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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):


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



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:


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.


Chatting with one of my profs the other day, I realized that to finish my dissertation this year and do all the other things I want to do (i.e. teach, organize events, work on crrs website, committee work, go to the gym, socialize, learn Hebrew, etc), I’ll need to start getting up at 4 in the morning. I can see myself waking up that early and working only on my dissertation before the day begins. I’ll start with 5 am this coming week and see how it goes.

It’s been a month since I moved back to Toronto and I’m still not quite into working mode yet. I need to get back into reading my sources and jotting down ideas and outlines. I just haven’t been able to make myself do that yet. I’m still putting away the thousands of photocopies I brought back from Spain and getting a little afraid of the next stage… I did have one breakthrough – I got ideas for at least four (possibly five) chapters! Two I’m not looking forward to since they’ll be boring to write but necessary. The other two should be very interesting so I think I’ll start with the interesting ones to get the ball rolling 😉 Anyways, these ideas just came to me as I sat in a café the other day… love when that happens…

Some interesting links:

Web tools for students.

Using a blog as a course website.

I’m an Internet junkie. I admit it. I honestly should be attending Internet anonymous meetings.

One of my biggest problems is how to get away from checking my email, rss feeds and other distracting internet sites, long enough to be able to get work done. This post has some very helpful suggestions for those of us working on a Mac but some of its advices  could be easily applied to Windows machines as well. I particularly like these points:

“Put an away message up on iChat and stick to it. Better yet: turn off iChat all together. No point in being online if you can’t talk anyway, right? Lower the refresh rates on Mail, your RSS reader and Twitterrific from, say, one to five minutes to a less eventful thirty minutes. If you think your task is going to take a bit longer than the norm, then lower the refresh rates closer to an hour. If everything stops beeping and bouncing in your dock and desktop, I’m sure you’ll be less tempted to break away from your work and be sucked back into your social life.


The portability of a laptop allows you to take it almost anywhere and some places you go may be distracting, such as Starbucks, the park or even your own living room. Even if you have a laptop computer, it is still useful to have an area set aside as your workspace in which you can focus and begin to work on what you need. After all, if you aren’t in a calm and comfortable place, how will those creative juices begin flowing? 


After a long period of time, you may grow irritable and unmotivated to continue your work. So, give yourself a break. All work and no play is never the answer. Even the biggest corporate geniuses take a lunch hour. If you give yourself a break each time your pump out a few paragraphs to your research paper or each time you complete a chapter of the family vacation DVD you’re creating, you will begin to feel motivated to do it again so that you can get the same reward.”

All these advices are very good. I do need a workspace to be able to feel motivated to work and that’s what my carrel has become. I also need breaks and I have no trouble in taking them, particularly for lunch. I never thought of lowering the refresh rates on my email though, and that certainly would help with the Internet addiction!!

[this was originally posted at my main blog]

We got our iMac and my iPod yesterday. More on that later… all I can say is… Holy cow, the screen is HUGE! I guess 24 inches was a bit of an overkill, but hey, we do lots of graphic work…

On another note, I’ve discovered I really can’t do much academic work at home. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the messiness of all the moving boxes that distract me, all I know is that I’ve been procrastinating writing a report about my research for the past two weeks. I finally decided to go out to the local coffee shop and write there. In one hour I had written two reports and a newsletter blurb! This morning I came to the library and in a  couple of hours I typed my reports, edited them, sent emails to my committee, fellow conference-organizer JP, the administrator of CRRS about a possible fellowship, and my department about a misplaced tax form… Suddenly, after a month and a half in limbo, I feel productive again!!

Hope the feeling lasts because I just received notice that my abstract was accepted for an international conference in Chicago next April. It will be my first big conference and I’m not even sure my paper is do-able… Hope so…

This is pretty much the system I use:

by Dr Mike Kaspari

Replace the Hipster PDA for a small moleskine or moleskine weekly agenda and the rest is pretty much the same… Particularly the Moleskine Notebook part (I have a lined one instead of gridded) and the switching back and forth between scribbling on a paper and typing on a computer.

Check the full description at Getting Things Done in Academia

From the Latin pro meaning for and cras meaning tomorrow… Ah, my days as an undergrad! I used to be SO organized… I set myself earlier deadlines for all my papers and assignment and always had them finished about a week before they were due. I wrote my honours thesis in about 2 months working only on fridays and during the week of spring break. I handed it in on March 23rd and my supervised joked that she probably shouldn’t accept it since nobody had ever submitted it so early before.

But then came grad school. I thought I could keep this up, that I would have more time to devote to each course, to the thesis, etc. How naive I was… Now I seem to be the queen of procrastination. I keep checking my email, writing blog entries, etc when I should be maximizing my research time. The truth is, my eyes are getting more and more tired of staring at the dark screen of a microfilm reader… Only 6 more weeks left!

For what it’s worth, here’s some tips on how to avoid procrastination.  I’ll probably need to put these into practice when I get to TO.

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