American studies, due to its interdisciplinary foundation, uses more than just text-only sources to build scholarship. We use film, photographs, art, music, and pretty much anything you could find around your home to research. Attempting to organize that research can be quite challenging, especially when one is working on a large project like a thesis or dissertation. Certain platforms, such as Zotero, are excellent for keeping books and articles in line and organized. But what if your research relies on purely visual sources? Or household gadgets? Or even the Internet itself as a subject?
Enter social media.
I’m not positing that you should move your research hours over to Facebook, but there are very popular sites that can enhance your research capabilities and make your work more accessible to others in process.
Pinterest is a virtual bulletin board that allows you to create “boards” and curate online collections. It began in 2010 as a invitation only site, allowing small numbers of creative individuals to build “pin” libraries and get the site on its feet. Now, it is a fully open site with numerous categories of “pins” and something for everyone. I use it to organize online articles, books, and images that I want to refer back to during the writing process of my dissertation. My most recent board is “NBC Olympics,” which hosts articles about NBC’s handling of the 2012 London Summer Games, as well as pictures of the publicity posters. One of my colleagues is performing research on Manhattan Mini Storage advertisements, and she has created a board feature more than 90 ads. Pinterest is also an excellent way to creatively showcase your department and its activities.
Tumblr is another social media site that focuses on the visual, but also allows for some “micro-blogging.” You can easily collaborate with others, as on Pinterest, but there is no option to keep your blog secret, so its best purpose is to share research with others. Many major research institutions (Philadelphia Museum of Art; National Archives) have Tumblr sites, and they are great sources for images.
3. Twitter & Facebook
Twitter’s purpose for the scholar lies more in networking than anything else. It is a simple way to connect with other social-media-minded scholars and programs, as well as discover new blogs and books. If you choose to have a personal and a professional Twitter account, as I do, try a platform like TweetDeck or HootSuite to manage them. Facebook serves largely the same purpose as Twitter, in that its primary purpose is networking. Both also provide the possibility of causing more problems than they solve. Be most careful on these sites, choosing your words, pictures, and shares carefully. Because I look at the role of media and corporate culture in my research, these sites also allow me to see how different corporations see themselves and how they build online identity.
Obviously, there are lots of other ways to employ social media, like blogging, but these platforms have been especially useful to me in organizing my research.