Why I went (back) to the AHA

Last week I attended the American Historical Association’s annual meeting in Chicago. Although I’ve always thought of myself as a historian, I hadn’t been to an AHA meeting since my first year of grad school in 2004. In part, I hadn’t been going because I’m affiliated with so many disciplines that it’s difficult to keep up with all the meetings. But I also hadn’t been going because I wasn’t sure what the AHA would do for me. I won’t be interviewing there, since I’m not applying for teaching jobs, and playing the big-conference game (pretending not to notice the thousands of ways people behave disrespectfully to each other) has started to seem unnecessary to me.

I did go back, though, for a few reasons. First, I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve only recently come to understand how scholarly societies might be important sites of change within the academy. In my mind, AHA, MLA, SCMS, and their ilk were bureaucratic prestige-machines, awarding prizes and manning the gates for the old guard.

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Research tools redux: What I use

Photo of archival binders
Photo by pixelhut

I posted recently about tools for managing a research workflow, and one of the points I made is that no set of tools will be right for everyone. I’ve tried and failed to foist my favorite tools on enough people to know that this is true.

Still, after I wrote the post, a few people asked me which tools I use. I do indeed have a number of favored tools, and since I find myself endlessly fascinating, I enjoyed the chance to consider why I use them and what it says about me as a researcher. I’d also really love to hear what you use and why!

Here’s what I use in a nutshell:

I haven’t used DEVONthink much in the past, but after giving it a more concentrated trial for my last post, I suspect it will make its way into my workflow, too.

Here’s why these tools work for me:

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Reading Steve Jobs: labor, race, and growing up in the Bay Area

"Silicon Valley," by Revolweb

Not long ago I read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. Or I should say I listened to it, as an audiobook, on my iPhone. The experience was riveting, though not always pleasant.

Like Steve Jobs, I grew up in the Bay Area. In fact, I was growing up in the Bay Area while Jobs was building Apple. Like Jobs, I was accustomed to hearing old-timers describing how before the boom, there used to be apricot orchards, just down there, “far as the eye could see.”

What fascinated me, though, was how far away Apple’s Cupertino headquarters seems from East Side San Jose, where I grew up. Jobs might as well have been living in a different Bay Area.

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Embarrassments of riches: Managing research assets

Last updated May 15, 2013

There’s research, there’s writing, and then there’s that netherworld in between: wrangling all the digital files you gather over the course of your work. Digital files are often easier to deal with than stacks of paper, but they can also proliferate frighteningly quickly.

I teach a workshop on this topic, catchily titled Managing Research Assets (better names welcome). Below is a digital version of the workshop handout, followed by a link dump of my favorite posts about developing and refining digital research workflows. You can also download a PDF version of my handout, or a Word version if you’d like to modify it.

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My Ada

Dora Goldstein
Dody at a PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) rally in 2008. This was her Facebook profile photo!

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, which celebrates women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics by honoring Ada Lovelace, whom many name the first computer programmer.

My Ada is Dora B. Goldstein, or Dody, as everyone called her, who died Sunday. She was a pioneer in so many ways: one of the first women to enroll in Harvard Medical School, a leading expert on the pharmacology of alcohol, and a professor at Stanford. She was also a civil rights activist who campaigned for women in the academy and, later in life, a leader in the gay rights movement.

She was also my husband’s grandmother, which is how I knew her — a great cook and attentive listener who was so interested in what we were up to. She punctuated our stories with “How wonderful!” and made us feel important and loved. She was a person of endless compassion, curiosity, and intelligence, a role model for me. We’re lucky to have known her.

The iPad in academic settings: what I like, what I’d like to see

Woman using her cat as an iPad Stand
"iPad Stand" by Veronica Belmont

One of the developers here at the library asked me to tell him a little bit about my experience using the iPad in an academic setting. Here are his questions:

  • Where do you find your self using the device the most?
  • What do you really enjoy/hate about the device?
  • Is there anything that you think is really missing(software or hardware)?
  • How would you use the device in an academic  setting?
  • Is there any app that you think must be written for use in the academic setting?

And here are my answers:

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Film Study: an iPad app built for cinephiles

Film Study iconI’ve been using an iPad for about six months now. I like it, don’t get me wrong, but it hasn’t been the life-changing device I’d sort of been expecting. I haven’t found that many apps that really take advantage of the specific qualities of the iPad: its shape and size, the multi-touch surface. (Some exceptions: Flipboard, for reading news, and Aweditorium, for discovering new music.)

I’ve been excited about one particular app, though, because it evinces such careful attention to the way that film scholars want to spend time with their medium. Film Study is a free iPad app that makes it easy and natural to take time-stamped notes on films as they play.

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Batch-processing photos from your archive trip

The National Archives in College Park, Maryland, where it seemed most researchers were using digital cameras or scanners.

Today at THATCamp Southeast I helped organize a session (with Andrew Famiglietti from Georgia Tech) called Research Hacks. We brainstormed ways to use technology to enhance research, both at the archive and when examining born-digital sources. After I proposed the session, I had a moment of panic when I realized I didn’t really have any great hacks to offer. Luckily, I had a few hours and the impetus to finally put together some techniques I’d been meaning to investigate.

Like many researchers, I use a camera to take photos of documents during archival research trips. My problem comes when I arrive home with a bunch of photos that look like this:

File full of images labeled "DSC ..."

Ugh. What to do with all these “DSCs”? Here’s a way to convert those images into documents that are actually searchable and usable.

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Technology postcards, which are exciting to me (but probably not to you) because I made them!

Here’s something kind of silly: a set of postcards I made for Yale’s Instructional Technology Group to advertise the Teaching with Technology Tuesdays series of workshops on technology and pedagogy. Each one is an image of older reading technology, which I have improved and modernized!

This was a really fun project for me because it was my first time using Photoshop for anything other than cropping and autobalancing photos. Basically, I watched about 20 hours of Lynda.com videos. (Pretend you didn’t read that, dissertation advisers.) OK, yes, there may be some issues with perspective, but, whatever, I made them and therefore think they are brilliant. Continue reading “Technology postcards, which are exciting to me (but probably not to you) because I made them!”

The internet worked again!

I was thinking about my last post, in which I said my experience with The Temple of Moloch was my first encounter with Internet-ty Scholarly Synergy. I remembered, though, that this is actually untrue. Back when I worked at the Museum of the Moving Image, I had an awesome and totally nerdy online encounter with a patron about the Museum’s model of a spacecraft from the film 2010.

The Museum had an alert set up so that we’d know if anyone mentioned MMI in a Flickr caption. Someone did, Flickr user beamjockey (Bill Higgins), who posted a photo of the spacecraft along with a caption questioning the Museum’s identification of it as the ship Discovery. Concerned that the Museum was propagating false information, I emailed Bill to get specifics so I could correct the model’s label.

Bill Higgins turned out to be a scientist at Fermilab and an all-around great guy, and he called on his scientist friends to help us identify the model. I helped by watching 2010. After much debate, we decided that MMI’s label was indeed technically accurate, although it showed only a portion of the craft in question.

I was nerdily delighted by the whole thing.

You can read a wonderful (to me) transcript of the whole episode here. And here are some more pictures of the part of Discovery that sparked the Great Debate.