Sunday, August 18, 2013

Historical Information Index

Nearly every magazine I own is a historical information magazine.
And nearly every book I own is a historical information book.
What can I say? That's my interest.
And I am almost always in a state of research - looking up this or that or reading something from history that I happen to have an interest in at any particular moment, whether it's for my own purpose because I am writing in this blog, or maybe to expand my knowledge for living history. Then there are those times when some of my reenactor friends, or co-workers (including teachers), or even readers of my blogs or facebook page would come to me with historical questions, and I just wasn't always sure which of the literally 1000+ mags and books to look in to find answers and information - info that would go beyond the basics - and that really frustrated me. As I prefer to use more than one source on whatever subject I am researching to get a more comprehensive understanding, it used to taken me much longer than necessary to find the answers.

That's when I came up with the idea of a Historical Information Index.
I realize there are programs readily available that could help me organize my material, but I already had Excel, and it was very simple to use, so why would I waste money on a new program because "it was made for that purpose"?
For me, so was Excel!
Initially, I experimented in the indexing process to see which way would work best for me. After multiple thoughts, ideas, and trials, I came up with what seemed to accomplish the most satisfactory result: simply cover and cross-reference everything!
And make it simple.
I knew that would be a daunting task, but here's what I did:
I made three columns in my Excel spreadsheet:


I then went through my historical library - magazine-by-magazine, book-by-book, page-by-page - and indexed as much of the information as I could, first by subject, then which book or magazine the information came from, and lastly by the page number.
To show a small example,  I have "harrows" listed in this manner:

SUBJECT                                                              BOOK or MAG TITLE                           
Disc Harrow - Farm Equipment                         Rural America a Century Ago         
Drag Harrow - Farm  Equipment                        Horse-Drawn Days - Farming with Horses    
Spike-Tooth Harrow - Farm Equipment             American Farm Implements - Encyclopedia of      

And the the last column (which does not fit here properly) would be the page number.
Of course, since I have it alphabetized, each harrow here is mixed in with other subjects in alphabetical order by type and not under the 'harrow' heading. That's good if I know which particular harrow I'm looking up, but not so good if I haven't a clue of the different types of harrows. Because of this I then cross-reference the harrows in this manner:

Harrow - Disc                        Rural America a Century Ago
Harrow - Drag                        Horse-Drawn Days - Farming with Horses
Harrow - Spike-Tooth            American Farm Implements - Encyclopedia of 

But I'm still not done yet! 
What if I want to have all of the farm equipment in my books and magazines listed together as well? 
Here you are - - - -  

Farm Equipment - Harrow - Disc                        Rural America a Century Ago
Farm Equipment - Harrow - Drag                        Horse-Drawn Days - Farming with Horses       
Farm Equipment - Harrow - Spike-Tooth            American Farm Implements - Encyclopedia of 

In this way I can look up the subject directly, as shown in the top example, or more concisely, as shown in the middle example, or in its own sub-category, as shown on the bottom example.
Is this a lot of work? You betcha (as we say here in Michigan), but it has helped me numerous times in my writing or informational look up.

Something else this index has allowed me to do is to show which topic I have multiple information on.
For instance, if I am researching food preservation, I have five places to research and compare notes:

SUBJECT                         BOOK or MAG TITLE
Food - Preserving            Food in Colonial and Federal America
Food - Preserving            Historic Uses of Herbs / Home Remedies: Civil War
Food - Preserving            History Magazine (June/ July 2005)
Food - Preserving            Our Own Snug Fireside: 1760 - 1860~
Food - Preserving            Victoria's Home Companion

Some of the material herein will go, in varying degrees of depth, into preserving individual food items, which is also included separately by subject in my index (which I haven't listed).

I would also like to explain how I study and read my books, for to have such a large library would require me to do nothing but read 12 hours a day / seven days a week to read all I have.
If only I had the time to do so...
A popular quote that is easy to find online says “We learn 10 percent of what we read, 20 percent of what we hear, 30 percent of what we see, 50 percent of what we see and hear, 70 percent of what we discuss with others, 80 percent of what we experience, and 95 percent of what we teach to someone.”
I've heard that this is not necessarily so for some people, though I believe there is more truth here than will be admitted.
I know I fit partially into this category. Maybe not as low as 10 percent, but I do know my mind can wander when I read, even if it's about history, especially if I'm reading about a topic that I have little interest in.
And that can be very frustrating to me.

But here's how I beat the system:
First, understand, I don't sit back and *read* one book front to back anymore like most normal human beings. I read, instead, by subject or by chance.
~By Subject: if I have an interest in any particular subject - say taverns, for instance - I may choose a book solely about taverns (Taverns & Travelers: Inns of the Early Midwest for example) or find another that might have a short chapter about taverns, and in that way I am more than likely to "eat up" and retain the information much better than if I am studying a subject in which I have little or no interest.
Other times, in order to delve a bit into subjects I might not find as interesting initially, I may study by
~Chance: "Feeling lucky, punk?" Yep, that's how I describe 'by chance.' I might sit down to eat breakfast or lunch and will randomly choose from one of my books or magazines on the shelf, flip open a page, and begin to read whatever is in front of me. Even if it's on a topic that I have little interest on, I will still retain what I read because I'm not spending hours on something I care little about.
But, for a short time, I will have somewhat of an interest and, who knows, may whet my appetite for more.
To add to all of this I will have paper and pencil nearby to take quickie notes and page numbers to - you guessed - add to my index!

This index - and the process of indexing itself - has served me well, just so you know, for I have been able to learn a little about a lot and a lot about a little, and this project, I'm sure, will be forever on-going.
That, to me, is an exciting pleasure.
See you next time!



Debbie Jones said...

No wonder I like you so much, Ken... you think like I do! When I put together a play about the Great Famine in Ireland, I used primary resources, and I have it all organzized/indexed/cross-referanced to death. :) I completely understand. Keep up the good work!

Historical Ken said...

Thank you Debbie! I am honored to be in such fine company!

the bee guy said...

Ken, have you ever thought about putting a search feature on your Blog? That way we could search for various topics of interest.

Historical Ken said...

I've been working on that - - an index with links - - - -