Avigail Oren and Ada Barlatt
Avigail Oren and Ada Barlatt created the great DEVONthink for Historians online course. No wonder this caught our attention and we wanted to find out more about how it happened.
In 2017, independent writer, editor, and historian Avigail Oren and business efficiency expert Ada Barlatt meet at one of Ada’s lectures. By the time they get into conversation, Avigail mentions that historians underutilize software and technology to make their work easier and improve their workflow. A market yet to be tapped. Ada does not want to take on the task alone, but gladly would work on it together with Avigail, if interested. And that is the birth of a great partnership and project: DEVONthink for Historians.
I’m not going to do that by myself, but we can do it together if you’re interested, Avigail.
Combining their expertise, Avigail and Ada design three video courses to teach researchers how to critically evaluate their workflows and use DEVONthink and other digital tools to make their organization, analysis, and writing more efficient.
Avigail is a trained historian of U.S. cities and the people who live in them. She first came into contact with DEVONthink while writing her dissertation prospectus. “I knew that I needed a system to keep track of all the materials — archival and secondary sources — that I would need to write the dissertation“, Avigail notes. Looking for a program to help her with this, an older graduate student introduced her to DEVONthink. She created an intuitive organizational structure to store the collected PDF files; used tags and Wiki links to track relationships between sources stored in different groups; and stored citation information and notes about each source in linked annotation files that she could access virtually instantly.
I knew that I needed a system to keep track of all the materials — archival and secondary sources — that I would need to write the dissertation.
These days, Avigail’s work is no longer limited to U.S. cities, but she researches whatever her clients are interested in. Instead of focusing on just one area, she finds joy in learning about new topics and finding out new things. A big part of her job is to identify how a local person, place, or event relates to broader trends in the U.S. or in history. Accordingly, she often buries her nose in books, articles, and journalism to examine the relevant context more closely.
Whenever she has a new topic to research, she plunges headlong into databases using her hometown Pittsburgh public and university libraries. In addition, she scours the internet, Google searches, and Wikipedia entries. Following the snowball principle, she keeps finding new sources in the references which she then captures as PDFs with DEVONthink’s Sorter. Alternatively, she downloads the PDFs directly from databases and drags them into a group related to the topic.
She is also very meticulous about tracking where she found her sources. ”For DEVONthink for Historians, Ada and I developed custom templates and scripts that allow users to add the citation information into linked annotation files and export them to Bookends, a reference manager. I use those custom scripts for most documents in my database”, Avigail explains.
From time to time she misses the adventurous feeling that archival work brought when she was searching through a box of old papers for the needle in the haystack. The one document for her research that would change everything. But there is also a sunny side. Avigail’s work is now mainly based on the brilliant publications of many other historians, and the stories she writes about them help their work find a greater audience.
Ada’s work as a business efficiency expert, on the other hand, looks a little different. She helps organizations understand and improve their systems at work, using data and technology. “I love helping people devise new approaches to their work so that they can save time, frustration, and effort“, she explains. And who doesn’t need that today?
In the course of their joint work, Ada first came into contact with DEVONthink through Avigail. And although as a Windows user she cannot use it in her daily work, we are glad that she found so much joy in it while working with Avigail and her students. And, of course, that she was able to develop the customized solutions for historians’ workflows.
I love helping people devise new approaches to their work so that they can save time, frustration, and effort.
When people spend so much time with our product and derive such an opportunity from it, we naturally also want to know what tips they both have for us.
Ada and Avigail say that as powerful as DEVONthink can be, it can seem overwhelming at first. They recommend being aware of one’s work process and taking enough time to connect it with the rich function set of DEVONthink. Investing a little more time right from the start, thinking about how to best use DEVONthink, will in the end save a lot of time and effort in the work. Two of Avigail’s and Ada’s courses devote a whole module to the researcher’s workflow alone because that is how particularly important they feel it is to reflect on and understand the steps involved.
If you set up your databases efficiently from the start, you will save time and mental energy in the long run.
Aviagil and Ada, thank you for giving us a brief insight into your lives, your work, and your wonderful project. We are glad to be a part of it and are excited to see how your journey together continues.
To learn more about Avigail and Ada’s story and their courses, visit DEVONthink for Historians or find them on YouTube. There they also cover topics submitted by students and subscribers, and give helpful tips on DEVONthink.