And I still haven’t found, what I’m looking for…

Photo of my “drafting space” for this interminable siege capitulation chapter. I mean, I thought my analysis of how garrison capitulations were interpreted was complicated, but sheesh. That’s what I get for trying to be systematic about 49 different sieges (125 if I were greedy), with a few dozen sources on each.

The Ugly Side of Historical Research

The Ugly Side of Historical Research

Key:
A. iMac with Scrivener for composing (I’m ambivalent about Scrivener’s sidebar chunks – they get out of control too quickly); Zotero for bibliographing; and Devonthink for the database (sources primary & secondary, searching, metadata, research journal…).
B. Printed (very, very, very) rough draft of chapter sections, with edits.
C. Scraps of paper, one sub-argument (with multiple subpoints) per quarter-sheet. Incorporate into the draft and into the recycling basket you go.
D. Tiny post-it notes with single facts/documents/thoughts/prose to include somewhere. (All the quotes, notes and source summaries are kept in DTPO.)
E. File folders with larger miscellaneous notes on the project. Usually stored long-term in case I ever go back to the topic.

The laptop is usually on the right when I need additional screenspace.
And of course hard copy books occasionally make a cameo as well. Still considering buying a book holder, unless Wayne is going to build a book wheel for me.

I’m usually still thinking through various bits at the drafting stage (“start writing before you think you’re ready to write – or at least by the time it’s already overdue”), so I:

  1. Write down questions and ideas on small sheets of paper – constantly asking myself: “What’s my main point here?” and “Why would anybody care?” and “Who am I arguing with?”
    1. Common questions for this project: What was the process by which A surrendered? How did X, Y and Z respond to the surrender of A? What did people say about the idea of Q? How was the term W used at the time? What was the context in which they made these statements? Are there patterns (geography, chronology, nationality, winning/losing side, relationship to A…) to these responses? How do the answers of the above questions fit into my argument?
  2. Collect these slips of paper at the desk, and start doing some searches in DTPO for the answers:
    1. First skim through documents on the topic I’ve already identified (DTPO topical groups).
      Screenshot 2016-01-08 15.27.36
    2. Then search for relevant people and documents that I’ve already identified (person involved with event, specific source that covers the period/place…). Maybe do a proximity search of some basic terms.
      Screenshot 2016-01-08 15.30.20
    3. Then skim through documents around the date of the event in question, e.g. search all the documents c. 1708.12.07 for commentary on the capitulation of Lille. Damn, I found something else interesting I have to include.
      Screenshot 2016-01-08 15.43.54
  3. Interpret my findings (possibly requiring more thinking-on-paper).
  4. Add my findings (data, conclusions) into the draft in Scrivener.

Still working on a better system: I compose drafts on the computer, but am still old-school enough that I “think” better on paper. There is no substitute for the portability, persistence and spreadability of paper. Just make sure they’re centralized, and ephemeral as well.

Can you tell I’m teaching a research seminar and Historical Research and Writing in a few weeks?

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