Digital Tools 6

I don’t want to start a barrage of truly hardcore digital humanities folks laughing at me, but I’ve had such great connections about digital tools on Twitter today that I wanted to write a post at least in part so I could catalog them!

My training in grad school in English didn’t include digital methods, a term I’ve only become familiar with relatively recently. But having worked my way through NYU as an undergrad largely working IT, I came to graduate school rather more adept at navigating digitally than some of my peers. So I find myself, here at the end of my graduate career rather an odd duck. I’ve never been involved in the digital scholarship community, but I have evolved some of my own methods, and pieced together things from odd places.

Three Examples:

Coursework: A relatively accomplished Web designer/ editor by 2001 standards, I made myself a local home page to be my browser default start page. I was annoyed at having to go through the several screens that my university library put between the searcher and the databases, so I included direct links to the proxy authentication pages for the databases I used the most often. I also included links to Blackboard, which some of my courses used, and some administrative stuff like the Student Information System (SIS). For the three years I was in coursework, I barely had to “navigate” the web. I had arranged everything I needed. As it turns out, I had also invented a non-social Delicious.

Studying for my oral exams. No matter what the shape of your doctoral comprehensives, it’s a mountain of information to organize and try desperately to retain. So I did what I had been accustomed to do in IT for so many years. I designed a database! I created an Access database (This was 2004-5, I had not yet made my move to mac and my renunciation of as much of Microsoft as I can) in which I cataloged Title, Author, Notes, Quotations and a little more metadata for each of my readings. I did not, at the time, know the term metadata, but perhaps that’s an aside. In my Access database, I didn’t do anything that I couldn’t have done with Bookends, which I now use.

Writing my dissertation: I used Scrivener rather extensively for my note-taking and organization, as well as for the early drafting stages. By then I knew the term metadata, and the relatively large array of metadata that Scrivener holds was one of the things that made the software attractive to me. I didn’t have any of the primary texts I was working with digitized–they were all current copyright, in-print books, and I was not aware of any ways to digitize them that would be (A) legal and (B) wouldn’t have seemed an unreasonable time investment. (In retrospect, I wish I had worked harder for that. It would have helped in a number of ways.) But I transcribed all my quotations into Scrivener and used the metadata to code my transcriptions for the themes I was examining. It felt a little social-sciencey, but it helped me not lose track of things! Finally, by the time dissertation writing came along, I was using tools, not just inventing them!

Moving Forward

Now that the dissertation project is over, and I’m looking towards teaching writing again in the fall, as well as to working on new scholarship, I decided to ask the internet, via Twitter, what tools are out there that I don’t know about? Most of my time working with digital tools, it seems, has been spent re-inventing the wheel, and this time around I’d love to get right to rolling on wheels that are already true. Here are some of the answers I got:

I’m adding these to my “reference” links today!

What other tools do you use for working with texts? How do you use them? What excites you about them? I’m particularly interested, of course, in people working with contemporary texts under copyright, but I’d love to know about how you use tools.

It’s really a form of self-defense. If I don’t find out what tools are already out there, I’m just liable to reinvent another preexisting one!