Research tools and other technology, part I

My dissertation uses a number of different types of sources, including oral history interviews and their transcriptions, published and unpublished texts, physical sites/locations/designs, and material culture items, such as pamphlets and posters. This has made the process of organizing my data somewhat tricky. Before I left for my archival visits, I read a bunch of blog posts and other guides to using technology in humanities research. These are listed at the end of this post for your information. In a series of posts, I will briefly describe the software and other tools I use for research, and try to explain how I have gotten them to work together to minimize confusions with organization and to facilitate efficient searching.

My three most basic tools are:

-Laptop (Macbook from 2008) and external hard-drive

-DSLR Camera (Pentax K-x – 12.4Mp). In addition to the 2 kit lenses (18-55mm and 50-200mm), I have a 35mm f/2.4 AL lens that is amazing for photographing text in low light conditions.

-Recording devices (small digital recorder (Sony Digital Flash Voice Recorder) + a table mic (CAD U7 USB Desktop Condenser Recording Mic) for recording on my laptop – very useful for recording phone interviews)

With these three devices, I can collect all of my data, digitize it, and use it as evidence in my research. With the exception of my computer, I invested in these tools in 2010, using funds from a pre-dissertation research grant. Since then, I added the extra lens above and contemplated getting an iPad based on the articles linked below. Ultimately, I decided that the iPad, though advantageous in terms of size, would not help streamline my research. This was for two reasons. First, my camera is guaranteed to take higher quality photos than the iPad camera. Second, the extra step of taking notes on the iPad and transferring them to my dissertation database (explained below) was not worth it. I wanted to be able to type on a familiar keyboard and have software be readily accessible. As I will explain later, this made my time in the archive very efficient.

My next post will explain the software I use to bring these tools together.

In the meantime, some articles you should read:

On iPads:

History Sidebar: “An iPad Walks into the National Archives and Meets wi-fi” and a follow up post

Shane Landrum: “Archival research photo Q&A: iPads, big documents” (on iPads as research cameras)

Delinking Rhetorics: “Day 2: First Day Actually Researching” (also on iPads for photography)


Mirriam Posner: “Research Tools Redux” (an especially good one because it discusses learning styles) and “Batch-processing photos from your archive trip” (on using Hazel and Automater, plus OCR)

Android for Academics (useful even if you are not a PC person – a lot of Google docs tools for teaching)


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