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As most historians, I have thousands of images of documents that I use on my research. Some are photographs of manuscripts and others are scans of photocopies that I made from a microfilm at the archives. As I collected my documents, I entered information about them on a FileMaker Pro database so that in the future I could search for either a person or a keyword. I collected thousands of royal letters at the archives in Barcelona and my plan was to work on each chapter thematically. When I wrote a paper on conversion from Judaism to Christianity last summer, all I had to do was search for “converso” in my database. That gave me a list of the documents I had on that topic, I pulled them out or printed them, and used them for my paper. So the idea was to make a list of documents related to the larger theme of each chapter, pull all of the documents out (most I have in photocopies and I was willing to print the ones I had only in digital photographs), put them in a separate folder, and work on them. But once it was clear that the list of documents for my current chapter was in the hundreds and that with each document possibly reaching five pages, I needed a better system that didn’t involve shuffling around massive amounts of loose paper. That’s where Adobe Bridge comes in.

Since we have a 24″ iMac, I thought I could simply go through the documents on the screen and take notes on my laptop. My favourite way to browse through images is to use Bridge, which allows me to easily mark files, move them, rename them, etc. It soon became clear that I could be using Bridge for more than simply displaying the images and perhaps moving them to a separate folder dedicated to the theme of the chapter. You see, Bridge allows for tagging. You can add keywords to any file through it. Better yet, you don’t need Bridge to access those keywords. They get embedded onto the file itself so I can actually search for keywords on Spotlight on Mac OS X and the images would come up. Within a folder, it gives me a list of the all th keywords I have assigned in that folder, which allows me to quickly get to the document I want by clicking on the keyword.

Here’s the setup (click on the images for larger size):

Working

These are some of my Bridge Screen shots, notice the keywords on the left bottom side:

Bridge

Bridge

Another neat thing about Bridge. Notice the film strip on the bottom of the page where it displays the images I’m working on. You’ll notice on the picture above that some of them have a number “2” superimposed. Those are two-documents. I can select all the pages that go together and group them. They still display the same way but it means they don’t get separated and count only as one file on Bridge, which gives me a more accurate sense of how many documents I’m dealing with and how many documents relate to a specific keyword.

For my notes, I’ve been using DevonThink Pro, which is simple, allows you to create files of all kinds within it and has very powerful searching capabilities:

DT_screen

You’ll notice that some files are labeled green and some are yellow. Since one of the objectives is to compare Catalunya with Aragon, I decided to assign a colour to each. Catalunya is yellow and Aragon is green. Looks like this might be a system that will work for me. By the way, for those of you who need printed notes to be able to write, DevonThink allows for easy export of all the files you select as word documents or text files (or even PDF). But I think I’ll try to minimize the printing. When it comes time to write, I’ll go to my carrel, where I have a second monitor (just a 17″ flat screen, those can be had for very little money these days) and I can display the notes on one screen while I write on the other.

Scribe is turning out to be very buggy for importing info from my Bookends bibliography database. I came across DEVONthink, a really powerful information manager that seems VERY flexible and can index, search, organize, create wiki-style links, cross-reference, all kinds of files. It’s not free but it might be a good investment…

Take a look on the video here. Hmm, another toy to play with…

Most of my documents at the archives are available in microfilm, which, although nice for preserving the integrity of the 600-year old documents I look at, means that the only available copying method is a paper photocopy from the microfilm. It’s all very nice to have hard copies of things but for a big research project such as mine, it means I end up with thousands of paper sheets to bring home.
I pondered about it for a while. The lot was too heavy to bring with me as carry on when I go back to Canada. Sending it through the mail or as checked luggage means a risk I’m not prepared to take. The only way I could do it is if I had a second set of copies done. That way, I could send one set, wait until it got there and then send the second set without having to worry about it. There’s only one problem with that: it would double the amount of paper and weight of the whole lot.

The solution occurred to me when I had to scan a document for my dad. Since we don’t have a scanner at home here, I went to a local photocopying place in Gracia. I noticed that their photocopying machine was also a scanner so theoretically, it would be just as easy for them to scan something as it would to photocopy it. So I talked to Susana, the girl in charge, and we agreed on a price per volume to scan my documents. I took about half of what I have sitting at home last week and went to pick it up yesterday. Total: 2,771 pages. About 1.5 GB stored on a DVD. And that’s only half of what I have photocopied at home! And I have probably as many pages from the digital registers*! I estimate that by the end, I’ll probably have somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 manuscript pages, covering a short period of 10 years.

I’ll definitely need to find a way of narrowing it down when I get back….

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* some of the chancery registers I look at have been digitized (photographed) and I was able to just copy the image files instead of making photocopies of those…