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André Brett @DrDreHistorian
, 20 tweets, 5 min read Read on Twitter
How I do archival research: a thread.

I post this both to share my techniques in case they are useful to others, and to see if I'm doing anything hilariously outdated or have missed something that would make my life easier. 1/
Background: when I began my PhD in 2010, I very quickly learnt that note-taking by hand was arduous and time-consuming. Note-taking on laptop was not much quicker, and I would find myself photographing documents hastily at the end of a research trip to look at later. 2/
Within a couple of years of PhD study, my research method was to photograph everything vaguely relevant and read through it later at my leisure on a nice, big computer screen (especially helpful for difficult handwriting!). This remains my general method today. 3/
Initially I photographed documents with my DSLR camera, seeking the best quality. But stitching those together created massive PDFs. To take a thesis I photographed in 2013 as an example: 353 photos, PDF file size 3GB. Yeah nah. Compression techniques didn't help much. 4/
At about this time a friend told me about phone app Camscanner. I have used it religiously these past five years. Simple explanation: you use the app to take photos of a document, which it combines into one reasonably sized PDF. For example I have a 399 page doc, 365MB. 5/
How do you do it? There are some options, but my usual method:
-photograph page
-Camscanner suggests how to crop it; adjust if needed
-use a filter, usually "magic colour"; these often remove extraneous stuff like shadows or text from other side of page
-repeat for next page
When you do subsequent pages, they save in the same file so they can all be exported together (click Back if you want to start a new file). IMPORTANT: I always make sure the first page is the title page, archival reference, or relevant citation info. 7/
Another great thing about Camscanner: shake protection—it won't take a pic until you are holding the phone stable. I have VERY shaky hands. My earliest photographed docs are marred badly by this. Oh yeah, and the paid version is super cheap and has no watermarks (I paid $1!). 8/
Some people say always back up your data. Good advice—in 2008. Today, your data should be backed up by default. I personally use Dropbox. As soon as I'm done photographing a file (or even if I just pause for lunch), I upload it straight to Dropbox. 9/
Now, I'm paranoid, so I don't delete anything from Camscanner until I return from a research trip and confirm my scans have all downloaded to my home computer. Then I clear space on Camscanner for future research trips. 11/
How do I keep track of what I've done? Weeellll. Remember and hope, for most of my career. This has evolved, esp after I accidentally photographed a doc I had done before. Let me take yesterday at the State Library of NSW as an example of how I do things now. 12/
Before a research trip, I make a list of docs to view (pic 1). As I go, I highlight: green=done; yellow=in progress when I finish a day; red=problem; no colour=not done. Write notes in same colours (pix 2&3). When trip finished, any not done moved to new list for next visit. 13/
The notes are also useful if I do not scan a doc in full, both for my own reference and if I share the file with someone. I don't have to hope I remember that "oh yeah that report contains some fold-out charts illustrating the data but I didn't copy them". 14/
I keep meaning to try Tropy, to see if it can produce smaller PDFs of docs I photographed in 2011–13 on my SLR. But I'd likely stick with Camscanner because I love its shake protection and the quality of the PDFs it creates, which I can upload immediately. 15/
Anyway, that's about it. I almost never take notes at an archive now. By photographing documents, I can get through so much more on each trip, and sift through it at home. And even if a doc is not immediately useful, it's material for the future! 16/16
I knew I'd forgotten something! When I have the choice between Camscanning a physical copy or using microfilm, I sometimes use the latter when the microfilm machine has capability to combine screenshots into a PDF and save to USB. 17/18
I often have this choice with Aussie state parliamentary papers. Physical copies: less taxing on the eyes, easy to flick to what you need and Camscan it. Microfilms: usually have good scans, don't have to stress about keeping the page flat to capture words in the binding! 18/18
Good thoughts from Joel. I couldn't afford to spend weeks or months at an archive as a PhD student (2010–13, funding situation worse now)—and I definitely couldn't as a casual! Today, I prefer to maximise the collections I can view. 19/20
Also I'm amazed by some int'l responses to learn photography is not permitted at some archives. I am yet to use an archive/library in Australia/NZ with such restrictions. It's simple accessibility. I have poor vision: some docs I CAN'T read until I photograph, upload, edit. 20/20
(The humour of a tweet referencing my low vision being tweet 20/20 in the thread is not lost on me.)
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