For awhile now, I’ve intended to blog on this topic, since Undine expressed interest. I have a few tabs open with related posts, and I want to close them, and I’m feeling a Friday-afternoon slump, so let’s do this.

I originally started working with spreadsheets because the tables I’d created in WordPerfect were so long and complicated that they had become unstable. I mentioned that here. From what I said in that post about a concordance and Topic A in Author Z, I think this was an earlier stage of research on what is now my book-in-progress. This project began as a conference paper. A journal editor who attended my session asked me to expand and submit the paper to their journal. When I started expanding, the danged thing grew, and grew, and grew some more. It’s still growing. I am still adding to the spreadsheet, as I realize that more and more words have connections to Topic A.

Profacero asked, around the same time, about using spreadsheets and calculators and bibliography managers. I don’t need spreadsheets for numbers. For me, they’re a useful way of tabulating information in a way I can get at easily.

I had another spreadsheet for part of the MMP, the Macedonian Marginalia Project. It had a long list of the marginalia, including columns for manuscript folio, edition page, text by which the marginalia appeared, and I forget what else, but there was more.

Another book-related spreadsheet tracks family relationships for multiple generations. I could get specialized family-tree software, but that’s not exactly what I want. I need to comment on what people were doing, and marriages they thought about negotiating but didn’t go through with, and similar matters. I like having different columns in which I can put this kind of information. Excel appears to be a very robust program. I can fill up cells with text, not numbers, and it just chugs along, keeping things organized.

I have a spreadsheet that I’m trying to use to organize the book itself, section by section, including primary and secondary quotations, historical analogues, and various other things that I want to use to support my main points. That isn’t going as well, TBH, because I do a lot of my thinking by writing, and then I have to take the time to move points from a written document into the spreadsheet, and it all seems stupidly fiddly: until the moment when I’m struggling with what goes where and I wish that I had moved things into the spreadsheet so that I could see things spread out clearly instead of having to pull them out of a long wall of text.

Then there’s the spreadsheet with all my scholarly books in it, which I wrote about here.

There might be some others, but those are the main ones that occur to me. Questions welcome!

One thought on “Spreadsheets for Humanities research

  1. Thanks, Dame Eleanor! This answers so many questions. I have tried spreadsheets for text but end up with no word wrapping or the inability to see the whole cell at once. This is my fault for not knowing Excel better. I’m glad you’ve made it work.

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