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the magic of the interweb

Anyone with a blog or an online journal knows how much the internet has changed our lives. There's the social element, of course, and there's the fact that so much information is so easily available. But what sometimes I forget is how quickly this has all happened. I wrote my Master's thesis in 1998, and at the time, the internet simply wasn't a viable method of research for my subject (Revolution for Fun: Counterculture and the Underground Press in England, 1959-1974. Fascinating stuff! Actually, it kind of was). There literally wasn't anything online about it - not very surprising, really, and as I had come through my BA degree in the days when the world wide web was in its early infancy and simply wasn't considered as a research tool for an arts degree, I didn't care. I was used to doing my academic research the old school way, and didn't expect anything else. But just a few minutes ago I googled Spare Rib (the Spare Rib Reader was one of my second hand purchases yesterday), and up came a bunch of articles on the subject. Stuff that I had to dig around to find and call up from stacks is now at my fingertips. I know this makes me sound a million years old, but it's really kind of odd how quickly this has changed.

And it's not just academic research. Last week I was listening to a very interesting play of Radio 4 about two aristocratic English cousins in the 18th century, one of whom was white and one of whom was mixed race. The latter was the acknowledged daughter of an English aristocrat and a former slave who was brought up with her white cousins. The play was centered on the two cousins sitting for a portraitby Zoffany, so I assumed this portrait really existed. A quick google later, and there they were - the real people from 200 years ago whose story I'd just been hearing. It's times like this that make the internet seem like a miracle.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 24th, 2005 12:17 pm (UTC)
It's fairly recent that scientific journals started to get published online, and the difference it makes to research is absolutely amazing. A paper trail that during my PhD would have taken me anything from a day to a couple of weeks (because of ILLs) now takes me maybe 10 minutes.
Feb. 24th, 2005 12:21 pm (UTC)
What terrifies me is that I can't imagine how people did research before archive search engines. Most of the sources I have, I have because I went to a computer and typed in a keyword. I was asking my mum how they did it Back In The Olden Days and she spent hours and hours looking through card indexes and lists of publications. And once you'd got one article, you searched through its bibliography desperately looking for something else directly relevant. Terrifying!
Feb. 24th, 2005 12:28 pm (UTC)
Though I still find bibliography scans dead useful - perhaps because I totally suck at WOK searches. My keywords (particularly because I'm looking for sex and gender when they're variables in almost all psych stuff) bring up undifferentiated crud.
Feb. 24th, 2005 01:56 pm (UTC)
Search engines also make it easier to see where students are plagiarising from - all though many seem unaware that they might actually get caught. Or just don't understand the difference between "research" and "copying out large tracts of someone else's work".
Feb. 24th, 2005 02:07 pm (UTC)
And once you'd got one article, you searched through its bibliography desperately looking for something else directly relevant. Terrifying!

Yup. Thus I did my masters.[/venerable] I've never done proper academic research on the internet, but I can see how it could make a vast difference.

Hmm, though after a quick Google on my research topic (St. Bridget of Sweden, fact fans), I would have had to plough through an awful lot of useless Holy And Prayerful Websites....
Feb. 24th, 2005 01:36 pm (UTC)
When I was doing national-level debating, in the early 90s, there was no internet at all; all our research time was spent in libraries cross-referencing from the card files, and slogging our way through the big, clunky computer search programs which covered about twenty per cent of the collection.

We read hard copy Hansards in the library rather than searching a pdf, spent hours scanning bibliographies for sources, and spent embarrassingly long hours cursing our crap research skills and getting sidetracked by some obscure, interesting, yet completely irrelevant story.

By the time I started coaching national and international level kids, you could just send them off to do a major report on international policy overnight. Much easier, although I don't know if the quality of the final product has changed very much.

I still like to sit in the library once in a while and delve into the hard copy international relations journals, and hang out at the Archives doing searches and going through pages of hundred-year-old documents wearing gloves. It feels more like research, even though it's vastly more inefficient and no more valid.

Feb. 24th, 2005 02:27 pm (UTC)
i completely agree, it is a miracle. of late ive been using www.blogpulse.com to turn up some interesting opinions...
Feb. 24th, 2005 02:50 pm (UTC)
It's amazing and wonderful. I never dreamed, when I was but a wee seventeen year old in the AOL "college chat" rooms, that I would someday be living my whole life on the internerd.

I can't imagine having done my MA without the Google, but apparently it's been done many times before. And on typewriters.
Feb. 24th, 2005 02:59 pm (UTC)
typewriters. yea that was serious.
Feb. 25th, 2005 01:45 pm (UTC)
Yep, that portrait really does exist, I wrote extensively about it in my Ph.D & tend to use Dido (the mixed race girl) in a lot of my work on, er, mixed race isses.
The reality for Dido was less than fantastic -- I'll find the portrait to send you if you've not seen it. She enjoyed education, decent clothes, etc, but whilst she was acknowledged as the Earl's daughter, she still basically had house-servant status.
Nevertheless, the portrait is quite extraordinary -- but the relationship between the figures shows they were never considered equal as sisters. Not that you'd expect that to be so at the time, but it's still v.interesting.
Feb. 25th, 2005 02:14 pm (UTC)
Re: Dido
I found the portrait! It's on the cover of Gretchen Gerzina's Black London: Life Before Emancipation (which I got Patrick to get out from stacks for me with his mad Masters library powers the other day, and which I am now reading). I'd love to read some of your stuff on it - the poses of the figures (and Dido's "exotic" clothes and potentially servile basket of fruit) do indeed indicate a less than equal relationship. It's a very odd pose, really - Dido sort of moving in the background while her cousin stretches an arm back towards her. Of course, did this image ever come up during the whole year of the 18th century art course in good old Trinity? It did not.

The Radio 4 play (did you hear it?) definitely presented the cousins as, if not quite equals, then much more than upper-servant/mistress. It was based around the idea of the American Hutchinson wanting to marry Elizabeth but being refused when he made his racist ideas about Dido known; in the play, he wanted Dido to sit at her cousin's feet like portraits of white women and their slaves, but Elizabeth insisted they stood side by side. At that stage I hadn't seen the actual portrait, so I imagined it being more like this.
Feb. 28th, 2005 01:11 pm (UTC)
Re: Dido
Sadly, 'the server' wouldn't let me see the link you posted... I'm *very* eager to read Gretchen Gerzina's book (have been for ages, but just forgot -- thanks for reminding me!!) I'm also surprised TCD has a copy... surprised, but pleased.
Sadly missed the radio 4 play. It's interesting, but Dido's actual parentage seems to be seriously in question. Some historians and critics write as though they were cousins, others that they were half-sisters. I prefer to believe the latter, but so far nobody's come up with the definitive answer. But for sure I'll show you some of my work if you're really in need of a soporific before bedtime!
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )


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