Note-Taking Under Siege!

After a brief diversion to real EMEMH, we now return to my regaling you with stories of my Indiana Jones-esque adventures with notes and quotes. But it gets even more exciting, if you can bear to stand it. For there were actually *two* tiers to my dissertation note-taking. First there were the notes on secondary sources and from primary sources, as described in the previous post. Another type of note was more specific to my research subject. As it became more clear that I was going to focus on the details of siegecraft for my dissertation, I realized that I needed a more systematic system for the sieges in particular, especially when I discovered the various errors in prior datasets. The result, after too much thought, was a template that allowed me to keep track of oodles of details, by source:

Siege form, circa 1997

I have possibly a hundred or so of these, usually several for each siege. This was an improvement in that there was some standardization: the template provided numerous (too many, as it turns out) prompts to look for certain pieces of info in each source. Plus, even though there is a ton of info, spatially it’s always found at the same location on the page: the timetable is always center right, etc.

But of course there are multiple problems that I didn’t consider early on. Comparing across sources (i.e. across multiple sheets of paper) was still a pain, and unfortunately I didn’t always record the exact page number for each factoid (didn’t have room in fact). The second fault was irreversible, at least without going back to the original source, or, as I did on occasion, fudge by citing the footnote as Millner, p. 224ff. The first shortcoming, however, could be rectified: I added more paperwork! Created yet another form in which I could summarize the various sources source siege forms. It looked like this:

Siege summary form, circa 1997

But that turned out to be less than ideal, since I needed to do calculations on the dates, averages for the sizes and casualties, and so on. So I quickly abandoned this summary siege form (which also served the purpose of showing me how many sources I had on each siege) and fearlessly struck out into the digital realm once again. All the siege length data was entered into a complicated Excel workbook, with different tabs for different authors, links across worksheets, graphs, etc. A right mess in fact, although at least it had the ability to calculate and compare sources:

Siege data Excel sheet, circa 1998ish

Much more useful, once I realized that I needed to fix the years since my date calculations were often a day off (something about the 1900 vs. 1904 system I think, plus leap years, plus it originally confusing my month-day for 2002 instead of 1702).

But I couldn’t be fully happy with Excel, just as I couldn’t stick with Word for my text notes. I had already gotten the hang of Access, so this part didn’t take nearly as much time. One form looked like this:

As it turned out, I didn’t actually use this part of the database that much, though I still use the various EventIDs all the time in my keywording.  But, I consoled myself, if I end up not getting a teaching job, maybe I could be a database administrator? Fortunately that hypothetical wasn’t tested. What might have been I suppose…


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