We're not lost, Sergeant, We're in … France

Understanding Battles: Can a tablet replace my books and maps?

As I prepared for my talk on the 36th Infantry Division at our Operation Dragoon seminar, I’ve had an opportunity to use my new tablet (a Motorola Xoom) to the utmost. It really is a “killer app” for a historian.

My friend, Eric Wittenberg, first wrote about his tentative use of his Nook early last year, then replaced it with an iPad in December. Despite being a software developer in my paid work, I was apprehensive. I love books and maps. The look and feel of each has always been special, and I felt no computer would be able replace them for me.

I tried Kindle, first as a PC app, then on my smartphone. Not the same as a ‘real’ book, but quick and easy. With a library of a few hundred books, I never ventured to read history via Kindle. I had too big of a physical book backlog to consider it.

Then, I needed more detail on the 36th in less than a week. So, I used Google books to buy “First to the Rhine”. I kept flipping pages to review maps, then realized that I could use Google maps on my tablet. Zoom, twist, slide zoom out, add the terrain overlay. I’m sold. I just hope I can figure out how to Bluetooth or connect to the projector with my tablet because it makes understanding the fight at Montelimar so much easier. Maybe this or maybe at the Colmar Pocket seminar in December. It is an amazing tool.

Update: I’ve got a 15-foot mini-HDMI to HDMI cable on order from Amazon so that I can hook to the projector we use at these conferences and to my TV at home for Netflix.

Weekend Wanderings, mid-July 2011
17 July 2011, 11:30
Filed under: Marines, Veterans, WWII | Tags: , ,

One of today’s Freshly Pressed blogs also mentions the use of iPads in learning. I was especially interested at the mention of using them to help out in galleries. I found a few other WWII related blog entries as well:

Tour Guide: There’s an app for that
14 July 2011, 18:13
Filed under: Tours, Understanding Battles | Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve probably told people hundreds of times, you have to walk the ground to understand a battle. I also tell people, pull some money out of your pocket and pay for a guide. Simply walking the field helps, but nothing helps you understand as well as somebody standing there, pointing things out to you, explaining the tactics, the strategy and the details of what happened. Preferably, that guide has maps, photos and a handful of eyewitness accounts to help explain things to you.

Six months ago, Eric Wittenburg got himself a Barnes & Noble Nook, exposing some of us to the possibilities for electronics helping historians in transit or in the field and now, the Civil War Trust has just released it’s third “Battle App” covering First Manassass (aka First Battle of Bull Run). It gives someone with an iPhone or iPad an electronic guide to the battlefield.

Like its predecessors, which explore the battles of Gettysburg and Fredericksburg, the new Battle App includes video segments from top historians, period and modern imagery, and detailed topographical maps that help bring the battlefield to life. Improved onboard battle animations and customizable troop displays allow one to stand where the two armies stood and to learn how their attacks and counterattacks unfolded.  Featuring both primary source material and the commentary of respected historians, the “Bull Run Battle App” offers the convenience of a self-guided tour and the expertise of an expert-led exploration. 

Unfortunately, it’s only out for Apple products thus far. Of course, that does leave the door open for Android development. When I was last in Normandy, Dale Booth and I discussed adding some kind of tool like this for his tours. I have been toying with the idea of developing applications on tablets and especially with this kind of an application in Normandy. There would be so much more that could be done if Dale, Paul or Allan could hand each client (or even just a couple of them) a tablet that they could use during the tour to look at the various maps and photos that they currently display on laminated sheets. In some cases, we could even add videos of veterans speaking while you stand on the spot where they fought.

Now, in my mind, this is only an additional tool for understanding a battle, just as taking a book or a map into the field will help, it can never take the place of an actual guide. No matter how much information we add to any of the tools, it can never replace what you get from the guide. Try remembering how much you could learn just from your textbooks and how much you learned from your teachers. The guide is a teacher – one who takes you to where the historical events happened and then, through the use of tools, helps you understand.

I think the potential is enormous and it energizes me to continue expanding my technical skills so that I can combine my passion for learning and teaching history with those skills.

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