How To ... Use Airtable to organize your research materials.

Katie Trostel's picture

(H-Net is receiving no compensation for reviewing the product featured in the blogpost below).

Airtable's home page.

How do you organize all of the primary source materials that go into writing your dissertation, conference paper, or academic article --particularly when oftentimes the argument you are making requires photographic evidence, archival evidence, linked-from-a-website evidence, videos of interviews... the list goes on and on. 

As my database of research materials expanded over the years of dissertation writing, I began to look for a tool that would help me to stay organized. After talking to some colleagues tackling similarly diverse pools of primary source documents, I stumbled across AirTable. Unlike your typical spreadsheet, AirTable allows you to store multiple types of media such as pictures, hyperlinks, text, labeled categories in a single databank. Their pre-made templates allow you to track anything from "local businesses" (cattle ranching!) to "event planning" and from "art galleries" to "gradschool applications." Or, you can mix and match features to custom build your own dynamic spreadsheet.

Thus the tagline for the website: 

Organize anything you can imagine

Airtable is a modern database created for everyone.

Here is an example of how I've used this tool in my own dissertation work (in literature). I can keep track of images, real-world locations as they appear in the text, page numbers and quotations from the prose-poem collection, etc. Each entry on the spreadsheet expands into what looks more like a traditional, catalogue card: 

As the creators put it: 

Airtable is the easy but powerful organizational tool that works exactly the way you want. It's as fast and flexible as a spreadsheet, but offers a refreshingly clean, modern way to organize and collaborate on everything.

Does this seem like a useful tool?  Do you have suggestions for alternative tools to keep track of our research materials -especially when our primary source materials often span multiple media types?

Share your thoughts! Email us (editorial-grad@mail.h-net.msu.edu), or join in the conversation on Twitter (hgradlist).

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