Explore Kentucky History: Expanding beyond the Civil War app

I’ve mentioned several smart phone apps over the last year. You’ve seen some of my screen shots of Civil War Trust’s battle apps. Back in the summer I mentioned some others. Both Virginia and Tennessee have apps out there, hosted by their respective tourism departments, focused on Civil War history. Maryland Civil War Trails has their app. And there are numerous local history apps from places like Alexandria, Virginia.

Earlier this year Kentucky joined that trend with the Explore Kentucky History app. The first offering of the app focused on Civil War sites, and highlighted some of the state’s historical markers.


The app offers what is becoming a “standard” suite social media connections (although limited to Facebook, Twitter, and email in this case) with the “share this” tag.

Now the Kentucky Historical Society is expanding the app beyond the Civil War. They’ve added a War of 1812 tour and plan to add in an Abraham Lincoln tour (of course) along with regional history focused tours.


I’ll be the first to admit, a few years ago I was skeptical about the appeal of history themed mobile apps. I was off the mark. These apps are well received. I wouldn’t say they will eclipse Angry Birds in terms of download counts. But with these apps gaining an audience, the days of the old travel brochure may be numbered. Is there a day when the historical markers will all be “virtualized” within an app?


Tennessee Civil War GIS Project

Fort Donelson NPS passed this along via their Twitter feed earlier this week:

Tennessee Civil War GIS Project

The map is one in a series of projects hosted by the Tennessee State Library & Archives. The map provides several display options depicting Civil War related sites, particularly battle fields, throughout Tennessee. Layers include the standard road maps and satellite views, but also add battlefields, core battlefield areas, study areas, and potential National Registry boundaries. There’s also options to show flood zones, property boundaries and land use. The layers also allow selection of forts, batteries, cemeteries, and 1865 railroads. Four “transparencies” overlay maps onto the display. These are Fort Donelson (one from 1862 and one from 1940), Fort Sanders (1874), and Franklin (1863).

The only down side I see is the inability to pull a direct link back for a specific area or layering. There’s an option to output a PDF, but it lacks many of the layers. Oh, and it is not mobile friendly. Still, it is better than they had in 1960! So why am I being so picky?

While you are at the map site, you might also check out some of the State Library & Archives other projects. The “sourcebook” offers over 7,000 artifacts from the Official Records, diaries, newspapers and other primary sources. There’s an additional set of 2,000 pamphlets from 1845-1865 in Civil War Era Database, but you need Tennessee state credentials to access. The site also provides indexes to the archival holdings, which include the Tennessee Civil War Veterans Questionnaires. Oh, and there is a nine page listing of Colored Confederate Pension Applications, which Andy Hall is probably most familiar with.

Good things from the State of Tennessee. And another example of a trend during the Sesquicentennial. There seems to be a lot of preserving (both land and artifacts) going on, but an effort to put what is preserved in full color context.

JSTOR Opens Early Journal Content for Free Access

If you are not familiar with the service, JSTOR is a digital archive of “academic journals and other scholarly content.”  Although the organization is non-profit, the service is licensed.  That’s because much of the content is copyrighted and licensed itself.  Plus someone has to pay for disk space, after all.

Over the years I’ve found JSTOR a useful stop when researching a topic (particularly for professional subjects I’m apt to run into at work).  Unfortunately, the mode of operation is split due to login access.  I could search the archives from anywhere, but had to visit a participating institution (usually the Thomas Balch Library in my case) to access the article.  Cumbersome, but I fully understand given the copyright considerations.  The main inconvenience is to the consumer of any research I present (i.e. blog post or white paper).  With our Web 2.0 culture, many readers expect to see a hyperlink to the sourced information.  Yes, the old MLA standard citations are sufficient, but more and more I find the customers want that “click to see it” underscored text.

Good news is JSTOR is now opening the older journals for free access:

On September 6, 2011, we announced that we are making journal content in JSTOR published prior to 1923 in the United States and prior to 1870 elsewhere freely available to anyone, anywhere in the world.  This “Early Journal Content” includes discourse and scholarship in the arts and humanities, economics and politics, and in mathematics and other sciences.  It includes nearly 500,000 articles from more than 200 journals. This represents 6% of the content on JSTOR.

I’d point out before folks get too carried away, the “prior to” date is in compliance with rules concerning public domain and copyrighted content.

That allows me to drop direct citations to the Memoir of Daniel Treadwell; or an article on the US Regulars during the Civil War written in 1898; or perhaps an analysis of armor plated warships appering in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy from 1864; or a history of the Committee on the Conduct of the War written in 1918.  Although for my day job, I’m still not able to hyperlink pages from the Journal of Management Information Systems.  But I’m sure you readers are at no great loss there!

JSTOR is involved with a prosecution regarding the copyrighted material in the archives.  Although some have suggested the move to “free” the older content is a gesture to appease critics, I’d point out that JSTOR is paying for the storage and presentation platform on which the digital resources are accessed.  I’ve got no problem if they want to charge a fee for the service.   But I’m happy to have “free” access to the 6% they offer.

Charting a More Perfect Union

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) now offers many Civil War era maps, charts, and notes on-line as part of an exhibit titled “Charting a More Perfect Union.”  For those studying coastal and ravine operations in the war, these resources are a gold mine.

Established in 1807, US Coastal Survey, one of NOAA’s predecessors, had the responsibility of charting navigation routes and defining boundaries along the nation’s coast.  With the outbreak of the Civil War, the knowledge of the coastal waterways became an important planning factor for military operations – be they blockading or offensive landings.  NOAA’s Civil War site offers many primary documents to illustrate the Coastal Survey’s work during the war years.  Informational pages further interpret the the sources, including a short biography of Alexander Dallas Bache, superintendent of the Coastal Survey during the war years.

With this collection, NOAA offers both an organizational history with the valuable primary resources.  Not are the maps and charts presented for reference, but also the story behind the Survey’s operation and to some extent how the maps and charts were created.  Bache’s annual summary reports detail the Survey’s operations and activities.  This is an important angle to consider.  Often researchers will view a period map and assume the survey team derived the depiction after standing on or viewing the ground.  That is not always the case.  While “authentic” not all period maps are “accurate.” In the case of the Survey’s work, Bache explains where and when teams checked bouys, made soundings, and charted channels.

One fine point of order here, however.  Maps are not charts and charts are not maps.  Sort of look the same, both being depictions of the earth’s surface features.  NOAA has a very good explanation of the two tools.

NOAA’s search system is intuitive for anyone familiar with web-based search tools and well tagged.  Returns appear in easy to read arrays.  But pay attention to the “Year” column, as the returns do not automatically filter to just “Civil War” collections.  You may be looking at a more recent survey map than expected.

NOAA offers the historical maps within a Flash based viewer.   For download artifacts are in SID or JPG format.   I found the maps in the Flash viewer easy to navigate.  But the jump screen is in the way of those looking to use portions of the map as illustrations (like here on the blog).  The SID format offers the highest quality, but requires a browser plug-in (see LizardTech’s site).  The JPG format is easy for most to download and view, but of less quality.

Another consideration, while JPGs may be directly imbedded in most html based editors, SIDs cannot.  But the raw JPGs require additional editing and handling before really useful to illustrate a point (such as indicating where the wartime waterways ran in a particular area).

Savannah River Entrance 1851

Yes, in the “overview” this appears more a set of “dots” on the wall.  If you click on the image, depending on the zoom tools in your browser, the fine details appear.   On the lower left and right are navigation notes.   Lots of rich, fine details that I like to wade through!