Back in July I posted about a Python script I was working on to help with organizing photos of archival documents. I didn’t think it would all that interesting to many other people, but a comment from Chris Williams made me realize that there’s potentially quite a lot of demand for something like this. Digital photography in archives doesn’t seem to be much of a sexy buzz topic among digital historians, but it’s something that lots of researchers do even if they’re not into digital history (although Melissa Terras‘s latest book seems to cover it). As far as I know there aren’t any tools specifically designed to help with organizing large numbers of document images. The python script I’m working on is just a stopgap thing which is mostly specific to what I’m doing and how I work, and is never likely to be very user friendly. Maybe what we need is a Firefox extension that plugs into Zotero, or maybe image management features in Zotero itself. Some features that might be useful:
- Browse a directory of images in Firefox (I used to use MozImage for this, as I was reminded when I found this old post)
- Mark a page image as being the first or last in a document (this is the really crucial thing, and I’m not aware of any image browsers that can currently do it)
- Create sub-directories for documents and move images into them based on first and last markers
- Create Zotero items for marked documents, maybe with some fields pre-filled in a standard form which can be applied to all documents in a directory. For example, if I’m working through box SP 24/30 from the National Archives, set Repository to “TNA” and Loc in Archive to “SP 24/30”.
- Upload images to Flickr and create sets for them, maybe based on associated Zotero items; attach Flickr links to relevant Zotero items
I’m not in a position to do this myself right now, but I need to learn how to make Firefox extensions sooner or later. Apart from image management stuff, I also need a word count extension (I usually draft most of my writing in a private wiki instead of a word processor; having Firefox count the words for me is much easier than pasting into Open Office just to see how much I’ve written). The one I used to use isn’t compatible with Firefox 3.6 and the author hasn’t updated it for a long time. Counting words can’t be that hard can it? Or maybe it is.
So, does anyone have any thoughts on image management? If you take lots of photos in the archives, how do you deal with them once you get them home? Is there any software I don’t know about which would do what I need? What features would make your life easier?
8th March is International Women’s Day, and March is National Women’s History Month in the US (it would be nice if there were more of them in a year, otherwise we have 11 men’s history months and 364 men’s days by default, but you can’t have everything, especially if you’re a woman…). The theme of this year’s Women’s History Month is Writing Women Back Into History. I’ll probably write some posts about women’s and gender history later in the month. But right now seems like a good time to announce a new website/blog:
They Really Do Exist “aims to be a directory of women who are active in traditionally male arenas”, “for all those people who are sick of hearing ‘But there ARE no women in that sector!’ when they ask why the media or other publicity downplays the role played by women in any given area”. The site was the idea of Jennie Rigg, a female political blogger who is, in her own very apt words, “FUCKING SICK” of being told that there are no female political bloggers. What I find most striking about this situation is that many male political bloggers (even liberal ones) try to delegitimize feminism by claiming that it isn’t really politics. In contrast, anti-feminist academics are more likely to delegitimize feminist history by asserting that it is political and therefore doesn’t meet their standards of (false) neutrality. This double standard gives patriarchy the best of both worlds and makes things even more difficult for feminists. Maybe part of the problem of patriarchal equilibrium is that feminists are intellectually honest and abhor hypocrisy, whereas patriarchy thrives on it. Anyway, if you know of a woman who should be included in the list, leave a comment at the submit page.
Inspired by Jennie’s example, I’ve expanded the scope of the War and Gender Zotero group to include works on any aspect of military history written by women. There are now two sub-collections in the group library: one called “About Gender” which includes any works about the intersections of gender and sexuality with war written by anyone (which is what the group was originally limited to), and one called “By Women” which includes anything relating to wars and armed forces written by women. The new collection is still in its early stages. So far it only contains works by women that were already in the group library. There are lots more items in my personal library which need to be added. I’ve almost certainly made some embarrassingly wrong assumptions about people’s gender based only on their forenames, despite being trained by the Cambridge Population Group not to do that. [ETA 13 May 2011: I stopped doing this because it was too much trouble!]
And finally, here’s a photo of a nurse and some “munitions girls” from the First World War:
Last year computer programming was out, but now it’s back in. For me anyway. Having finished my data entry job in October I’ve got more spare computer time, which means I can be more active in digital history again. Some things are different now. Zotero has groups and syncing. The Programming Historian has moved since the last time I looked at it. I can finish my digital edition of Sandall’s history of the 5th Lincolns because Major Teall’s epilogue came out of copyright in the UK at the start of this year. But the biggest change is that I’ve switched my operating system from Windows to Linux. When I built my new desktop PC (codenamed Zen) I installed Ubuntu, and I love it. My laptop (codenamed Orac) still has Windows Vista, but I don’t use it much.
Changing to a completely different operating system might sound like a big step but it was actually really easy. This is partly because most of the applications I use are cross platform. I use Firefox more than any other application (and possibly more than all other applications put together). Don’t think that I spend all my time idly browsing the web: Firefox is vital for my historical research and writing. I use Zotero to store, sort, and access all the bibliographic data plus associated notes and PDFs for my research projects. These can all be synced between my PCs via the Zotero server and my own WebDAV server. My works in progress are now drafted on a private wiki which is also necessarily accessed through my web browser. This is much more powerful and flexible than writing in Word like I used to. Every page has an edit history so I can easily compare versions and revert to an earlier one. Wikilinks make it easy to fit sections together in different orders and link to supplementary information. Thanks to Google my e-mail and RSS feed reader are also on the web. When I’m not using Firefox, I still mostly use cross-platform applications. For the last few years I’ve used oXygen for XML editing and jEdit for find and replace operations, both of which are written in Java. Python can run on Linux, Windows and Macs, and although that doesn’t necessarily make individual scripts cross-platform it doesn’t really matter when I’m writing them for myself. The only Windows specific app that I’ve relied on in the last few years is MS Access. Even that was mainly because I was getting paid good money to put data into it for someone else. For my own research I’ve got some old databases from my PhD research, but all I ever need to do with them is export data into other formats.
Given all this, changing to Linux was not likely to be much of a problem, but that would be understating things. In fact it turned out to be a big advantage. Ubuntu is actually much quicker and easier to install and set up than Windows. It just works out of the box and comes with most of the things that most people need to get started. Open Office, Firefox, and even Python are all pre-installed. Once I’d added my favourite Firefox extensions and synced my Zotero library I was ready to do most of what I need to do. The only tricky things were manually installing a proprietary graphics driver and setting up DVD playback, but even this wasn’t too hard. If you don’t have a powerful new graphics card and don’t need 3D performance out of it, the pre-installed open source driver will be adequate for desktop stuff. Even setting up a network printer was completely painless.
Adding new applications is generally much easier than on Windows. Instead of buying a CD or downloading an executable file you can just access software repositories via a menu and tick boxes to select apps you want to be downloaded and installed. Because most of these apps are free in every sense of the word (like Ubuntu itself) you won’t have to pay money or agree to a licence that sells your soul to the devil. Via the repositories I could easily install Geany (a code editor which I now use for Python programming: I actually like it more than Komodo), gFTP (FTP client), the aforementioned jEdit, and the BeautifulSoup library for Python. It only took a few simple commands at the terminal to install and set up an Apache server with PHP and MySQL for local testing. oXygen had to be downloaded and installed manually as it’s a proprietary application, but the academic licence is cheap and cross-platform: I originally bought it for Windows but my licence automatically carries over to Linux. To get it working properly I had to install the proprietary Sun version of Java, but that was easy to do via the repository. There is a thing called WINE which lets you run some Windows programs in Linux, but so far I’ve only used it for listening to music with Spotify.
With everything set up to my liking, Ubuntu has made me fitter, happier and more productive. It’s faster, more secure, more stable, and less annoying than Windows. You can start using it as soon as the desktop appears on the screen instead of waiting for it to finish starting, or dealing with a patronising storm of pop-ups about how your anti-virus might be out of date or how you’ve got unused icons on your desktop. The Blue Screen of Death is now just an unpleasant memory. Linux users generally don’t have virus scanners or software firewalls because we don’t need them. The only major problem I’ve had so far is when an upgrade to a new version didn’t agree with my proprietary graphics driver and made it impossible to boot to the desktop from the hard disk. Even that was surprisingly easy to recover from, as being able to run the operating system from the LiveCD makes it very easy to rescue any files which aren’t already backed up before doing a clean reinstall (and the reinstall process is quicker and easier than for Windows).
So those are my reasons for preferring Ubuntu to Windows. If you haven’t tried Linux before you can download Ubuntu, burn it onto a CD, and then boot from the CD, which gives you an option to try it out without actually installing it on your PC. And it won’t cost you anything. Meanwhile I’ll be getting on with my research, writing and programming. And blogging about those things…
It didn’t take long before I decided to start a Zotero group. It’s called War and Gender and is dedicated to collecting and sharing any material relating to the intersections of these two very important things. There are no limits on period or place, membership is open, and all members can add to the group library. So if you’re interested, and if you’re using Zotero 2.0, get stuck in.
You can see from my profile that the groups I’m involved with so far are all quite specific and tend towards things that relatively little has been written about yet. I think we’re all still finding our way and sticking to things that are likely to be manageable. In the future it’ll be interesting to see if more general groups appear and whether they work out. I could start a British Civil Wars group, but it would be potentially huge. I already have over 900 items in my library tagged with “english civil war”, and these are mostly biased towards my research interests in England 1642-46. I don’t have very much on Scotland, Ireland, the Second Civil War, the Commonwealth or the Protectorate. Maybe more specialist sub-fields will be the way to go, but we’ll see eventually.
Ian MacInnes has set up a Zotero group for The horse in history and culture where we can pool references to horses. This was the incentive I needed to finally sort out my collections and upgrade to Zotero 2.0. I’ve set up my profile on the Zotero website, added a CV and shared my library so anyone can browse it. Although it looks like I’ve got an awful lot of collections, I’ve simplified the hierarchy and started making better use of tags. I’m not sharing notes at the moment, but maybe I will later. (NB: if you uncheck the “share notes” box in the privacy settings it only hides notes that are attached to items, not standalone notes.) There’s also another group for early-modern animal studies where you can find stuff about other species as well as horses. Now I’m wondering what other groups would be useful, but I’m not sure if I want the responsibility of owning a group yet.