Workflow for Research Archives

cropped-410px-the_house_of_mirth_page_of_original_manuscript_edith_wharton1.jpgSome good recent  posts talk about how to organize your workflow for working in a research archive.

From 2013, Dan Royles on Digital Workflows for the archive at ProfHacker:

Jessica Parr at Early Americanists:

Both these posts list some good apps as part of the discussion, so check them out.

Since I just returned from a trip to a research archive, here are a few tips, not entirely digital, that I wish I’d thought of earlier.

1. Keep a research log so you know what materials you were working with and when. I used to keep this on a yellow pad (in pencil of course) but have mostly switched to a Word document. It’s in two parts:

One part of the log–the part I still keep on paper–is the list of what boxes I ordered; when I ordered them and the date I ordered them for, since they have to be ordered in advance; and when I returned them. It was just plain easier to see this on a paper pad with returned materials crossed out.

The main part is a running list in a Word document of what I am looking at during the visit: which folders and boxes, generally informal notes about what I’m finding, etc.  Since I had been to this archive before, I was able to look at the log I recorded last time, which saved time when reading the folders.

2. Keep a transcription and notes page for each box as you’re working on it. For some of these, a transcription or notation already existed from the previous visit; I just had to photograph the materials.

This may seem obvious, but when you get home, you may not–in fact, probably won’t–remember whether you looked at Folder 754 and not 755 unless you write it down.  You’ll wonder (or I have), “Did I skip this one, or did it not have anything useful for the project?” Taking a moment to note your impressions will save frustration in the long run. I also wrote down whether I photographed a folder or not.

3. Photograph all the things.  Again, it seems obvious, but it’s a lot faster to photograph items than to read them, especially if you’re short on time.  When in doubt, take a picture.

If you don’t develop a record-keeping system, though, you’ll be lost.

Both Royles and Parr suggest using your phone and TurboScan to record images.  I tried TurboScan but ended up using a camera instead, despite the TurboScan benefits.  Why?

  1. TurboScan was slower than a camera, which may be because I have an older iPhone.
  2. The images weren’t as sharp as I needed (especially for pencil marks).
  3. It would take more time to type in the filenames on the phone’s tiny screen, email the images to myself or upload them to Dropbox, etc., than I wanted to spend.

Using the camera let me take sharp images, which I then downloaded in batches.

4. Organize the photographs to match the archive’s box & folder scheme . After downloading a batch of photos to the Macbook, I moved them immediately from Dropbox’s Camera Uploads folder to Folders named for the box & folder numbers I was working on.  I could then rename the files at leisure, if necessary, which I’ve done some of since I returned from the trip.

Most of them have names like DSCN205-ew to jsmith 25-11-27 pg1.jpg for the first page of a letter from Edith Wharton to John Hugh-Smith written November 25, 1927, for example. Sometimes I make a notation about the work (Ethan Frome, House of Mirth). It’s not searchable, but I can find things in the folders by using the transcription and notes page.

folder example

The collection, box number, and folder number are all right in the picture.

5. Updated to add: put identifying information in the picture. It’s immensely helpful to have the box and folder number right in the image itself.  I used to write these on a piece of paper and then photograph the paper along with the document until I realized (finally!) that if I took a picture with the document top or side near the tab of the folder itself, that information would appear in the picture with no need to write the information on  a piece of paper. If I now lose track of where an image came from, there’s the box and folder number, right in the picture.

I want to keep refining the processes, so there might be an update post in the future. For example, I have premium Evernote, Zotero, iAnnotate, etc. but haven’t used them effectively for archive purposes, as Royles and Parr have done. For now, I’m happy to have the materials and to know that I can find things.

New Issue of Excavatio: Emile Zola and Naturalism now available online

Lindsay AbandonedThe new issue of Excavatio, The International Review for Multidisciplinary Approaches and Comparative Studies Related to Émile Zola and Naturalism Around the World is now available here:

It contains “Bitter Tastes: Recognizing American Women’s Naturalism,” a version of the keynote talk I gave at AIZEN last March in New Orleans.  The keynote is drawn from my book manuscript Bitter Tastes: Early Film, Naturalism, and American Women’s Writing. 

The image is from Batterman Lindsay’s “Abandoned: A Tale of the Plains.” Lindsay and her collection of stories Derelicts of Destiny was the subject of my MLA 2015 talk.

Posting academic papers to your own site or

I’ve recently posted some older articles to and to my own site. This is something for which the copyright issues can still be a little murky.

Elsevier made news last year when it sent takedown notices to scholars who had posted materials on I noticed that several senior scholars in the humanities had posted very recent journal articles to, however.

  • Some journals will not permit you to have the articles on your site without the payment of an open access fee, which, when I’ve checked it out, is often $3,000+ for a single article.  That may be fine for the sciences, where grants can be had, but it’s an impossible fee for the humanities.
  • Other journals will permit you to have an older article at your own site but not at
  • Some allow you a “pre-refereed” version but not a version after it has been refereed and set in type. This seems to mean that you can post your manuscript, but since it will not have citable page numbers, your readers will still have to go to the journal site to read and cite your work.
  • Others allow a “pre-print” version set in type.
  • If a journal is published by a press that participates in Digital Commons, as the University of Nebraska Press does, then articles older than the most recent issue are freely available but have to reside at that site.

A useful site in this regard is Sherpa/Romeo at, which will tell you the policies of the journal. You can also contact the journal editors directly and get permission, of course, which is what I did with the Legacy articles.

It seems to me that anything that gets the word out on a book of essays or an article in a journal, especially if the article was published more than 2 years ago, would be beneficial for the journal or book as well as those who want to cite the work.


Rose Wilder Lane Letter at Slate

263px-RoseWilderLane01At Slate’s History Vault, Rebecca Onion introduces a letter from Rose Wilder Lane to Laura Ingalls Wilder, her mother and the author of the Little House series of books.

A lot of good books have addressed the question of authorship and co-authorship in the Little House books; see John Miller, Ann Romines, Anita Clair Fellman, and William Holtz’s biography of Lane, The Ghost in the Little House, for just a few of them.

Reading Wilder’s Pioneer Girl” manuscript, the letters between the two women, and the books of both (including Wilder’s essays for farm publications) gives an entirely different perspective than simply reading the Little House series.

The letter at Slate does sound a little peremptory and irritable, but if you read Wilder’s letters in return or those excerpted in Holtz’s biography, you’ll see that in occasional impatience and irritability, Lane didn’t fall far from the maternal tree. In the letter, Lane scolds Wilder for writing that Laura threatened Cousin Charley (remember Charley? The boy who cried wolf, or rather bees?)  with a knife when he tried to kiss her at age twelve: “Maybe you did it, but you can not do it in fiction.” Maybe you couldn’t put it in fiction, but that Laura, like the one who cut school to go roller-skating when she was in high school, would make an interesting and lively character in the real story of her life.

Lane was a major figure in her own right. An award-winning short story writer, a traveler, a working journalist, a novelist: she was the famous writer  long before the Little House books put her forever in the shadows as Baby Rose of The First Four Years.

I’ve written about Wilder‘s Little House books,   about Lane’s pioneer fiction, and about her biography of Jack London, but she’s a fascinating figure who deserves more attention.