I have been building a database of information relating to the 219 U.S. military pensioners who were recorded as living in Ireland in 1883. These pensioners and their families have been the topic of numerous posts on the site and I hope in the future will form the basis for a book recounting their stories. The group represents an ideal sample with which to attempt to ‘visualise’ the impact of the American Civil War on Irish people. Recently I took to the web-based platform Palladio, developed by the Humanities & Design Research Lab at the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis, Stanford University, in order to explore the types of visualisations possible with this data.
Palladio was developed for the visualisation of complex, multi-dimensional data. It is free to use- all that is required is having the information to upload and the time to prepare it appropriately. For that purpose I developed three tables based around the Irish pensions. The information contained within the tables was gleaned from a variety of sources. Details on which pensions were being paid in Ireland was taken from the 1883 List of Pensioners on the Roll; this was supplemented with additional data drawn from the marvellous online resources that have been made available by the National Archives via the Fold3 website. These included the Pension Numerical Index, the Civil War and Later Veterans Pension Index, the Civil War “Widow’s Pensions”, Navy Widows Certificates and Navy Survivors Certificates. In addition to gathering baseline data on each of the 219 pensioners a further 65 pension files were examined in detail, revealing further details on aspects of the pensioners life, such as marriage details and death location.
The first table I prepared contained details of the pensions themselves and (where the information was available) included the name of the pension recipient, the name of the veteran, the state for which they served if in a volunteer unit, the veteran’s place of death, the veteran’s cause of death, the year of the veteran’s death, the post office location in Ireland where the pension was received, the year of death of the pensioner, marriage location, marriage year, U.S. habitation location of the pensioner and the year in which the pension was awarded.
The second table contained the full name of every pensioner and veteran, and their relationship. All of the Irish pensions were being claimed by one of four groups- the veteran themselves, the widow of a veteran, the dependent mother of a veteran or the dependent father of a veteran. The final table listed the locations in the United States and Ireland associated with the pension, with coordinates for each added using Google Maps. These three tables were then uploaded to Palladio and linked together, creating an opportunity to interrogate the data visually. To gain the full benefit of Palladio you need to upload the data and view it at their website in realtime. I hope to make the tables readily accessible in the future- in the meantime if any reader is particularly interested in viewing the full results themselves, I would be happy to make a copy of the .json Palladio file for the project available, so you can view it and interrogate it for yourself at the Palladio site. In order to bring a flavour of its use to readers of the blog, I have captured a number of screenshots of the visualisations from Palladio to share here (Note: to see the images at full size click directly on them).
The visualisation of data in this form allows us to see the impact of the American Civil War in different ways, beyond simply casualty figures from the battlefield. It is also a stark reminder that the misery the war inflicted was not restricted to the United States. Similarly, it highlights that the benefits and supports of the pension system introduced in 1862 could be felt thousands of miles away, even by people who had never set foot in America. For me, seeing the tendrils of impact spread far and wide, touching so many individuals and places- based on just 219 pensioners- tells us much about the colossal effect of the war on the hundreds of thousands of Irish emigrants who experienced it.
*None of my work on pensions would be possible without the exceptional effort currently taking place in the National Archives to digitize this material and make it available online via Fold3. A team from NARA supported by volunteers are consistently adding to this treasure trove of historical information. To learn more about their work you can watch a video by clicking here.
References & Further Reading