Starting my dissertation research today with the abundance of online resources would no doubt save time and money, and there are few humanities grad students out there who couldn’t use more of both. I could have so much at my fingertips that I could more quickly determine if I had a project worth doing and could see the scholarly gaps into which my work could fit. With digitization, we can research more deeply, recover more voices, and tell more stories.

But the bounty of the digital age comes with cautions. An online search does not eliminate the necessity to look at the original documents. And my best finds could not be replicated online. There is no substitute for feeling the weight of a handwritten letter or seeing the size of an anti-Shaker tome.

In no way am I suggesting a return to the “good ol’ days” of in-thetrench research. What differs today is our ability to better prepare. Online finding aids allow researchers today to gauge how much time is needed at a given research site; requests for pdfs or scans of images save countless hours of travel to one-item archival collections. Completing foundational research from Ancestry lets you get right to the meat of your project: the focus is not who was your subject’s sister-in-law, but why that mattered. Digitized books and journals let you get up to scholarly speed on your schedule, or the schedule of a pandemic—not just when the academic year gives you spring break or a summer without classes. The availability of online resources builds your knowledge, your timelines, and your factoids, less expensively and more efficiently. THEN, you head to the archive, because there’s magic there.







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American Communal Societies Quarterly