Inspired by the discussion to this post, and by Kieran Healy’s evolving workflow post, I pose some questions with my tale of woe about computers and research workflow for historians.

Preambulatory wistful open source note

I learned Emacs first, many years ago, and can still get back into its groove after a few days of use. But historians wishing to geek out in this wise face two problems: (1) publishers want a .doc document at deadline and (2) even with all manner of wonderful LaTeX tools, it’s still profoundly difficult to do historian-style foot- or end-notes. (But see Federico Garcia’s opcit.sty.)

I probably would have weathered (2) and indeed I hacked up opcit to do what I wanted, but I foundered on (1). So I went slinking back to the commercial apps.

In this fallen age

At present, I use Endnote to organize and format citations. So Endnote = index cards, both bibliographical and note-taking. I have been urged to try Zotero, but as I don’t normally use Firefox, I’m not in a hurry to do so. I know of no other program capable of generating historian-type citations.

For actual writing, I use the marvelous and under-rated Scrivener. If you haven’t tried it, you must. It permits you to create and shuffle and tack to a bulletin board a collection of virtual index cards. It’s superb. And it exports a finished draft to .doc — truly a wonderful program.

Which leaves me to open Word only as a last step — to clean up any formatting, proofread, and straighten out the bibliography with Endnote.

For graphs, as and when necessary, I use Excel, Stata, and Numbers — i.e., I haven’t figured out which one is least likely to generate uglitude.

I know I could dump Word/Excel for OpenOffice, but last time I tried it it was (a) twiceover ugly, as in it required some kind of kludgy shell app to open an X Windows app which was ugly simpliciter; (b) didn’t have a lot of functionality I got from Excel.

I might use Google’s online suite if I didn’t fear surrendering my absolute entire life to them.

And, ftr, I use Keynote for presentations.

I welcome all manner of suggestions and critiques.