Just Something Cool I Came Across

I’m exhausted. Even though it happened only five miles from my house, on the campus of my own school, THATcamp 2009 left me too exhausted to do any sort of extended postmortem. It was an amazing (un)conference, I learned a lot, made a lot of connections, and was really reminded why I was interested in doing Digital History projects in the first place.

It was amazing and awesome. If you want a more in-depth treatment of the topic, check out Larry Cebula’s or Jim Groom’s blog posts on the topic. Or if you have a bit more time, just start reading the THATcamp wiki or the 2,600+ tweets hashtagged #thatcamp. (This last link is thanks to Julie Meloni.)

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In non-THATcamp-related news, I’ve been doing a bit of research for a man that a friend put me in touch with, looking through at least four or five linear feet of records at the National Archives in College Park. I found something the other day that, while it isn’t relevant to the research project I was working on, was too cool not to scan and share.

It’s a map made by a member of the 82nd Airborne’s 505th Parachute Infantry Unit, tracing their movement from sometime around (this is an informed guess) August or September of 1944 (after their participation in the invasion of Normandy, but before Operation Market Garden) until some time in 1945, when they were in Germany:

82nd Airborne 505th Map
Click here for a larger version.

It’s rather predictable that this is something I’d be interested in, as it combines several of my scholarly/personal interests– mapping, cartooning, the use of illustration as a narrative technique, etc.

Going through the historical documents and general orders of the 82nd’s 505th, I came across many maps. They were all fascinating, but most of them were fascinating because you were touching history. You were holding a map that was used to plan D-Day at Normandy, for example. That’s an amazing little piece of history to hold in your hands. But the maps themselves, while well-executed, were rather spartan, utilitarian. I came across one that, for purely aesthetic reasons, included a couple planes in the air, flying up the coast of Sicily. I think it was by the same fellow.

But this is the only map I came across like this, that provided not plans but a history, that physically plotted out memory. This map traces out a period of time, the events the soldiers remembers, sights they saw. The women in France and Belgium. The food provided at a somewhat more permanent camp in France. Two separate spates of bad weather in Holland. On to the German lines, and starting to see them falling back, losing ground.

So many important pieces of paperwork and records get lost in the shuffle from wartime to military records to being placed with the Archives. A lot of things you assume you’d be able to find are quite simply not there. But I can see why this map, even being as out of place as it was with its surrounding documents, made it through the multiple shuffles. It’s a remarkable artifact. It took love and attention and time to create, things that were in short supply in wartime. And the resulting work actually helps to serve to tell the story of these soldiers, and to fill in some gaps. Very few of this Unit’s records between Market Garden and 1946 have actually survived the shuffle. What does survive from the War in general in the NARA records tends to reflect more about Army protocol than the emotions and lived lives of the men on the ground. This map can help fill in some of the lacunae in the record.

Plus, it’s just wicked cool. So I thought I’d share.