or, How To Find Stuff Without Going Insane
I already have a Resources page, but this addresses a wider need for basic information.
If you have already read through yesterday’s post, you might be forgiven for thinking that research is an ultimately aggravating experience, but if you want to know certain minor details about a specific area – say, for example, train times in Victorian England – you will be pleased to know that the resources for nearly everything have come on in leaps and bounds. It may surprise some, but this is, in part, thanks to a particularly Victorian kind of individual – the hobbyist. Oh, and those timetables? Why, they are right here, if you are desperate to find out the exact times…
Nearly anything which falls under the Common / Everyday Knowledge category – no matter how ephemeral the original content was intended to be – has been preserved by someone. Indeed, as collectors of the everyday have begun to pool resources, the amount of material uploaded to the internet has exponentially increased. It isn’t just public notices and pamphlets which are now available to all; there are more esoteric things you can find out online, and from the strangest of places – Whitstable ‘phone numbers from the 1920s? I have that covered. For all the large, complex databases which have been made available, sometimes it is the small things which really matter.
Current information, which is normally copyrighted by the originator, is a touchier part of research – for every piece of information freely available, to copy, save, share, and disseminate freely, there are a dozen (often vital) pieces of information which are considered as being the property of an individual or (more often than not) an organization. Wherever I have culled some critical note from a primary or secondary source, I tend to make deliberate use of links back to the place I found the information. In print, and as part of a larger work, this might become more problematic, though I consider the relationships built through open cooperation to be of great value.
When it comes to research, we are not just the sum of our work, we are the sum of our connections.
I really wish I didn’t have to point this out, but simply heading for the first available mention of the subject you are researching isn’t going to help you. People seem to have become incredibly lazy when it comes to finding reference works – the main objective in the first four hours of researching a subject is to make a comprehensive list of acknowledged experts in the field, who might be able to shed light on hidden aspects of the material. Simply gathering information at the early stages of a project is likely to frustrate, so by gathering resources quickly you’ll see that the eventual collection of data is much easier and more accurate …which is where I should pimp back-issues of Book And Magazine Collector for it’s reading lists.
Now for music…
To sharpen your skills at uncovering information quickly and accurately, start playing a multi-discipline version of Five Degrees Of Separation. Look beyond the simple task of connecting individuals, and attempt to connect a place (Paris, perhaps) with a book (pick your favorite non-French title here), a song (try Oye Como Va, above) with a car (maybe an Austin Cooper) or some other combination of subjects – once you have this initial connection, try adding other elements. It is by removing obvious conclusions that you can start stretching your ability to uncover obscure and occluded facts.