Research

As usual, my friends rock. I said, “Tell me about your methods for researching a new project. What works for you?”

They responded on my FB page, which I can’t get to link to this page. It’s the 4/1/16 post.

Edited to add: My friends’ suggestions are in link above.  MY suggestions are below:

The following are a few of my methods for getting started on research for a new topic:

  1. I start with Google – no, really. It is smart to look at the “broadest” sources first – portraits online, people’s  dress diaries, and even Wikipedia. These generally aren’t sources you’d cite or use as authoritative sources, but they give you the view of a new topic from 30k feet. It also gives you references to your search terms found in Google Books, which can be useful for finding older sources that are out of print. I start broad and work my way to narrower sources. You could start using contemporary sources, and that makes sense if you’re researching a new dress in a time/place whose literature you know well, but that’s not very smart if you’re new to the field.
  2. Don’t forget Google image search. This is good for finding portraits, dress diaries, etc. Pinterest is similarly useful, but verify any source information you find there (i.e., don’t trust the year or artist listed for that portrait in Pinterest). Google has a filter you can turn on to filter out X-rated content. It makes finding what I need much easier.
  3. I read dress diaries I find through Google. It’s smart to learn what others have learned and shared, and it’s a good way to find out which of your buddies have experience with that dress.
  4. I use Mendeley as a citation and PDF manager. I wrote about Mendeley here. I love it. It’s free and easy to install. It’s super easy to use, and if you’re going to write up documentation, it makes citations and bibliographies ridiculously easy.
  5. I start a Word file for the project and dump URLs, names of books, the most relevant pictures, other sources to check out, and things like that in it. There are other more modern ways to organize your materials, but I use what I know. This eventually becomes the documentation file, but it starts as a dumping ground for the project.
  6. I save all relevant pictures I find online to one project folder. I try to note in the file name where I found it, especially if it’s not a picture of a portrait that has been published in a book and is something I will need to get permission from an individual to use. Yes, I should ask before I even save a copy to my computer, but I definitely get permission if I’m going to actually use it.
  7. For my latest project, I also started separate Word documents for all of my photos so I could organize them by country – I knew I wanted to make an Italian gown from the same decade in the near future, and I knew I wanted to talk about this style of dress across countries in the 1560s in my class. I save the picture to my folder, copy it to the right Word document, and copy the URL of the source right below it in the Word document. I put as much information as I can into the picture’s caption in Word (e.g., name of painting, painter, year, country of origin, current location of painting). It takes a bit of extra time then, but if someone asks about Italian 1560s dresses or if I finish my current project and Adam’s suit some year soon, I can pop open one Word file and scroll through all of my pictures of 1560s Italian gowns.
  8. If I find a picture in a book that I can’t find online, I snap a picture of it with my phone and save it to my folder, putting the source in the file name. If I find a crummy version of a photo online, I use Tin Eye to try to find a better version of it. Google works for this too (right click the photo on the website and click on “Search Google for image”).
  9. I make a list of books and articles to read for the project (stored in the project Word document). When I finish reading each source, I go through the bibliography and note which sources I need to get/read and add them to the list in my Word document. This is also how I acquired a never-ending general reading list, which is stored in an Excel file, but that’s another topic.
  10. I look in Drea Leed’s fabulous dress database, which has original sources transcribed into a database. Type in “Flanders gown” and find a couple dozen contemporary references to Flanders gowns in wardrobe accounts. I wrote a bit about reading contemporary sources here.
  11. I ask questions on the relevant FB group. I try to do my research before asking questions there, but if I can’t find an extant Flanders gown or a tailor’s manual from the period that contains a pattern for one (neither exists, as far as I know), I check on the Elizabethan Costuming FB group to see if anyone there knows of one.
  12. I ask my friends. Tracy, who seems to have a memory like a steel trap, remembered seeing silk braid on a fragment of wool on a museum website and was able to direct me to it after I wondered on FB if silk trim on wool dresses was common (still don’t know if it was common, but they definitely used silk on wool).

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