The Last Requirement

My digital project is an expansion of my omeka site detailing how the Mexican Border Crisis of 1916-1917 helped prepare the United States Army for service in Europe during World War I.  With this year representing the 100th anniversary of the American entry into World War I, this topic is timely with many scholars and organizations presenting material examining this many-faceted war and its impacts on the United States.  The site is geared towards a college audience but also provides resources for high school honors or similar courses.  Any visitor to the site should come away with a deeper understanding of both the Border Crisis and its seldom-considered impacts on the Army.

Essentially, I argue that the crisis materially contributed to the Army in four ways.  First, it allowed a de facto rehearsal of the National Guard mobilization process with this uncovering myriad issues.  Second, the crisis created an opportunity for large-scale training that was absent in the widely dispersed Army with this having its greatest benefits on National Guard units.  Third, new technologies were employed with the Army learning how to most effectively use trucks, airplanes and tactical wire and radio communications systems.  Finally, leaders gained valuable experience in training and employing larger units.  While the Army that went to France had problems and was in many respects a fragile instrument, it would have been far less capable with the result being a longer–and more expensive–war.

The site is organized as a series of exhibits including background, mobilization, leaders, training, technology, and, resources.  Exhibits include text products, photographs and video obtained from a number of different sources.

Background provides a generalized overview of the crisis and includes a statement of the core arguments, a timeline of major events, details on some of the historically significant actors, and, some elements of material culture.  The relationship between Mexico and the United States and the role of that relationship in the crisis and preparing the Army is presented.

Leaders highlights several important officers of both general and company grade, to include General Pershing who moved from command of the 1916-1917 Punitive Expedition to command of the American Expeditionary Force only a few months later.

Mobilization highlights the National Guard’s mobilization and includes a map identifying training and outpost locations used by units during the crisis.  Mobilization for Mexico proved extremely problematic and the lessons learned were important in correcting systematic weaknesses in the mobilization process.  The War Department and the states corrected many of these weaknesses and the result was a much smoother mobilization for service in France.  Of note, not all the regiments mobilized were returned to state service with a number of regiments remaining in federal service through their return from France with this representing the longest-to-date mobilizations of National Guard units.

Technology outlines details of communications, aircraft and motorized/mechanized transport.  It includes details of some specific items, to include the JN-3 airplane that was the Army’s first combat airplane.  The airplane was woefully inadequate for the task at hand, but it created a cohort of leaders who had confidence in the airplane’s real potential.  Similarly, the exhibit also illuminates the genesis of the Army’s truck companies, an organizational structure still found in today’s Army.

The training exhibit captures elements of training that took place during the crisis.  With the Army relatively massed for the first time in many years, and the with the National Guard largely in federal service, new training opportunities were presented that benefit soldiers and their leaders alike.  While bayonets, machine guns and artillery were of little use in Mexico, significant training with these weapons took place with the focus being on the demands of Europe.  Though the United States did not declare war on Germany until after the Border Crisis’ end, senior leaders were very focused on that conflict and many believed American participation was inevitable.

Finally, the resources exhibit provides details on almost 100 different primary and secondary sources of use to scholars studying the Border Crisis, the Army of the pre-World War I period and the efforts to prepare for overseas service.  Primary sources include War Department, State Department and Adjutant General reports from a number of the states providing troops.  Secondary sources include both established and recent scholarship from a wide variety of scholars, writers and researchers.

The Army’s Mexican Border Crisis experience is often overlooked as it is overshadowed by the larger war in France.  Understanding the French experience, however, is better enabled by understanding just how important the Mexican experience proved for an Army transitioning from a constabulary Army to one able to successfully compete against any modern Army in the world.


The site is available at

Crowdsourcing Participation

Well, I finally did it: I edited a Wikipedia article.  After that experience I have to ask how could anything untrue be put on the web?  After all, people like me do the posting.  Oh, wait, maybe I found the fundamental issue.

With the case of Wikipedia I found the basic problem being architecture that allows the insertion of material first and then the option for submitting citation information, however credible, later–if at all.  I am not the King of Wikipedia but if I was I would seek to change the software so that no entries could be preserved without citations to allow full consideration of their veracity.  Clearly a citation in and of itself is no guarantee of accuracy–I am really tempted to open a few articles and insert citations from the Weekly World News and their long-running series on “Bat Boy” to illustrate that point.  Since there is no doubt some professional ethic that precludes me from doing so, I won’t–but I wonder about those without such encumbrances.

The article I edited was on Felix Gomez, Mexican commander at the Battle of Carrizal, the last major engagement of the 1916-1917 Punitive Expedition.  The previous edition was likely written by a non-native English speaker as there was some awkward construction.  I opted to remove some of the language and reword other portions to allow the article to more accurately reflect the American idiom.  I also added some factual data, and most importantly, included credible citations to validate the insertions.  What I did not remove was the original comment naming Gomez the “Hero of Carrizal.”  From the perspective of military art he was anything but that.  That difference of opinion, however, did not mean I should arbitrarily obliterate the opinion of the article’s original author.  That could very easily have been done but it just didn’t seem right, especially when viewing the battle from the perspective of the other side.

In any event, the article now has some legitimate citations and I believe that will make the article more useful for other students seeking information on this little known battle that had major consequences for the US and Mexico alike.

Things I liked about the process: being able to add to the “corpus of knowledge” (gotta use a Ph D word since I am in the program) about the circumstances surrounding Gomez’s death and ease of process.  Things I disliked about the process: the absence of credible safeguards and the fact that someone who dislikes my work could strike them from the article.

Final point: crowdsourcing is essential for this article for a simple reason–there would be no article without it.  I guess that is the power of the Wiki: publishing authority descends to the lowest levels and thus makes available more information for people to consider on its own merits.

The article is available at:

Omeka Site

My Omeka project is complete, perhaps even over-complete as I have continued the build out for the final project.  Having said that, I am sure some authority figures with the ability to render judgment may assert the site is under-complete.  I suppose I could take a cosmological view and assert that there is no such thing as “over” or “under” but only “complete.”  Since I am a theoretically a historian and not a philosopher or theologian I will table that argument for another time.  In any event, I invite your attention to the immediate requirement in the syllabus: the basic site build.

The site has five different exhibits with Background and Leaders submitted as fulfilling the basic requirement.  The Mobilization, Technology and Training exhibits represent work towards the final project.   I am not sure if I am satisfied with the site and will likely do some tweaking as I come across useful information that can add to the site’s interpretive value.  Currently I am not particularly satisfied with Training as all I have is a text product and I would like to try and find some video footage of actual training activities.  There is a lot of World War I footage available but I have yet to come across good border training footage that would represent any real “value added.”

I have found my competency with Omeka growing with practice.  I spent a fair amount of time over spring break (like that really exists) working on the project and found the biggest benefit in helping me further refine my basic arguments for the paper that provides the site’s foundation.  As I am at the point where I am really polishing my paper I see the connections between the site and paper even more clearly and it has helped in the “fine” editing of the paper.  I would have been very skeptical if someone told me working with Omeka would improve my writing but I am finding that is actually the case.

I am currently enrolled in a writing seminar requiring a presentation to accompany the final paper.  I can do it the hard way–essentially trying to re-create a powerpoint or similar presentation mirroring the Omeka site.  I will opt to meet that requirement the easy way by pulling up my site and walking the class through the key elements.


Final Project Update

It must be nice to be an undergrad and live in a world where Spring Break means heading someplace warm and forgetting about school’s demands for a week.  As a graduate student I no longer live in that universe.  For me, Spring Break means shoveling snow, and when I am done with that, working course requirements.

This brings me to the point of this blog post.  I believe I have pretty much completed the end-of-course project.  It now consists of five exhibits of varying depth.  The first, BACKGROUND, begins with my historiographical argument–that the Mexican Border experience helped prepare the Army for service in France during World War I.  The follow-on exhibits, LEADERS, MOBILIZATION, TECHNOLOGY and TRAINING contain items that substantiate the basic argument.

Stripping out the “eye candy” intended to provide visual interest, there are roughly thirty items that seek to communicate that point.  Some of the items are somewhat dull–word documents highlighting aspects of training or mobilization that would only get a military historian’s pulse up (and I guess maybe I don’t qualify as one as mine is currently only at 51 beats per minute)–while others, I think, provide appropriate graphic content that helps tie elements of my argument together.

As with any project, there is always room for growth and improvement.  When you get a chance, feel free to take a look and comment.  While I am waiting for any feedback I will go back to the other exceptionally fun-filled way I have spent the break, I mean between shovels full of snow, preparing for comps.  If I’d known a Ph.D. program was this much work I think I would have gone to welding school.

Google Map Project

The March 9 class dealt with spatial history and various ways to build and employ maps to support one’s research.  While some topics likely derive little benefit from map use, the topic I am pursuing is more readily understood when a good map is included.

To meet the initial course requirement I opted to use Google maps to produce two maps.  The first was to meet this requirement, the second is an expanded one I have embedded into my Omeka site.  I initially a problem importing data into the first map as the program would not recognize my spreadsheet as it contained a .xls suffix.  Resaving the document as .csv file solved that problem.  Once it properly saved the map loaded without difficulty.  I immediately gained an appreciation for the program by virtue of it being essentially “idiot proof.”  That is an impressive feat as my experience has made me a believer in the phrase “nothing is idiot proof for a talented (or determined) idiot.”

As discussed in class, the choice of map obviously matters and since my research deals with military operations I opted to use topographic maps.  I would much prefer that expanding the scale would ultimately allow the map to open at a scale of 1:12,500, 1:25,000 or even 1:50,000 as those scales are the best to present military operations by virtue of their clearly representing the  finer details of terrain, this would have really enhanced the second map which shows the location of border outposts during the 1916 Mexican Border Crisis.  A surprising amount of military history’s failures can actually be traced to decision makers not understanding the terrain and directing operations that ultimately failed as a force could not overcome the combined effects of the terrain AND the enemy.  While sub-optimal for projecting micro-relief features, the Google topographic map is nevertheless satisfactory when one seeks to illustrate the geographic scale of operations associated with the border crisis as well as the macro-physiography that dictated such things as movement routes and the use of airplanes.

The maps are available at:

Digital Project Proposal

My proposal for a final project is a “build out” of my Omeka digital history site arguing the importance of the Army’s Mexican border experiences of 1916-1917 in preparing it to fight in Europe during World War I. This would allow my integrating other research work done this semester in preparing an article-length essay on this topic.  While a number of historians have argued with varying degrees of vigor these experiences were important, a more expansive Omeka site would reinforce arguments previously made by allowing for their holistic consideration by scholars.  Such writers as James Cooke, Edward Coffman, Jerome Howe, Janet Prieto, and Donald Smythe have argued with varying degrees of vigor the importance of the border experience to the expanding U.S. Army in diverse works whose arguments rarely appear together. I consider Omeka a very appropriate vehicle for presenting my argument as it allows the clear presentation and linking of specific aspects of the Army’s experiences that other writers explored and which facilitated the Army’s expansion, creation of, and combat employment of, the American Expeditionary Force in 1917-1918.As currently constituted, the site includes exhibits highlighting aspects of leadership, mobilization, technology and training.

A “build out” would include a background exhibit highlighting the tensions in the US-Mexican relationship stemming from Mexico’s 1910-1920 revolution.  These include the Pancho Villa raid of March 1916 that led to the punitive expedition’s entering Mexico, the battles that took place in Mexico and the additional raids taking place against the United States; and, the long-term diplomatic efforts to bring about a satisfactory resolution.  A background exhibit would also include a map showing unit locations and a timeline of major military and diplomatic events shaping the Army’s experiences.  The “build out” would also include expansion of the exhibits on leadership, mobilization, technology and training.

The leadership exhibit would include several items highlighting how the experiences affected the careers of several officers who moved to the highest levels of leadership in Europe as well as Captain Nelson Holderman.   Holderman’s professional development on the border helped prepare him for the challenges of command of Company K, 307th Infantry which gained fame as part of the “Lost Battalion” of World War I.

The technology exhibit would include additional information on the use of aircraft in addition to displays addressing issues of mechanized logistics and the tactical use of radio communications.  These were significant technological advances and the experiences in Mexico helped prepare the Army to become the most mechanized of the wartime allies.

The training exhibit would include additional information on specific aspects of training, particularly of National Guard units which saw their first real training taking place because of mobilization.  These efforts meant the Army had approximately 200,000 soldiers who had varied levels of training when mobilized for service in France.  Training levels were inconsistent, but a number of regiments spent over a year in continuous service before deploying to France and many others experienced only very short breaks (several weeks to sixty days) between mobilization periods.

As envisioned, this project would support research not only into the Mexican border crisis and the Army’s response, but also research oriented on the Army’s early actions during World War I to include the developing, training and leading of the new National Army formations that comprised much of the American Expeditionary Force.  Additionally, material presented would allow individuals researching the National Guard’s twentieth-century roots the ability to better understand its first real test.  While some argue World War II represented the Guard’s first real twentieth-century effort I argue the border experience gave both the Regular Army and a re-vitalized and legislatively enhanced National Guard their first real interaction.


Tragically, a Ph.D. requires having to work multiple requirements at the same time. This semester my biggest project in terms of a final paper involves the Army’s Mexican border experience.  Unfortunately, I also have to work towards my qualifying examinations and one of my primary fields is US Army history with a subfield on the historiography of the Army’s experiences in the European Theater of Operations (Great Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands).   I developed my timeline to give me the ability to “see” the rate at which the Army arrived on the European battlefield to assist my historiographical work.  The website “History Shots Info Art, US Army Divisions in World War II, located is the data source.

It took a while to develop the attached chart, a timeline illustrating the U.S. Army’s building up of combat power (think large units of Soldiers and equipment) to fight the war in Europe.   The reason it took a while was due to my repeated, and unsuccessful, efforts to find a tool that would work for me.  Some tools I rejected owing to their requiring the downloading of large files on my computer.  Other tools I rejected when I found they were too “clunky” to work with.

I ultimately settled on Tiki-Toki for two reasons.  One, while it is not exactly intuitive I was able to learn how to populate fields rather rapidly.  Second, it resides on the web and I thus did not have to shackle myself to my own computer.  I tend to do most of my work at Tuttleman and a program that was easily accessible from there was a major plus.

There are some problems with the tool.  I am still trying to figure out how to change colors and re-open some fields after I close them.  If you are wondering why the “About this Timeline” is so sparse it is because I have yet to figure how to get back into the proverbial locked room.  I also don’t like the fact that the balloons are auto-sized and auto-positioned.  The result is some unnecessary “stacking” that detracts from the overall product.  Additionally, while I was able to append an “end date” to each entry, the balloon does not extend to that date on the time line.  Where I would have preferred all balloons being visible for the “lifespan”  of the respective entry this is not possible–or perhaps I should say this is not possible with my rudimentary skills with the tool.

Still, like fire, this is a tool.  And like fire, proficiency theoretically comes from greater use.  Given that, I will continue to use this tool for many data visualization projects because I can get it to do basically what I want it to do, I can do that from any place, and I can do that without paying any price.  In the market place of ideas, good ideas are worth money; good ideas that don’t cost money are worth even more.


The California State Military Museum (, operated by the California Center for Military History, represents a unique and powerful resource for individuals seeking to uncover the state’s rich military history.  The museum is constructing a new facility in Sacramento, but its virtual presence is what makes the museum such a powerful resource.  Seeking to preserve California’s complete military history, from its time as a far-flung province of Spanish Mexico through the contributions of today’s Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines the museum makes available histories of individuals, units, and, locations.  Particularly impressive is its capturing better than any other website I have observed the history of the California National Guard from the founding of the first militia companies under American rule through current overseas contingency operations.

The museum’s on-line presence is essentially archival with texts, photos and other graphics arranged in logical groups that facilitate prompt identification and retrieval of information.  Included in this archive are a mix of primary sources, secondary sources produced by outside publishers, and secondary sources created by museum staffers.  This last category is particularly useful in providing visibility on events that would have otherwise been lost to history.  One such example is Brett Landis’ article “On the Mexican Border, 1914 and 1916.”  This provides both text and imagery and allows for greater understanding of California’s experiences.

The museum is ambitious in its efforts.  It seeks to attract military historians with an interest in Regular, National Guard and Reserve history as it relates to the state while also providing accessible materials for those seeking to understand the experiences of individuals who served.  Individuals researching family histories, particularly of the Second World War, can find a lot of useful material, particularly about the smaller and lesser-known stations that dotted the state during this period.

The site has some problems, however.  There is no link to any technical data informing a visitor of the tools and technologies employed.  Technology is a bit rough as accessing certain materials will not allow a return to the homepage without some work–you cannot simply “back out” of all its subordinate sites.

The site has also seen some degradation owing to legal issues associated with the museum itself.  The museum was shut down in 2013 while disputes were resolved and only re-opened last year.  Prior to shutting down, it had a place where individuals cost post information about their service, or those of family members.  This feature had the potential to expand its reach as non-historians could document service history.  Unfortunately with the re-opening this feature as disappeared.  As the museum expands the re-establishment of this feature could make the site an even greater resource.

From my perspective this is a digital history site.  It maintains a broad range of material, it is accessible and it is culturally and historically expansive.  For serious historians and casual visitors the site represents a great resource.  Proof of this may be found in the visitor count: 4,334,216 since it opened its on-line presence in 1998.  The count may not indicate satisfaction with the resource, but it does indicate that it is relatively well known among military historians exploring questions related to California and its past.