3 Ways Evernote Makes Research Easier: A Historian’s Notes

evernoteOver the last year, I have come across a few technologies that have made historical research easier. The tool that has made the most positive difference is Evernote.

Evernote works like a digital filing cabinet. What attracted me to the software was the idea that I could upload articles and research notes and then access them remotely from my laptop, smartphone, tablet, or any computer with an internet connection.

Within two months of downloading the app I began relieving my physical filing cabinets of their contents; I used a scanner to send all of my photocopied documents, articles, handwritten notes, finding aids, and other research materials into Evernote.

3 Ways Evernote Makes Research Easier

 

1. Digital Filing Cabinet

Evernote allowed me to organize my files better than I could in my filing cabinets.

Within Evernote I created notebooks, or as I like to think of them, tiny filing cabinets. I assigned each of my notebooks a topic and then I grouped like topics together in a larger Notebook Stack. For example, I have a large Notebook Stack entitled “Archived Articles.” Within that stack, I have notebooks for articles about Economic history, the Erie Canal, Albany, Ethnicity, Identity, New York Politics, Migration, Architecture, Education, Federalists, the French and Indian War, the Revolution, Loyalism, Industrialization, Land Disputes, Street Paving, and many other topics. Before I file each article into its large-topic folder, I tag it with a list of the smaller topics it covers.

Although any given article will reside in a large topic folder, I can perform a tag search that will locate it by the secondary content I listed. So any time I want to look up what I have on “English Rough Music Practices,” I click the appropriate tag and Evernote finds all the articles, notes, books, and files that I tagged as touching upon it. Evernote also allows me to search my notes by keyword–although the search is limited to the text of the note–it will not include the text of a PDF or JPEG I attached to a note.

 

2. Research Notebook

Evernote has proven to be more than a place to store academic articles and research notes. I use Evernote to help me write. Each writing project has a notebook in which I place notes about ideas for wording, notes and resources to check, and any feedback I receive.

I used to carry pen and paper everywhere because I always think about my writing, even when I am not thinking about my writing. Now when I get a spur-of-the-moment idea, I pull out my smartphone and file that idea away into the appropriate notebook.

 

3. Research Trip Planning

Most recently, I used Evernote for archive research. Evernote has a web clipper feature that allows me to take a snapshot of the web content I am looking at and file it away in any of my notebooks.

Over the last month I have used the web clipper to perform archive reconnaissance. Next week I am going to use manuscript collections at the New York Public Library and New-York Historical Society. I created a folder for each of these archives and used the Evernote web clipper to create a list of all the collections I want to use by taking a snapshot of the collection pages my catalog searches turned up. By clipping this information and storing it electronically, I will be able to have all the information I need to pull the collections without a stack of paper that will violate the security concerns of the archives. Next week, I intend to create notebooks for all of the collections I find useful and use them to organize and store any digital photos or photocopies I make.

 

The above are just some of the ways that I use Evernote. I have found some limitations within the program. I would like to be able to create sub-notebook stacks; a notebook stack within a notebook stack. I would also like to be able to upload PDFs and files larger than 50 MB. Regardless of these limitations, I have found that Evernote has changed the way I work, research, and organize for the better and I wanted to share my story.

 

 

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  • I have also found Evernote to be a wonderful e-commonplace book. It has also been a godsend for my teaching, especially preparing lecture notes on tight time scales. I do not usually organise my Evernote into folders though (except ‘teaching’ and ‘research’). Instead I make extensive use of the tagging functionality.

    Do you find folder for your work more effective?

    • Thank you for your comment. I organize by folders and notebooks because it seems logical and user-friendly to me. I use topical folders to help me locate my notes quickly. Come to think of it, I rarely use the tag search feature. I use tagging only when I want to search all of my files for particular content or have so much content filed into a folder that it is faster to search with tags. Until your comment it never occurred to me to organize primarily by tags. I can see how your method would make Evernote even easier to use. I suppose my topical-folder-way of thinking is a carryover from my days of using physical filing cabinets and card catalogs. I might try your more tag-oriented approach.

      • I think I generally speaking used tags because I was to capricious to come up with and stick to a filing system. Indeed, my tagging system is not as comprehensive and immutable as I would like.