A dull, wonkish post about technology and historical research.

10 09 2012

Today I’m starting the second (and last) week of my research trip in and around DC. Last week I was at the Library of Congress. After I leave this Panera, I start in at Archives II, assuming I can figure out the bus schedule.

Most of the papers that I’ve been looking at have turned out to be obscure published speeches and government reports. As I don’t have much time here in the great scheme of things, I’ve found myself checking Google Books to see if everything in front of me was already there. Some of it was. Some of it wasn’t.

I can’t tell you what an enormous change this has been for me. Normally, I’d be taking everything I’m sure I’d use eventually up to the copier and copying like crazy. Now, the LOC has put in the best book scanners that I’ve ever seen (both in the Manuscript Reading Room and in Adams) which you can use for free as long as you have a thumb drive to store your results. Free stuff from the government! Somebody tell Paul Ryan!

I scanned a few pamphlets, but for visual material it’s just priceless. Indeed, I’m also deep in the throes of picking pictures for this book and I’ve basically had to go by memory. Next time it’s going to be different. Of course, this is all to save the spines of the books, but I still feel like I hit the lottery.

I may be alone in this feeling because it seems that most people have gone entirely to cameras. I’ve seen some mounted on tripods, while some people it seems just bring in the same $90 Samsungs that they use on their vacations and snap away. I even saw one woman snapping pictures of her microfilm reader. [It may sound logical, but it sure looks funny.]

I was prepared to start using a camera and a tripod before this sabbatical started, but a few weeks back I changed my mind. Most of the sources I’m using using are pre-1923 and published. Indeed, I really can download most of them for free with a lot less hassle.

For the one-of-a-kind published and archival material (and you know, as more books are becoming available to everyone this is what will set great works of history apart in the future) I’ve got Zotero, which still beats the heck out of note cards. This is going to be my first all Zotero book, and I’m certain it’s going to take months off the writing process. After all, it’s having intellectual control of your research that’s most important when technology makes it easy to flood you with material.

Perhaps it’s a sign of my advanced age that I’ve chosen to avoid swimming in document snap shots. When I do research, I actually enjoy reading what I find in folders rather than just snapping them or even trying to copy it all. In fact, I think I do some of my best thinking that way. And in case you didn’t notice, I hate reading off a computer screen when it can be easily avoided.

Is it any wonder then why I don’t want my entire job to turn out that way?



One response

5 10 2012
A professor-centered pedagogical world. « More or Less Bunk

[…] before, a lot of that material has been in purely electronic form thanks to Google Books and the excellent scanners at the Library of Congress. Yesterday, I snagged a letter in an archive in Indiana that an archivist scanned and e-mailed to […]

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