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Digital Tools


March 24, 2015 by nsakas1

This semester has been a learning experience for me so far. Before this class I basically did research the old fashioned way with pen and paper. However this semester has given me some new tools to work with both for this class and in the future. The resources that have been helpful to me this semester have been Zotero, and Audacity. Zotero has made keeping my research together and organized easier. Audacity has allowed me to store my interviews into a digital archive, as well as providing a platform to listen to the interviews in new ways.

Prior to using Zotero online research often resulted in a messy pile of paper where I had written down all the information about a particular article or site. This process was extremely time consuming and on several occasions would dissuade me from recording the information from sites. When it came down to writing from my research I often found that I had lost or misplaced many of the resources I needed to include in my paper. However, with Zotero I have been amazed at the ease in which I can record resources from online databases, journals, and websites. With the click of a button I can capture the entire resource and place it in my own online database. I can then place my resources into folders that correspond to the various projects I am working on so that I can keep them organized by project. Additionally, Zotero allows me to compare my resources side-by-side.

Another plus, Zotero offers is that it helps with citing sources. While citing from a book is pretty basic and simple, many resources online can be difficult to cite. Zotero automatically provides a citation for every source I enter into the database, which makes citing difficult sources easier. Perhaps one small drawback is that Zotero is not fail proof. On some occasions the citations are not perfect. However, it usually only requires a small amount of change to make it right.

One other benefit that Zotero provides is putting citations into papers. Before using Zotero I could easily spend half a day writing out each citation and plugging in footnotes and a works cited page. With Zotero a footnote is as easy as selecting the source and clicking a mouse to insert it into the text and at the bottom of the page. Before Zotero I would create my works cited page by copying and pasting from my footnotes. I would then reformat the citations from footnote style to works cited style. With Zotero I can create a works cited page in a matter of seconds with the click of a mouse.

The other tool I have begun to work with this semester is Audacity. Audacity is a free downloadable multi track audio editor that can be used on just about all of the widely used operating systems. Audacity allows the user to both record and manipulate already recorded audio files. It offers a way to turn old tapes and records into digital files and/or CDs. Additionally Audacity allows a user to splice and edit previously recorded audio files.

Before I was introduced to Audacity, I had kept several oral history interviews on a recorder device. The device is a Sony audio recorder, and has worked well for my needs. However, the storage on the device is limited, and the amount of space available was running out. I also feared that I might erase some of the files I had already recorded on it. One file in particular was an interview I did with my Grandmother, and it was the last recording I have of her voice. Audacity allowed me to transfer my recordings into a digital archive that I can keep more permanently. This feature alone pleased me in that I was no longer scared to loose the recording of my Grandmother’s voice.

One of the features of Audacity is that it allows the user to see the recorded voice. This sounds counterintuitive, but with Audacity the patterns of a person’s voice appear in sonograms. Sonograms show patterns of speech which can be very helpful to appreciate the uniqueness of a person’s voice.

Audacity also allows the user to edit audio files. Many oral history interviews can last over an hour or more. While all the information can be useful, a researcher may only need a small portion of the interview for their purposes. Audacity allows a user to cut and splice audio files in a way that best suits their purposes. One example may be that a researcher could take several interviews that all speak to a similar subject and make a compilation of voices to speak about a particular subject.

This semester has opened my eyes to the potential of using online tools for both current and future projects. Zotero has saved me valuable time that I had once spent writing down and typing out sources. Additionally, Zotero has organized my research so that I do not wind up losing sources I had scribbled down on a piece of paper. Audacity has given me a more secure medium to store my audio files that I had once feared losing to accidentally erasing. Audacity has also allowed me to recognize patterns of speech through the use of sonograms. I would highly recommend these tools for anyone doing research or oral history interviews. They will make your life easier and save you some valuable time which is something we all can use.



  1. chuber1 says:

    Nick- Like it has for you Zotero has helped me to become more organized in my research habits regarding sources and citations. I was wondering what issues you were having with the program when it was putting citations into Word?
    I have not spent a good deal of time using Audacity but it is good to know that it is not only a good sound editor but a good way to digitize and archive recordings. While I do not anticipate doing this for any of my own projects I can see how this could be useful for a small archive looking to migrate oral histories from one format to another.

  2. Adina Langer says:

    Nick, I’m so glad that you’ve found Audacity so useful. I think it’s great that you feel more comfortable preserving your grandmother’s voice through the use of the program. I also appreciate your analysis of the visual aspects of the program.

  3. acoleman34 says:

    Nick, you and i are on the same page when it comes to both the programs you reviewed. Zotero is incredibly efficient and Audacity is a great sound editing tool. When it comes to Zotero, i love the organizational prowess it instills in me. I’ve been living under a rock when it comes to bibliography organization and Zotero has made me see the light. The fact that it is extremely easy to use is a major plus and it’ efficiency is unparalleled. Like you i used to write out all my citations and now that time has been cut 10-fold. I have a few issues with Audacity but those spring from my own love of GarageBand and iMovie, which really isn’t fair to Audacity as a program but, hey , what are you gonna do? Not everyone can just go out and buy a Mac. It is great for simple recording and editing though and it seems you have found the perfect use for it.

  4. nbrown24 says:

    Nick, I have to agree with your assessment of Zotero above. While not perfect, I have found that the program has significantly improved how I do research. The first thing I noticed about Zotero was how easy it is to use. It took me hardly any time at all to feel comfortable with the layout, and after a only few days I already had a sense that I had been missing out on some significant secret everyone else already seemed to know. In the past I have, admittedly, been a bit lazy about keeping notes and citations and found that Zotero was a huge help in that regard. While I haven’t used audacity myself in nearly 10 years (and then it was for recording simple demo songs on a very primitive computer), I can see the value of that program for historians. This course has helped me to see the benefit of recording an interview, and while I am a Mac user and would probably stick with GarageBand, believe that this type of tool is one that I will use going forward.

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