Inside the Library’s Labyrinth #5 – Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket?

This week’s highlighted resource is Gale Primary Resources.  It is a research environment that works across multiple collections and can be accessed via the Library catalogue here

Putting all your eggs in one basket is generally considered to be a bad thing.  The well-known proverb is mentioned usually when people want to warn others about putting their faith in one particular course of action to the exclusion of all others.  Keeping your options open would be the more modern and less epigrammatic phrase to use.

But in relation to Gale Primary Resources, such exhortations seem problematic because here is a one-stop shop that is endeavouring to be ‘the largest digital humanities and social sciences resource in the world.’  It brings together archives ranging from those highlighting sexuality and gender to those incorporating seventeenth- and eighteenth-century newspapers.  The full range of archives are presented under three main headings: contemporary studies, the early modern to modern period and newspapers and periodicals.

You can search through all these archives or just one by de-selecting the ones you feel are not relevant. You can search by using keywords, author name, place of publication or document title and the results are given under three headings: monograph, manuscript and newspapers/periodicals.

All of this feels like a standard archive website experience.  However, it is in the advanced search options that this resource feels a little different.  In addition to the usual filters for your search of date ranges, content types and source libraries it offers you three significant ways in which you use the resource which are worth checking out in a little bit more detail:

Subject Indexing  –  the resources have been catalogued in a way that specific keyword searches will show results from all this that have been indexed along with that keyword.  The example given is of a search for ‘disease’ would also direct you to a pamphlet on ‘influenza’, even though the word disease is not mentioned in the pamphlet.

Term Frequency  –  this allows you to view the data for a specific search over a prescribed period of time.  As well as being a different way into your search, it provides the opportunity to explore the relationship between different search items, e.g. do the terms “protest” and “democracy” have any connection in popular discourse?

Term Clusters  –  by using this option you can discover ‘hidden’ connections to your particular subject search.  Really useful at the beginning of your research journey, this pictorial representation (in rings or plates) allows you to make connections between your research and other related topics.

In addition to these visual displays, the site also records your search history for a particular session, allowing you the opportunity to refresh your enquiry to give more profitable results.

Archives can be approached with a strong degree of pre-determinism.  We use them to find and use resources that support or illustrate a point we wish to make or to explore a relationship we have already concluded upon.  Gale Primary Resources reminds us that research is about discovery.  It is about the acquisition of new information or the development of a new understanding.  If you are just starting out on your research journey or if you are an established researcher directing your attention to your latest subject there is much for you to find of use here.

Which brings us back to putting all your eggs in one basket.  The phrase appeared in the novel published in 1605, ‘Don Quixote’ by Miguel Cervantes.  Unfortunately, its language reflected the discriminatory language of its age but bears repeating in this context:

“…’tis the part of a wise man to keep himself today for tomorrow, and not venture all his eggs in one basket.”

Wise women and wise men would still, even today, retain such a cautious approach.  But when it comes to research I would say that the more eggs available in your particular research basket on any given day the better.  Gale Primary Resources is a great way to start, re-invigorate or re-direct your research.  Why not give it a go?

Have you used Gale Primary Resources before? Did it work for you? Tweet us at @warwicklibrary, email us at libraryblogs@warwick.ac.uk, or leave a comment below.

by Stephen Hedges

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