Thursday, February 14, 2013

Rhetorical Historiography using Zotero

Josh Eskew
Martha McKay Canter
Dr. Graban
Digital Project #3

For our Digital Project #3, Josh and I were interested in the functionality of Zotero, so we downloaded it and began exploring. Within minutes we had begun gathering a bibliography of some of the authors we have read in our class.

Zotero is a tool that is useful to build a bibliography of a trace, or guide someone through a trace concept. Using this, it is easy to impose a structure of a text which quickly renders apparent some organizational structure. For example, we searched "Peter Ramus" on JSTOR through the FSU proxy and received 13 pertinent documents within seconds.

It is obvious that Zotero makes the standard activities of research much easier and accessible, but it also opens new pathways for analysis. Assume we took made a digital library of our traces and the texts from these courses. We could use tags within Zotero to notate different concepts and where they appear, and then we could run a search or create a library with its own structure based on the passages that we have tagged. We could also use tags to create cross-references, and so we can explore the relationships between different texts and different concepts much more readily.

Moreover, this tool is incredibly useful for graduate students who are building reading lists for prelim exams, or for dissertation research, or for that matter, for any research project. For that matter, this tool allows us to create separate folder for any variety of research projects without having to worry about storing it on our drives or locating it. Searching with Zotero is fast, word/concept specific, and simple. A search of the small library we created in a few minutes of the term "logic" produced a short bibliographic list of sources. By collecting texts for specific research projects allows the user to run a quick search across the texts collected.

There seems to be a scaffolding benefit, too. For a project on St. Valentine, for example, a wide collection of texts could be quickly accessed running an initial search of the words, “St. Valentine;” from there secondary and tertiary tags or terms searches would allow the user to swiftly narrow the term for research. What is the benefit of this, then, compared with a pre-existing database? It seems that the answer to that is that Zotero stores your collection of sources for you, not unlike a collected annotated bibliography. But it’s personal, and tailored, and taggable, and organizable in user specific ways.


  1. Josh and Martha:

    I'm genuinely glad that you worked so focusedly with Zotero (and, glad that it is a useful source for you!), because it allowed you to describe some of the ways it is meant (and not meant) to function. Thank you for writing such a clear process narrative. Zotero seems to work best when initiated at the start of a project, i.e., like a "gathering from scratch and the ground up," rather than midway through.

    I'll be curious to find out, next week, whether/how working with Zotero necessarily disrupts the security of (what you are coming to know as) the major locations, corpora, or themes and players in rhetorical Modernity?

    So, in other words, would it have made a difference in terms of functionality and output if you had started by trying to gather resources about a particular issue, term, or question, rather than gathering resources about an historical figure?

    -Dr. Graban

  2. Josh and Martha:

    I'd like to append to the final question above: I wonder what makes your/our work with Zotero "historiography" (as the title of your post suggests), rather than "bibliography"? It may be that in your exploration, you found ways to justify the tool that way, so I'd be interested in knowing why.

    -Dr. Graban