New in DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly, “Researcher as Bricoleur: Contextualizing humanists’ digital workflows”. A small-scale observational study from 2016, building on a larger ‘Digital Scholarly Workflow’ study. The body is made up of case studies and commentary. Here’s the tale of a search by a historian for “1916” “November” “War Council”:
Audrey, a professor of history, searched for literature on an event that took place in 1916, and for which she had only partial information. Audrey’s search starts with her personal collection of notes written in Word and stored on the internal hard drive. She uses a Word search function that queries the folder for a supposed event name, but this search yields no result. Audrey then switches to her browser and the online search. She logs on to the Penn State library and enters a search phrase composed of three descriptors into the discovery search interface, LionSearch. This attempt does not yield any results either.
“Okay, no problem, I’m going to go to some of my favorite databases,” Audrey says optimistically, and, using the same search phrase, she continues her search in the Historical Abstracts database. “All right, I need another field. It happened in Rome,” she comments still optimistically, and expands her search with one more field, which reads “Rome.” Still nothing. “Seriously?!,” Audrey exclaims with annoyance. “All right, let me just do ‘war council,’ something more specific,” she says with reasserted optimism, and changes her search phrase accordingly. Failure again. “Really?!,” Audrey laments in shock. “I would have thought it was more important.” Audrey then reaches to her bookshelf and grabs a book. She reads through a few pages, trying to find any additional information that could help her search. Nothing. But Audrey is not ready to give up yet.
She returns to her library search and adds “November” as one more search field, trying to make her query as precise as possible. No results. Still, Audrey does not give up, and, instead of adding one more search term, she decides to change her search phrase. She creates a new search phrase, again composed of three descriptors as the possible event name. “Nope. All right, strange,” Audrey says quietly, confident that any further search would be pointless. “You would think someone must have written an article about this. It was the time that the different allies got together and hammered out a strategy…,” she continues murmuring, but discontinues her library search.
Instead, Audrey decides to try her luck with Google Search. She enters the search phrase and the Wikipedia entry pops up right away. “See, that’s the thing,” Audrey comments. “One would love to use more scholarly resources, but I just typed [the search phrase] and it’s up there [on Wikipedia]! Sadly, Historical Abstracts was not of too much use; the most useful one was still Wikipedia,” this historian concludes.
The problem here appears to be that the Supreme War Council of the three allies was created in November of 1917, not 1916. Only by switching the search terms from 1916 to 1917 does the Wikipedia page mentioned appear, so one has to suspect that there was some finessing of the search before hitting Google Search.