Doing historical research is both an intellectual task and a management and organizational task. Doing it well requires careful thought about organizing and keeping track of one’s research materials. This work needs to be done at the beginning of a project and the systems one develops need to be followed consistently.
Several considerations are important:
- Note-taking and copying: How will you collect notes about the historical materials you encounter? Will you take notes? Will you want to scan or photograph articles, documents and other materials so as to keep complete facsimiles of them? Where will you keep all of these notes and copies?
- File management: If you collect lots of images, articles, scans and other digital files, how will you name and identify them so that you know what they are and where they were gotten?
- Search and sort: You may collect information (articles, documents, notes, photographs and other materials) from many different libraries, archives, online repositories, etc. How will you integrate those materials? How will you find what you are looking for? How will you meaningfully group the materials that need to go together? Being able to flexibly manipulate what you have collected by topic, date, author, or other characteristic may be crucial to drawing meaning from the materials and seeing larger historical patterns and relationships.
- Aid in writing: How will you keep your materials readily accessible and viewable while you are creating some kind of text or narrative about them? Is cutting and pasting between your materials easy?
- Citation: How will you keep track of the information about your sources so that you can retrace your steps and provide appropriate document for where you got your information? How will you track the information that allows you to create complete citations for your information?
The best available current system for dealing with management of historical research materials is an application called Zotero. Developed with the needs of humanities researchers in mind by the pioneering digital humanists at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, Zotero is a flexible and easy to use data management system that addresses all of the above problems and has the capability to allow teams of researchers to share their collections of research materials.
To get ready, you’ll need to do the following things:
- Download Zotero to your computer.
- Read/watch basic documentation for Zotero. This includes reading about getting stuff into Zotero and about syncing/collaborating.
- You might also enjoy this YouTube video about why students should love Zotero.
- Create an account at Zotero.org. Please use your UNC email for this, so I can easily “share” our Blue Ridge Parkway research group with you, enabling the entire class to collaborate on creating a single Zotero “collection” of Parkway research notes and materials.
- Open Zotero on your local machine and click the little “gear” button to bring up the settings. Choose the tab for “Sync.” Under “Zotero Sync Server,” put in your Zotero username and password, and click “sync automatically,” and both checkboxes under “file syncing.” This will allow your research materials to go to the “cloud” and be shared with our Blue Ridge Parkway group. Close the settings.
- Now, when you have Zotero open on your computer (as distinguished from logging in to the site), you should see the Blue Ridge Parkway “Group” in the lefthand sidebar.
- Right click on the Blue Ridge Parkway “Group” and create a “New Collection” under your last name (see example for me).
- All research materials used, including books, articles, images, pamphlets, letters, newspaper articles, or any other primary or secondary source should receive an individual entry (with full citation information) in Zotero, which you will add to your “Collection.”
- You are welcome to use tags (in fact, please do) to categorize your items by subject. There is already a good set of tags associated with the Blue Ridge Parkway group (they are also visible, or should be, at the lower left in the right-hand column of Zotero)