Unwritten Histories

The Unwritten Rules of History

Managing Historical Research: Secondary Sources

Managing Historical Research: Secondary Sources

If there is one topic that goes nearly completely “unwritten” in the field of history, it is managing research. Whether you are writing your dissertation or writing your latest article, managing your primary and secondary sources is extremely important. This is especially the case for historians since the sheer number of sources that we use is enormous.

Back when I was writing my dissertation (in the dark ages of 2009), your options for management were pretty limited. I initially tried printing everything out, but that created mountains of paper that I seldom read once, if at all. I also tried keeping pdfs on my computer, but those were the days before cloud storage, and too many pdfs was a problem. To say nothing of the difficulty of searching for the information I wanted.

However, as I began reworking my dissertation into a book manuscript, I quickly realized that I needed to have a better system. So today, I’m going to talk about the workflow that I’ve developed using reference management software.


There are several options available when it comes to reference managers. The most popular in the academic world is Zotero. Other popular options include Endnote,  Mendeley, and Papers 3. While I’m going to be focusing specifically on Papers 3, the principles are largely the same regardless of the actual software. As a result, this video demonstrates the usefulness of reference managers in general for managing secondary source research.

Since I’m mostly discussing software in today’s blog post, I have opted not to use text, as it is not an ideal format for this kind of explanation. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I had recorded a screenshot video of my workflow. So without any further ado, I present to you Unwritten Histories: The Vlog!


I hope you liked my little experiment this week! I would love to hear your thoughts on this kind of format. Would you like to see more videos?  Are there any topics in particular that you’d like me to discuss? How do you manage your secondary sources? Do you use reference management software? Let me know in the comments below! If you liked this video, please share it on Facebook and Twitter! And don’t forget to check back on Sunday for a new Canadian History Roundup!

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  1. Hey Andrea,
    I really enjoyed your audio/visual blog post. I have tons of research floating around my computer, so this was helpful. Thanks. ??

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