Brian Croxall recently lit up the comment feed at the Chronicle with his ProfHacker comparison of “Zotero vs. Endnote,” where the debate centered mostly around issues of citation fidelity. As Fred Gibbs notes, however, “while citation formatting is one major reason to use bibliographic software, it isn’t necessarily the only or even primary reason, especially in the humanities.” Zotero’s citation functionality was always imagined merely as bait: by providing this labor-saving functionality, Zotero would encourage each user to move her research into what amounted to a fully searchable and shareable relational database that could be subjected to text mining and other analysis. Here researchers could begin to do truly remarkable and new things with their evidence.
About ten thousand years ago, we were introduced to the phrase “time shifting” by a decade-long lawsuit over the right to use VCRs to tape TV shows for later viewing. Today’s DVR has of course made this process far easier and probably more widespread, but the idea remains the same: rather than watch something right now, with no snack breaks, we instead put it off until some later time. Other than the occasionally self-serving gripe about having “a lot of TiVo to catch up on,” time shifting is a settled and dead issue, a non-story. Or it would be, if it were not for the troubling case of historical research.
As a historian I like to think that I’m comfortable with the idea of fields dying. Maybe they’re reborn and live to fight another day (like diplomatic history, or so we all keep hearing), and maybe they never really die at all (like quantitative history, safely entrenched at Paris 1-Sorbonne).
But what about the old workhorse geographic fields like, say, French history? Unless you are Natalie Davis, being a French historian over the last five decades or more probably meant that you, well, went to France to do your research. And why did you go? You told your department chair and your grant funders and your colleagues that you had to get to the archives and the libraries, of course. But let’s be honest here: French historians don’t go to France to get to the documents. Instead we wed ourselves to documents that just so happen to be found only in France, “forcing” us to go there, usually when the weather there is super great, or at least super crappy at home. That’s why we became French historians in the first place. There are a few exceptions to this rule: the handful of self-loathing sad sacks we all know who hate wine and cheese and cigarettes, but this is no time to be cruel. Continue reading
This past week’s THATCamp Firenze was a huge success, offering plenty of opportunities to learn about new projects and the various national and international flavors of digital humanities that are flourishing in Europe. But seriously, on a blog with this title, how can I ignore the most spectacular part of the trip?
- So much pork fat. Note my plate’s single sad leaf of radicchio (it was actually delicious).
- Serge shows Sharon, Amanda, and me how it’s done.
Zotero’s server infrastructure has evolved in countless ways since the project’s 2006 launch, but most of those changes are super boring and not worth remembering. Over the past two months, however, we moved the bulk of Zotero’s back end to Amazon Web Services, a step that I believe is uniquely noteworthy in the context of digital humanities projects and their long-term sustainability. In this post I describe the recent changes to Zotero’s architecture. In the next post I’ll discuss why these changes are important for the digital humanities. This story is long, but it has a moral, and also a van. Continue reading