes, research, depression, financial stress, health disasters…and victories, accolades, and real breakthroughs. I don’t think I redefined the field – I think I helped create a brand new one. I started out wanting a PhD for myself, to understand more, to get training and education, to become a college professor. I’ve done all of that, and I don’t yet have my PhD. But I still want the document – the credential. Because it will affirm publicly all the work I’ve already done. Right now, I have a certain reputation among people who’ve seen, heard, or read my work, and I don’t need the PhD to impress them.

(I think I can, I think I can.)

There’s another reason I need a PhD. To do the job I want to do, full time, with health insurance, I need it. I won’t get the job with benefits without it. That sucks.

(I think I can, I think I can.)

That tiny bit of reality aside…this has been the hardest, most amazing, most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. All the stress and heartbreak included. The victory would be no less sweet, but much less profound without it. I saw a meme, on Tumblr, I think: I’m not smarter than you, I’m just unreasonably persistent. I wanted to quit. A lot. And I wanted to quit more and more as time went on. Because it was so hard and I couldn’t see a viable reward at the end. But the payoff is here, and a bigger payoff is coming. Life’s not great yet, but it will be. And I’ll look back at these past 8 years and remind myself – that was the hardest thing I ever did, and I did it.

(I think I can, I think I can.)

I’m glad I did this. I’m glad I wrote a dissertation. I’m glad I’m on the way to finishing. I’m waiting to hear back on the draft – there will probably be revisions, but I don’t think anything major. Then, once he approves the draft, I send it to the rest of my committee, and once they approve it, I can apply to graduate and defend it. There’s a ways yet to go, but I’ve crested the mountain.

(I thought I could, I thought I could.)


update on the dissertation monster

The draft I sent out in October was pretty good. But not good enough. Advisor found a hole, and sent me back to the archives. I have lots more information, need to write a new chapter, but I should have a new draft out by the end of this month. So I’m at it again, hoping that the actual finish date is right around the corner. We’ll see what the next few weeks have in store.


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Posted by on February 7, 2016 in Dissertation Rumination


Twitter Backup

I need some ideas, please.

I have my students Tweet for credit in all my classes. I find it enhances classroom discussion by giving a platform to those who don’t want to speak in class. It also lets me see how my students think about history, and how it changes over the semester. However, now Twitter is rolling out a new format soon – the dreaded algorithm. Instead of a straight chronological timeline, Twitter will start working more like Facebook, boosting perceived “popular” posts to the top of the timeline. There’s a damn good reason I don’t use Facebook – it takes a lot of work to see all the posts. I would lose my quieter online students much more quickly with a Facebook-style algorithm.

So what’s a professor to do? I want my students to work in the digital realm. Twitter gives them an easy way to engage with digital history and digital humanists. It lets people speak in new and different ways. It lets them express their interests more clearly. Most importantly, it shows them that history is TRULY about everything. I like social media precisely for the social aspect – they end up talking to people they never would have otherwise. I have students in conversation with my students in other classes, and undergrads, graduate students, and even professors at other schools. They connect with people running themed Twitter feeds and get an inside view of living history and public history. The experiences are invaluable. And, I fear, unique to Twitter as it is now.

I’ve been testing other social media for several months now as rumblings of the changes started. SnapChat is, frankly, useless for any educational purpose (though I did have a student send me a snap of their visit to the doctor, with a time stamp, instead of a doctor’s note). Pinterest is too cluttered, Tumblr is too porny*, Reddit is a cesspool, and Facebook is…Facebook. I have found some good sites for them to review, but there’s little interaction. For instance, has some amazing discussions, is well moderated, and is populated by people who really want substantive discussion. However, I believe it would be intimidating for a beginning freshman – hell, it’s sometimes intimidating for ME.

My other problem is that while I’m familiar with a lot of digital history, I’m at a loss for finding a place where they can have an uncurated conversation. I don’t want to send them to Blackboard Discussion Boards for this kind of activity. It’s in official “school” space, there’s the possibility of grading content instead of activity, and it’s Blackboard, which inevitably crashes whenever you need to work on something there.

So I’m asking for your help. What’s a good way to get social interaction online for college students? I want to see what they’re interested in, intrigued by, and what they think is important. I want them to connect with people outside of our classroom who are also historians. I want them to feel free to explore the vastness of the Internet without directing them somewhere unsafe or inappropriate.

*To use Tumblr for these purposes, they must turn off safe mode. This will give them access to images of death, and, yes, porn of all kinds. NOT. HAPPENING.


Posted by on February 7, 2016 in Teaching, The Education of Me



I think I just finished the last of my original research chapters for my dissertation. All that’s left is the conclusion.

I think I may be a week or so from finishing my dissertation.



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Posted by on September 20, 2015 in Dissertation Rumination



I submitted my first chapter to my adviser at the end of February. Yay me! I got good feedback, good inspiration and motivation to work – but I have a problem. Plot bunnies. Or rather, Dissertation Bunnies. Usually I chase the plot bunny and produce something short and quick, get it out of my system. But a dissertation bunny leads me to work on a different chapter than the one I have planned. So instead of finishing my Army chapter, I have half an Army chapter, half of my methodology and lit review, and 3 pages in my Navy chapter…and NONE of them are done. ARGH.

I don’t work in a linear fashion, I’ve accepted that. I have to recognize that page-wise, and idea-wise, I’m producing more right now that I would have had I forced myself to work on my Army chapter only. But I also feel the Army chapter would be very close to done right now if I had. Though I think it would be taking me a lot longer. Losing all of March to sickness really didn’t help, neither did my adviser’s revelation that he’s going away and will not be able to review my draft on my timeline – he wants it a month EARLIER to make a December graduation.

On the positive side, I have serious interest from presses – enough that abstracts and proposals have been solicited. So that’s something else to add into the mix. And while I’m still teaching, the semester is almost over and I don’t have very many students, so grading is much less onerous than I’m used to. And I left Quantico. I could not focus on writing a new chapter from scratch while working 2 jobs.

The semester is over for me in 13 days. That’s when I need to buckle down and get shit done. I’m hoping to be close to done on SOMETHING soon, though. I don’t want the bulk of the dissertation hanging over me during the 3 weeks I have off from teaching before summer sessions begin.

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Posted by on April 22, 2015 in Dissertation Rumination


28 Weeks

*taps mic* testing…testing…is this thing on?

My last posts were months ago, barely even thought out – my backup file’s last post is from May 2014. I had one job over the summer, but we moved again in July. I started teaching for the first time this fall, and continued at MCB Quantico. I just got through the holiday season in fairly good shape. I start teaching again next week. On top of all of this, I want to have a completed draft of my dissertation by the middle of July, with an eye to defending in the fall.

I realized in the middle of September I needed to prioritize. The blog was one of the first things to go – I just don’t have the time to make this a regular thing, it had to go back to being a sandbox and think-out-loud space. I’m much more active on Twitter, since I’m requiring it for class. I took the time to make some gifts for the holidays and that down time was really helpful.

So, what have I learned? I need structure. Deadlines, really. Having a long-term deadline is only so helpful, so I need to break it down. I also need planned down time – 80 hour weeks are not possible. I don’t think they ever were, I just pushed into reserves to get through them. I’m not willing to spend the reservoir when proper planning can take care of a lot of the issues. To-do lists and schedules are important.

That being said – I don’t work linearly. That’s something else I’ve learned. So I’m not setting deadlines to have x pages written in y chapter by z day. Instead, I’m setting weekly goals, with daily to-do lists. The daily lists have concrete actions that will get me to the more nebulous weekly goal. Eventually, I’ll have a five chapter dissertation. And when I say eventually – I mean by 15 July 2015. 28 weeks.

Week 1: review the drafts I have, figure out how done they are, what they need to be more done, find the resources to get them more done.

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Posted by on January 5, 2015 in Dissertation Rumination


Good Thing False Starts Only Get You Disqualified in Racing

False starts may not be accurate, but it’s the closest I can get to how these past few weeks have been. There’s a lot to figure out and balance. I’ve also figured out that the best way for me to work in Photoshop is to read a few tutorials, mess around with the specific tool I learned about, and then do a little exploring of similar tools. I’ve used a lot of tools, and found that most of what the tutorials told me wasn’t applicable to my project. But I had to try before I figured that out.

But after all that, I think I finally have a handle on the map update project. Right now server space is still at issue, so I’m going to be hosting it here temporarily. So everything that I want to do on a real, honest-to-Pete HTML & CSS website I have to convert to WordPress compatible. Turns out, that bit should be easier than anticipated. I say this recognizing it’s going to be harder than the tutorials describe, but I understood and followed the tutorials, so I’m starting from a place of at least having a LITTLE bit of a clue.

After much thought and fiddling and starting-and-stopping-and-tossing-a-whole-day’s-work (yeah, those were a crappy couple of days), I’m still planning on an image map with rollover popups. The biggest advantage to this is that I KNOW what I want to do can be done by someone with my level of expertise. See also: Death in Diorama, by my marvelous friend and colleague, Erin Bush. (Go play, the blog will still be here when you’re done.) I’m aiming for something similar, with battle statistics popping up at each marked point. First things, first, though: I need all the battles marked on a map.

I tooled around in Photoshop, playing with the Custom Shapes tool, and I found one that looks like an explosion. Instead of having to size each one, I fixed the size at 20 px by 20 px. I changed the color to red, and now I have a way to put a little red explosion at all battle sites. For now, I’ll be making a separate map for each year, as I did in the prior map. But once I do that, I’ll be making it one image. I have to decide how I want to handle overlay – what happens at Hue City, which is surrounded by battles? I need the user to be able to see the few points left. Right now I have the province names, borders, and capitals all marked, along with Chu Lai airfield. Soon, the points I’ll be adding will cover up the names. I’m thinking about playing with localized transparency. But we’ll see how it goes.

I am also building a database of battle statistics when I am annoyed at Photoshop. Or when the WiFi here goes all wonky. So when I’m done with the maps, I can just worry about the code necessary to make the image map work without having to find the source material, too.


Begin at the Beginning

I think at this point, since server space is such an issue, I should focus on getting the static map working and uploaded here. A .GIF works if all we’re doing is showing a series, with no extra information embedded. This update needs to include a lot of metadata and embedded data. The best bet, it seems to me, is to make an image map out of the base image. I can make each point link to a database or a website specific to the data point. What I’d really like to do, though is to have the map clickable, with information popping up in response to the clicks. The info would either be in a balloon pointing at the spot or in an unused (for the image map) section of the map. I would also like the points change appearance when the info pops up. There are going to be a LOT of points on this map at the end of this, with several clumps, and several battles taking place in fundamentally the same spot.

I think I can get all of this done with one image map. It’ll be HUGE, and the question then becomes can WordPress support a file that large. But I won’t know that until I start linking information to the map.

Here’s the map I’ll be using for the update project:


I started with an .EPS file, for Adobe Illustrator, which is a format WordPress won’t let me upload. More importantly, it’s not a good format in which to make an image map. Image map widgets seem to all be predicated on working from a .JPEG file. So, to begin, I converted the .EPS to a .JPEG format. Now I can start fiddling with HTML and CSS.

Next question: how malleable is the CSS on WordPress?

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Posted by on October 29, 2014 in The Education of Me


Since I’ve Been Away…

…I’m now teaching while continuing my fellowship work. I have a new project – or, rather, an update of an old project. I am updating the map of Vietnam from last summer to a cleaner, more interactive version with more data and metadata. It’s a big project. Right now, my big concern is lack of server space. I need to develop this with the assumption that everything must be housed on a laptop, which will likely be purged once i’m done with it, and a backup disk. The problem is that the best tools for this job all require some level of server or storage space that I don’t have access to, so this blog is, once again, going to have to be the workhorse. The good news is that WordPress, with widgets and plugins, has vastly increased its ability to do this sort of work since I started on this site in 2009.

Among the techniques I need to learn: georeferencing maps, embedding text into an image, pop-up notes linked to specific points in an image, and some form of animation that clearly shows movement over time. I can SEE the way i want it to look in my head, but I don’t know how to get there. However, I’m not completely clueless. i have some idea, and some basic knowledge, but I need to remember the space constraints.

Though this is a list of things to do and/or learn, I don’t know that it’s in order:

1. Find storage workaround

2. Research WordPress widgets for my purposes, figure out how much I can modify the basic structure.

3. Review shoulder notes from Clio II – I think that’s my best template for the popup information I want to put on the map

4. Define control points for georeferencing and PRACTICE.

5. Add data points to image in Illustrator – which means learning Illustrator…for once, I hope something’s a lot like PhotoShop.

6. Once all of this is figured out, complete the database and start learning animations.

This may take a while.