It is an exciting time to be an academic! Cameras, cellphones, scanners and software are revolutionizing the way historians and other scholars conduct their research by creating unprecedented efficiencies and analytic opportunities.
But there’s a gap in the burgeoning field of digital humanities. During my graduate studies, I spoke with lots of people but discovered that most scholars are focusing on analyzing digital-born content. Since non of my materials were digitized, I began developing my own tools and techniques to produce my own datasets. It began with photography best-practices and image sorting scripts for myself, but soon expanded into experimenting with project management software, file sharing platforms, and determining which reference management software best accommodated archival files for research teams.
Two years ago, I co-founded Waterloo Innovations – a dedicated to developing and sharing free and for-profit workflows and software to harness these opportunities. We engineered Confero: inexpensive software that turns hours of manual sorting into minutes of keyboard time by automatically organizing resaerch images into useful sets. When we began developing Confero, we only had historians in mind. But subsequent conversations with geographers, biologists and archeologists alerted us to a larger interdisciplinary struggle to sort research images into discernible groupings for analysis. So we expanded Confero’s capabilities, and it now uses QR codes, time intervals, and GPS coordinates to organize research images into file directories and/or multipage PDFs that researchers can then analyze using whatever reference manager, GIS, or survey programs they like.
During the past year, several institutions, including York U, St. Jerome’s U and the Wilson Centre (Wash. DC), invited me to share these tools and best-practices with graduate students. I am always impressed by student engagement and the experience-sharing that develops during these sessions.