Blog Post #5

Technology both helps and hinders historical research in varied and highly significant ways. Honestly, it should go without saying, but even then it is worth serious reflection.

As Erickson reflects in his article, the utilization of a database for keeping track of notes and findings can be highly useful. I agree with the author fully in believing that information management is a necessity for the field. Even in undergrad classes I recall professors advising we keep citations on index cards; a database is a natural and far more elegant solution. Having extra means of keeping track of notes and such not only prevents filling books with sticky tabs, but also does allow for new organization and perspective. While I am unfamiliar with using a database for note-taking and citations, I use the Notes app across all my apple devices, and in running my local sci-fi/fantasy convention, I’ve made good use of Trello, for keeping track of tasks and keeping notes. These individual notes can be arranged in groups and moved around as needed, so I feel it would be of great use to researchers.

(A screenshot of my  convention Trello)

Similarly, google helps open entire new dimensions of research, and avenues for research, as discussed by both Leary and Ramsay. A single google search reveals myriad sources on any given topic, or clarification for unknown terms. This does however, as Ramsay worries, remove the element of luck from the research process. I would personally suggest a hybrid approach to research, utilizing both online searches and simple wandering of the stacks. Even when I do go to the library to get a specific book, I cannot help but peruse the surrounding shelves for extra texts that could prove useful.

Despite the uses of technology, it does also have its limitations. In the (very technologically dated) article by Bell, he discusses the shortcomings of technology in providing a pleasant reading experience. I agree reading off a computer screen is a highly unpleasant experience, even with the modern high-definition screens of today, and I abhor the thought of trying to mark places in digital text, even in PDFs. I do however, also enjoy reading stories on my iphone. It seems for pleasure reading I don’t mind digital text, but for serious reading I will always prefer a physical book. Though the Librie discussed in the article is out of date, perhaps a NOOK is a better experience? I seem to recall a lot of emphasis for the e-reader being placed on the screen having the lighting and tactile quality of paper.

Technology can and does without a doubt streamline the research and writing process, but it also removes a distinct sense of randomness and whimsy as well. The human element, if you will.


Further Reading:

Ansley T. Erickson, “Historical Research and the Problem of Categories”
Patrick Leary, “Googling the Victorians”
William J. Turkel, Kevin Kee and Spencer Roberts, “A Method for Navigating the Infinite Archive”
David A. Bell, “The Bookless Future: What the Internet is doing to Scholarship, New Republic
Stephen Ramsay, “The Hermeneutics of Screwing Around; or What You Do with a Million Books”

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