Digital Historical Research

I’m headed to the Newberry Library this weekend to read Isham Randolph’s memoir “Gleanings from a Harvest of Memories.”  As I’m pulling my notes together, it’s amazing to me how little physical library work I’ve done to put together so much information about the man.  This is the first significant historical research I’ve done since college (more than 10 years ago), and a lot has changed.

All of my sources, excluding the memoir, have been online.  I’ve pulled dozens of articles from the Chicago Public Library – Chicago Tribune archive (you need a CPL card to access it), a few from the New York Times archive, and a couple of really great ones from the Library of Congress Chronicling of America project.   I used Harper’s archive to fill in a few ideas about the role of canal’s at the turn of the century, including this really great piece, Waterways of America (subscription required) that put the role of canals in 1900 in perspective (they were a big deal).  One of the most interesting sources has been Google Books.  They have a gigantic collection of digitized material, including a really fancy tool that lets me embed clips from books like so:

As I accumulated all this material, I thought about printing it all out and sorting it, and realized that was a terrible idea.  I originally tried to track it all in Evernote, but eventually concluded I would be better off in a more research oriented tool called Scrivener.  Scrivener is a great writing tool, and has a lot of features meant for organizing research.  I’d highly recommend it for non-trivial projects with a lot of PDF documents that need to be organized in some sort of reasonable fashion.  I haven’t used much of their writing tools yet, but I plan to as I boil all of this material down.

  • Adam Harris

    Hello Chris, I’m a student attending Providence St. Mel working on a History Fair project pertaining to how the Illinois and Michigan Canal and the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal. I haven’t discovered a lot of information on Isham Randolph besides his scathing review of John W. Alvord’s review of the CSSC and his review of 20 years of work on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. My AP US History teacher recommended that we speak to a historian about our project, and I thought that you’d be able to help me. My e-mail is, and if you could help that would be great. Thanks in advance!