Scholarly Research and Writing in the Digital Age

By Steven Lubar | July 27, 2012

It’s been a long time since I’ve done serious scholarly, research-intensive historical research and writing. I’ve spent the last twenty years or so teaching, advising and administering, and writing for a general audience. But I recently had the opportunity to write an article, using some of the new technologies of scholarship. This is a report on what’s changed, and what’s remained the same.

Some background: I had done a lot of research for an exhibition and a talk at the Brooklyn Navy Yard about the United States Navy Lyceum – a library and museum located at the Navy Yard between 1833 and 1889 – and had found it quite fascinating. Back when I did serious scholarship, my field was 19th century American history, so I had a decent, though not completely up to date, sense of the secondary literature. So – why not turn that talk into a scholarly paper?

So, I’ve spent the last month or so researching and writing about the way that the naval officers who created the Naval Lyceum used artifacts to represent their ambitions, and the way that the public understood their work. My hope is that the final paper will be a useful contribution to scholarship in the history of museums.

Along the way, I kept track of my process, to help me think about a talk I’ll be giving in October. I send students off to write research papers, and so I should be reflexive about my own work, in order to better teach them how to do research. And I was curious to see how new digital tools would change the way I work, and especially if they would change the questions I might ask and answer in my research. The answers I found: Yes, I could ask and answer different questions, especially about museum visitors. Yes, a research plan is still necessary; serendipitous Googling is not enough. No, digital is not enough; it’s still necessary to visit libraries. And a good reminder: research is only the first part of writing a scholarly paper. It’s also about knowing the big picture, puzzling out connections and making sense of relationships, and most of all, creating meaning. That part hasn’t changed.

Read full post here. (Originally posted July 22, 2012)