Creating your own database as a research tool

Numerous digital databases exist online for use by historians (i.e. the Old Bailey Proceedings Online; BnF Gallica, etc.). I feel that creating one’s own database (on a much smaller scale than these huge data collections) can be a great way to organize and process one’s own research [i.e. photos taken in an archive, notes, interviews, etc]. This past summer, I began putting my archival research into a Microsoft Access database, but am still working out the kinks in how to best organize and process my data set.

I propose holding a discussion and brainstorming session over the best ways to organize and process primary sources. Questions would include, but not be limited to,

  • What are the benefits and limitations of using/creating a digital database for humanities research? Is it really better than old-fashioned note cards and composition notebooks?
  • What kinds of research questions become possible by having a database at one’s fingertips? What does it mean for humanities research?
  • What are the best practices for organizing research?
  • What are some practical recommendations for how to use databases for research (i.e. file formats, programs, etc.)?
  • Databases for the initiated: do you need to be a programmer to make a solid database?
  • Should databases be project-specific? Theme-specific? Person-specific? Field-specific? Or not specific at all?
  • How might databases be shared? What problems arise with propriety (of the source materials in the database, of the file formats, of the structure of the database, etc.)?
  • Are there benefits to creating one’s own database structure rather than simply using Zotero or otherĀ  research software?
  • Any other related ideas, thoughts, concerns, recommendations, etc.



Categories: General |

About berkelydhc

I am a 4th-year, ABD graduate student working on French colonial history, specifically the French Caribbean at the turn of the century. I moved to the Bay Area with my wife 3 years ago, and last December we had our first child: a happy and healthy baby girl. I've been a longtime techno-phile, and I enjoy working on computers (both software and hardware) in my free time. In another life, I had planned to be a computer programmer, but I settled on history instead. I was recently appointed the Digital Humanities Coordinator for the History Department at the University of California, Berkeley. I've been working to raise technological literacy among graduate students and faculty, and have been overseeing a project to create a networking and resource website for graduate students in the History Department.

2 Responses to Creating your own database as a research tool

  1. Ariel says:

    This is a great topic. I also created an Access database to organized a particular subset of my dissertation research notes–rather amateurish and with mixed results, but also promising in some ways. I’d be most interested in figuring out a kind of template for project specific notes DBs.

  2. Tim Ruckle says:

    I’m very interested in this issue. I just collected 28GB of TIFFs from the archives. Right now it is organized only by the directory structure. I will be loading converted PDFs into Zotero as I cite documents, but how do I manage ALL the data? My preference would be to not have to learn another database, but if there were sufficient benefits…

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