Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A kid in a candy store...

Not a long post today, as too much to do in a short amount of time, but I just had to share--I'm at the Harvard-Yenching Library, and I feel like a kid in a candy store!!! So much to read and copy and scan and absorb in the next 2+ days. No way I'll get everything I want, but at least I can figure out what I can get online or through ILL sent to me, and copy the important stuff. So hopefully I can then delve through all the works on Sengoku battles and so on and put up some content here!!!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

AAS-SEC and New Project

(Note: I STARTED writing this post in January, right after the AAS-SEC Conference. I then left for a month in Japan and...well, got busy. So if some of the text sounds like I'm writing about things in January as if they were last week, that's why. I'll try to edit, but at this point I just want to get something up.)

In January I was at the University of Virginia for the Southeastern Conference of the Association for Asian Studies. This is a regional affiliate of the main AAS, much like the Mid-Atlantic Region AAS (MARAAS) I attended in 2012. A professor I talk to for advice has told me not to bother with these regional conferences, that they don't do a whole bunch for you. I can certainly see his point after the weekend (There was ONE person in the audience, the rest of the people in the room were the other presenters and the moderator), but it's good to see both well-run and not-so-well-run conferences, as you learn from both. I won't say this was "not-so-well-run", but there were...glitches. However, the relaxed nature of the conference makes for a bit easier time "networking", as the important people (if any are there) are less worried about finding their colleague from Across The Country U. to hang out with. I got to talk to many people, which was nice. There was no one there remotely close to my research topic, which was...well, it meant I got a lot of experience explaining what it is I do and why. The proverbial "Elevator Talk" got a lot of work.

The conference had a very heavy Chinese lean, which isn't all THAT surprising, but I was surprised at how few Japanologists were there. I suppose since China is the hot thing, there are Chinese scholars everywhere, but since Japan has receded a bit they stick to the Northeast and West Coast a bit more. Oh well. I had a good time, and even though almost no one saw my presentation, I still revised and updated it, I still gave it, and it still goes on my CV haha.

On to other things. It appears that the proposed archaeology in Mongolia I was invited to be a participant in may be finally getting some steam, as I was advised in February that they have a grant proposal on the way for US State Department consideration. The problem with a group of scholars, are running multiple projects at once on different continents, is getting them to figure out what is going on with THIS particular project. But despite at one point thinking nothing was going to come of it, it seems it will move forward. To that end, I'll still be looking at the Khalkhin Gol (or Nomonhan) campaign, trying to break it down. It provides a useful case for my ideas on how to look at a campaign, since it's so different and much larger in scope than Nagashino. Mechanization and mass-mobilized armies make things so MESSY compared to nice, clean, organized Sengoku warfare (this is your notice that the previous sentence is dripping with sarcasm).

However, continuing (alone, for the moment) with Khalkhin Gol allows me to participate in a project I'm really excited about. Anyone with an interest in WWII, or digital study of history, or just really cool toys, needs to go check out the Envisioning History project. This is a group using the Palantir application to enter in WWII data to a giant database, then play around with it. Now, for those of you not in the intelligence community, Palantir is a data-mining application that was originally developed by PayPal to help them track people stealing from them, and it was later acquired by the US intelligence community. My most common experience with it is mapping out terrorist networks...and that's all I can say about that. But the bottom line is it allows you to input data, then manipulate the connection points between various sets of data in order to find and interpret the relationships.

Say, for instance, that Person A is a suspected bomb-maker for al Qaeda. Among the things you know about Person A, you know he always eats lunch at the same falafel stand every Tuesday. By itself, this is insignificant, as if you're looking only at Person A, it's a minor details. However, let's say you've got another suspect, Person B, who it is suspected works in procurement of weapons parts. In his info sheet, we know that he eats at that same falafel stand every Monday. Meanwhile, Person C eats there every other Thursday. You're not sure what C does, but every other Friday morning--coinciding with C eating lunch at the falafel joint the day before--there's an IED attack within a 10km radius. None of these things are necessarily connections you'd make simply reading intel reports, but the Palantir software will help tease out these connections, allowing you to see this chain of events and conclude with a good probability that the falafel joint is being used to drop off parts for a bomb (B to A), then signal the transporter (C) that it's ready for deployment.

That's really cool, you say, but what does that have to do with Khalkhin Gol? Well, the folks at Envisioning History are inputting massive amounts of data regarding WWII. Check out their video demonstration here. Go ahead, I'll wait:


 We don't normally think of the short conflict between the Soviets and the Japanese on the Mongolian borderlands in the summer of 1939 as part of WWII, but we should. The short version, for those that haven't gone to the Wikipedia links, is that the Japanese tried to expand out of Manchuria and seize resource-rich parts of Mongolia and possibly sneak in some Russian territory as well. The Russians, with the Mongolians, spanked the Japanese pretty good. Some guy named Zhukov was in charge for the Soviets, and I hear he went on to do some good for Mother Russia elsewhere. Anyways, this forced the Japanese to look other directions...like south towards the oil and rubber of Southeast Asia, owned by the Western European colonial powers, who were in alliance with the US, who was squeezing Japanese imports over Japan's involvement in China and wouldn't have liked Japanese waltzing into British and Dutch colonies...and so....well, you know the rest.

The EH folks have hooked me up with an account and given me free reign to play around with Palantir, inputting data from the Nomonhan/KG campaign. Once I get a decent enough data set in, I can start to manipulate it and create analytical products that will help set up my archaeologist friends for their work in Mongolia.

MORE INTERESTINGLY (as if that's not cool enough), my contact at EH has graciously offered to let me ALSO use it for...well, whatever I want. Their project limits are the roughly 40 years leading from WWI to WWII and then immediate aftermath, but the system can hold data from whenever and wherever. So if, for instance, someone wanted to open a file and put in data for the Nagashino campaign and play around with it, they're perfectly fine with that. I'll have to frontload Nomonhan work because that's what's paying my metaphorical bill, so to speak, but look for updates and any cool things I figure out for that or Nagashino in the future.

I REALLY like the Palantir program--I use it at work and have had training courses on it, so I think I've got a good idea of its potential, and it goes way beyond simply tracking military activity. It's a bit of a grandiose goal, but I would love to eventually have my own Palantir instance (the term for an iteration of the system) dedicated to post-Onin Japan, and be able to give access to scholars working on all aspects of Sengoku history, to include culture, politics, economics, etc., because Palantir would be amazing at helping find hidden connections between, say, the trade at the rice exchanges in Osaka and the use of luxury goods by daimyo in the Kanto area. Or whatever--the possibilities are truly exciting. Hopefully I can do enough with it to show it's value and get other people on board.

Anyways, this post only took 2 months to get out...sigh. One day I'll be more regular at this...

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Empathizing with the Enemy

As I've said here before, my primary research interest lies in the decision making of daimyo and other samurai leaders during the 16th century, and what inputs/philosophies shaped those decisions. So far I've mostly dabbled at the tactical level, because A. tactical decision making is what I'm trained in and comfortable with, B. no one else in academia seems to be working on Japanese warfare of this time period at the tactical-operational level, and C. I think it's an interesting departure point for all manner of tangential discussions. I'm not ONLY interested in the tactical, on-the-battlefield decisions, however. I'm interested in DECISION PROCESSES of these historical actors; tactical and operational military action is where I've got a ready-made framework I am comfortable with to help pick those decisions apart, and eventually hope I can find similar processes to explain other sorts of decisions.

At the root, my interest generates from a desire to understand what it was like being one of these people, and not just the Oda Nobunaga's and Takeda Katsuyori's of the Sengoku world. How did, for instance, a kogashira perceive his options for advancement and make choices to improve his situation? Of course this comes from my own experience as a junior and middle-ranking military officer-I want to know what pressures, what motivations, what constraints faced my subjects, and how they reacted, and what those reactions tell us about the socio-political/economic context of the time. My techniques for doing so are direct derivatives of the way intelligence officers are taught to analyze, empathize with, and predict enemy actions.

Empathy is a key word here. Notice it's not "sympathy". And developing "strategic empathy" is the subject of Zachary Shore's book A Sense of The Enemy: The High-Stakes History of Reading Your Rival's Mind (Oxford University Press, 2014). I picked this book up at last year's Society for Military History conference, and finally got around to reading it this past week. It's not too long (210 pages, plus notes & biblio), and goes pretty quickly. At first I wasn't all that excited by it, to be honest: the beginning felt a bit like Malcolm Gladwell book.

I don't mean that to come across as a scathing indictment or anything. While Gladwell isn't academic writing and is guilty of cherry-picking scientific studies to make his points, he is fun to read. And that's the sense I got through the first couple of chapters in Shore's book. It didn't feel "academic" and the first chapter, on how Ghandi supposedly read British critical reaction after the massacre at Amritsar and knew public opinion would dictate further massacres would not happen, seemed...well, assumed. Kind of like "This...and then that, and so therefore, Ghandi must have thought X."  My thoughts were that this would be an amusing read, but not something I'd get a lot from.

I was wrong.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

AAS/SEC Schedule out

The schedule for the Association of Asian Studies--Southeastern Conference is out here. The conference will be at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Jan 15-17.

My panel is here:

1/5. “Pottery, Power, and Punishment” 

“Neolithic Pottery and Identity Studies in Korean Archaeology.”
Jaehoon Lee, Korean School of Southern New Jersey

“The Economy of Leftovers: Feasting and the Dietary Condition of Convicted Criminals of Early Imperial China.”
Moonsil Lee Kim, Smithsonian Institution

“The Most Spectacular Demonstration of The Power: Framing the Battle of Nagashino (1575) in Popular Narrative.”
Nathan Ledbetter, Independent Scholar

“Monarchs, Monks, and Scholars: Religion and State Power in Tudor England and Chosŏn Korea.”
Christopher Lovins, Oberlin College
Moderator: Cong Zhang, University of Virginia

A quick glance over the schedule looks interesting. I think I'm the only one labeled an "independent". 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Book reviews and conference papers

Sorry for the recent rash of navel-gazing the last few posts. There's certainly some anxiety present as I come to the last year of my time in the Army, and look to lay the groundwork for what comes next. For all of the stress a military career puts on you, it's actually quite stable in a lot of ways. I've never had to worry about losing my job. I've never had to "apply" for positions in a competitive manner. While I've decided to try my hand at academia because the returns I've gotten so far from the field have been positive, there's a bit of the feeling that I'll be working without a net. It's easy to focus on the experience or training I don't have and will be trying to get (and get paid for) in graduate school, and then the horror stories of the academic job market don't make matters easier. It's easy to forget that I've got some advantages your average PhD student does not.

Fortunately, there's usually someone on the internet to slap you in the face when you need it. For any other aspiring PhDs (or those who already have a PhD and are on the job market), I advise you to run, not walk, to Karen Kelsky's blog at TheProfessorIsIn. Dr. Kelsky is a market advisor for the PhD job market, and dishes out the real scoop on getting a job in academia with absolutely no sugar-coating. One of the things she constantly pounds into her readers is "stop acting like a starry-eyed grad student!" And frankly, that's how I've been acting the last few months. The uncertainty before me as I leave the Army has had me nervous that "I don't belong" or "what if they don't like me?" or "they'll find out me out as a fraud...I'll be wrong and they'll know!"

Which, honestly, are ridiculous thoughts completely based in anxiety, not reality. Since the time of my last post, I've had visits with professors at two Ivy League schools that went very well. At one of those schools, I met with the scholar who in many ways is the model for what I want to do, and a scheduled 45 minute meeting turned into 2 1/2 hours of intense discussion. I learned some things, but I also think I demonstrated some possibilities with my research approach that he'd never seen or contemplated before. That's a pretty cool feeling. By the end of the discussion, he was coaching me up on all the things I'd need to do to get into his school. That doesn't say "You're not good enough"--it says "you are good enough, and I want to make sure you get here to study with me."

A few weeks ago I got an email from a well-known journal, asking me to write a review for them of the Oleg Benesch book you see in the "now reading" entry on the left-hand side of my blog. While I understand that review writing isn't the same as getting an article published, and really counts for very little on a CV, it's still pretty amazing to me that I've got enough...profile...for a journal editor to reach out to me and ask me to write a review. I've read the book (it's fantastic, honestly--go read it!) and will write more about it here once the review is out. I felt pretty good that I'm not even in a PhD program yet and I've made enough impression with someone, somewhere that they passed my name on as someone qualified to take on the task.

I'll be going to a conference at the University of Virginia to present my paper that didn't get in to AAS this past year. This will probably be my last conference for the immediate future, unless an invite specifically comes up like it did for the Fields of Conflict last spring. While I've certainly benefited from the networking aspect of these conferences (hey, I got a book review out of it!), it's time to get serious about publishing some of my work.

On that note (and on the note of FoC), I've mentioned before the possibility of a project involving Mongolia. The scoop is that some of the people I met at FoC last year are looking into developing a project to do archaeological investigation of the Nomonhan/Khalkin Gol conflict sites between the Japanese and the Soviets/Mongolians in 1939. I've been specifically asked to be a part of that group, though exactly what form or nature my participation will take is still nebulous, as the project is still in the concept stage. Nevertheless, I'll be reading/posting about Nomonhan a bit in the near future. Most likely I'll be asked to develop models for the conflict much like I did for Nagashino, as a way to inform site selection and analysis prior to digging. I see it as a way to try out all my theoretical ideas, and I'm hoping I can use it to "proof" my methodology in a trial run. A chance to publish the results wouldn't hurt either.

Thanks to everyone who stops by and reads. I see the hits from all over the globe, especially the ones who return, and I appreciate it very much. I need to stop worrying so much and start producing, and that includes content here. Thanks for your patience with me. For now, I've got a book review to finish.