Machine Learning, Data Visualization, Tangible Objects: Clausewitz’s ‘On War’

I knew for the final project of my Information Design and Visual Analytics course that I wanted to make an object, not just a digital file; I knew I wanted to work with text; and I knew I wanted a component that was ‘by hand.’ My art background is in printmaking, and I am very much a process-oriented artist. I’ve been working for a few years on an illustrated children’s edition of Carl von Clausewitz’s ‘On War,’ so the idea struck me of using machine learning techniques to conduct an analysis of the original text.

I decided to make an 8.5″ square accordion book, with machine learning analysis on one side, and the ‘by hand’ project on the other, for a total of 16 pages. I am including here files showing all pages, as well as an alternative version of the dendrogram I completed later, and a photograph of the final product, the actual book.

The full book


Page 1: An Introduction with a Google ngram showing Clausewitz’s significance against that of his chief contemporary rival in the field of western military strategy, Antoine-Henri Jomini


Pages 2-3: A brief excerpt from ‘The Children’s Illustrated Clausewitz”


Pages 4-5: Clausewitz’s definitions of war – a collection of every “war is” phrase in the book


Pages 6-7: Network analysis of frequently used terms in ‘On War’ (updated version)


Page 8: the heart of the matter

This is but one page, and a simple one at that but gets at the heart of the text more directly and succinctly than any other analysis. It is simply a list of the most frequently used terms in ‘On War’ and their most closely associated terms, but serves as a microcosm of Clausewitz’s key themes and ideas. 


The B Side

For the ‘by hand’ portion of the book, I charted the first chapter of ‘On War’ word by word, creating spiral-shaped images for each distinct section out of what I refer to as buttons, color-coded for parts of speech. The labels for each section were also color-coded, according to which part of speech dominated in that section. Each has text underneath, summarizing the key idea of the section, and some of the more famous lines of the work are highlighted in larger print between the spirals.

‘On War’ was, of course, written in German, and I was working with an English translation. I would love to see how this would look with the grammar of its original German, but I think there is still something instructive in seeing the language rendered this way, even in translation. Looking at each spiral, you can see, e.g. red-dominated spirals, where Clausewitz used a lot of verbs: those sections are more kinetic, concerned with movements and attack. Others are dominated by dark blue, nouns, and deal more in concepts, qualities of leadership, or requirements of supply.

The first page of the B side: 



The full B side: 


The tangible object: 

20171206_20175520171206_201813 (1)

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