I am a woman of my word. This morning, I ignored all of the small, distracting tasks that have consumed my time as of late and instead devoted myself to my dissertation for 90 minutes. It was such a joy to return to my project after a three week hiatus.
The first thing I do when I begin a new chapter is I gather all of the sources I will need to write it. Before I can even attempt an outline or begin to draft an argument, I have to review a good portion of the documents that will serve as my evidence for that chapter. In doing so, I remind myself of the major events, actors, and issues that I plan to discuss. Fortunately, because I have a good system in place, gathering my documents is a relatively simple task.
As I have written about before, I use DEVONthink Pro Office to create a giant database of all of my sources. I take pictures of all of my archival documents, turn them into PDFs, enter them into my database, and then add relevant tags to them such as the date they were written, important subjects they discuss (like "synagogue-center relations" or "open membership"), or organizations they reference (like the JWB or NAJCW). These tags make it easy to find and unite documents on related topics, especially when the documents may have come from different archives or collections and are thus organized separately in my database.
With DEVONthink, I'm able to make "smart groups" in my database for each of my chapters--all of the documents I need are together in one place. To do this, I navigate to the "Actions" button and click "New Smart Group." In the creation pane, I then select that any documents with the desired tags be collected together in the group--in this chapter, that would be anything I've tagged "Civil Rights," "Urban Crisis," or "Open Membership":
In my second chapter, I had many items tagged "synagogue-center relations" that were from the 1970s. Since that chapter focused on the 1950s and early 1960s, I wanted to exclude those later documents because they were distracting and overwhelmed the Smart Group. To remove them, I created a new rule of "Tag is not" and then typed in 1971, 1972, 1973, etc. That way, I saw only the "synagogue-center relations" documents tagged with dates from the 1960s and earlier.
When I was done selecting my tags, my Smart Group then looked like this:
It captures my documents from multiple collections, archives, and manuscripts and brings them all together so I can easily review how the JCC movement responded to the civil rights movement and the urban crisis. And any time I want to go look at the other materials that I collected with that document, I can click on it and see (as shown in the gray box above) exactly where I found it in the archive (because my database mirrors the organization of the original archival collections).
As with any method, there are limits to the Smart Group. If I accidentally omitted a tag or incorrectly tagged a document, I would not necessarily notice my mistake--the Smart Group is not smart enough to identify things that should be included but are not. It's imperative, as the research progresses, to return to the archival notes taken during the research process and to thoroughly examine whether there are any relevant documents listed there that did not make it into the Smart Group. Another method of screening for omissions is to review all of the documents tagged by year in the appropriate date range--for this chapter, that means I will scan through every document tagged with a date from 1960 to ~1975 and check if there are any that are about civil rights, open membership, or the urban crisis that are missing from the Smart Group.
Now that I've created the Smart Group, I will spend the rest of the week immersing myself in the documents and thinking deeply about what I want to focus on in chapter three. I'm curious to see what I find--most of these documents were collected over a year ago, and I'm guessing that I will experience the excitement of discovery all over again. Not a bad way to end the week!