Using DEVONthink for Literary studies. Round Two

One, medieval historiography is absolutely part of literary studies, and has been for at least 50 years. So, with all respect, don’t tell me what my field is or isn’t.

Re: Zotero, many of the secondary sources that are essential to my work aren’t online - scans of essays in edited collections, but also occasionally smaller/regional journals. My workflow for these begins with (gasp) physically going to a library to check out a physical book (!!!). I scan those essays to PDF using the English Department scanner, then OCR them with Acrobat or DT/Abby, and then add them to Zotero, where maybe two times out of three, it has no idea what they are. Sometimes I add the metadata manually then, other times I’m in a hurry (and I always scan the title page of a volume, so there’s never any doubt where an essay has come from) and I don’t populate those fields.

Which is a long way of saying I copy-and-paste Zotero’s citations into my writing. When it works, great, and when it doesn’t, it’s not as if I haven’t been putting things in Chicago style professionally for a very long time. I prefer to have total control over my footnotes, and don’t mind the stage where they’re lightly chaotic while composing.


Thanks for the corrections – for my sake as well as the DT community! I know a lot of people like Bookends, no doubt with good reason.

I have a free trial and may take another look, but I may not have enough incentive to change from a free program to one I’d pay for. First try at importing from Zotero was a failure, and trials of the built in browser weren’t particularly successful, but both might have worked better if I’d had the User Guide open!

I used to teach English literature, and I found the skills that I learned in analysing literary prose were very useful when analysing other sorts of text. Stated rather crudely, textual analysis in psychology is just a question of looking at what people are saying, and the way they are saying it. So if people are talking about their job, their family, a chronic illness from which they suffer, or advertisements on television, you can find out all sorts of things about attitudes, values and much else, by looking carefully at the kinds of words and expressions they use. Discursive Psychology is pretty well established, and so are other forms of psychology that study the use of language, such as Social Constructionism. Language is fundamental to human interaction, so it is not surprising that many psychologists study it deeply.

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Yes, that’s what I actually expected. Thanks for the good explanation and for the links.

“What I am curious about is if somehow there is an easy way to get output as prose rather than in typical layout of specific fields”

Not sure what you mean. If you export a text field as tab delimited, you’ll get it as text. If you export a number field and want the number to be in a text form, you will need to convert that number field first, before you export the (new) converted field as text.

I go the exact opposite from you – all my research is in DT, because that’s the only way that its power can most fully be harnessed. (I know Indexing offers most of that power, but I prefer to trust to the simplest option and import).

I’m an academic teaching and researching medieval and renaissance literatures. I certainly do all you refer to in your post, working on 1 history of lit; 2 literary theory; and 3 analysis of single works.

To come back to your original question, it’s worth remembering that DT is a fairly bespoke tool. I work in an academic department of c. 45 colleagues – all of them talented literary scholars working at the cutting edges of their fields. I’d bet you my DT license though that I am the only one using DT as my daily driver (see here for related discussions and some notes on my set-up, and those of others). I’d be delighted to meet more DT enthusiasts in the wild!. What I mean is that much ‘literary studies’ is conducted in a huge variety of ways, more or less tech reliant, and that much of the core of the discipline has little to do with how we organise our information. But of course, we have an enormous amount of it, and I personally believe that DT is among the best solutions to find a way through the morass of primary and secondary evidence.

I love DT for organising searches and fixed-data set searches (I like to create subsets of resources via Smart Groups, pulled into there via tags, and search these apart from everything else). I’ve had huge success recently with both scattergun approach (big, unwieldy search terms yielding tons of results), and the pointed search query that got me ONE hit. Just so happened to be the one thing that eluded me, and which set me off on a research path that answered many questions. But the key is that I curated a library over many years: way too large to keep fully in mind, but nevertheless consciously shaped according to my (narrow, in comparative terms) research activities, questions, projects, and so on.

In your original posts you floated a few ideas: e.g. using DT and dump in ‘the complete corpus of English Renaissance literature’. This could now be achieved more easily than ever before, but I’ve had little success with this despite the now free availability of EEBO-TCP: Early English Books Online (EEBO) TCP – Text Creation Partnership (essentially transcriptions of the largest part of books printed in England and in English from c. 1470-1700). I think the issue may be that this database is in XML format and there are better tools than DT for wrangling large amounts of XML. There is also, simply, a huge amount of noise. It’s probably also more efficient to use the custom online repositories for searching these texts (but EEBO is, of course, behind a paywall).

Finally, I have found that effective note-taking of many ‘factual’ resources (esp. secondary criticism; historical background) lends itself very well to solutions like DT, and my personal note-taker of choice, Obsidian (which I have closely integrated). But I have never quite managed a satisfactory workflow – in the tech-sense – for note-taking and annotating poetry. The poem is such a dense object; repays constant re-reading; often lives in old editions (that I increasingly try to digitise these days to enable e-annotation); and somehow, and despite working ‘in the field’ for 15 years now, I still find effective research on verse a challenge. I think that this is because meaning emerges differently from a poem than from other types of text, and that meaning, moreover, is entirely context/question specific, and so will change over time as I (the reader) and my questions change. There is also the constant scaling of approach: I want to say something about an entire 154-sonnet sequence, say; but also about a single metaphor in line 4. Perhaps it’s simply the case that no amount of thinking about a literary text can ever be fully documented and/codified, and no literary text can ever be fully known, in order to be ‘done with it’ and enter it into our PKMs for instant retrieval.

Happy researching!


What I meant is - is there a simple way to use Filemaker as a report generator similar to what used to be termed a “mail merge.” Rather than viewing a table with fields is it possible to create a document which is basically a form letter where the database values are used to fill in the templated items in the document.

FYI, using an “interweb” search engine for “Filemaker Mailmerge” brings up some articles and even some videos explaining how Filemaker does this. Whether “simple” or not, is up to you.

Considering the cost of the product, I’d consider it over-kill and look to other methods.



“is it possible to create a document which is basically a form letter where the database values are used to fill in the templated items in the document.”

Oh, now we are not talking about timeline anymore…

I set up a mail merge in FMP a couple of years ago when I was looking for a new job. I used 3 databases, one with the text, the second with the addresses, and the third contained the finished letter, after the addresses and the text had been combined. The relationship was created by a serial number and the type of job. When the serial was entered, all the relevant information was automatically copied into the final letter.

Creating Relationships can be a daunting task for the beginner, but once it’s set up it’s a fantastic feature. Try to find a good book in your local library about FMP where this is explained in detail. That’s what I did, and it really helps.

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Bookends does import by ISBN. It also allows you to scan in the bar code of any book. Super easy.


“medieval historiography is absolutely part of literary studies, and has been for at least 50 years. So, with all respect, don’t tell me what my field is or isn’t.”

You are absolutely right. The further back in time we go, all written material becomes part of literary studies. And literary scholars who have specialized in medieval or ancient literature are often also historians, or at least their second university subject was history.

“Re: Zotero…I copy-and-paste Zotero’s citations into my writing”

Aha, you are using MS Word, aren’t you?

If you are NOT using MS Word, LibreOffice or GoogleDocs, and if you have many references of authors who have umlauts or diacritics in the name, you can’t create a bibliography in your document with Zotero. It’s as simple as that. Everyone should be aware of this. Since the Zotero developers are not willing or are unable to fix this, I recommend using Bookends instead, and I repeat: this only matters for people who do not use MS Word, LibreOffice or GoogleDocs.

For LaTeX users BibDesk seems to be the first choice.


“I know a lot of people like Bookends, no doubt with good reason.”

Well, one reason is that there is now no alternative for Mac users! Sente (which had a very nice interface) is now dead. Papers 3 has been discontinued, and it has been removed from the MacUpdate webpage. Papers 3 supported Word, but neither Mellel nor Nisus. EndNote is expensive and is not closely integrated with any Mac program (except perhaps Word; not sure about that.) Bookends doesn’t look particularly attractive in my opinion, but it is closely integrated with Nisus and Mellel. The so called Format Manager in Bookends is powerful and enables you to determine exactly how you want your references to appear in your document. Bookends support is also legendary. Pose a question in the forum, and within minutes you have an answer from the developer. Credit where credit is due. I just wished Bookends had a more inspiring interface.

"I may not have enough incentive to change from a free program to one I’d pay for. "

If you don’t have references of authors who have umlauts or diacritics in the name, …or in other words, if you don’t use references in other languages than English, then you should be OK with Zotero.

“First try at importing from Zotero was a failure”

Did you use the RIS export file format?

Although this thread is not really about writing fiction or so called ‘creative writing’, I wonder if you have used the Story Points in Mellel to do what you are now doing in Aeon Timeline.

There has been no discussion in the Mellel forum about the usefulness of these Story Points, so maybe nobody is actually using it.


You say you are scanning all your books with an ET24 Pro scanner and adding them to DT, and you’re even re-scanning books that have already been scanned.

I watched this video here

and the speed is incredible! One second per page!

How reliable is the OCR software? According to the video, the book doesn’t even have to be wide open in order to get the job done. Is this true?

If you are not doing any analysis, why do you then store all your science fiction pulps in DT and not in the Finder? Is it because you want DT to draw your attention to similarities between individual stories? I’m just trying to understand your motives and the logic behind this approach.


“I used to teach English literature”

Just in case you are still interested in teaching, can you recommend good webpages, newsgroups or email lists where English teachers share information and reviews about (new) dictionaries and reference material which are useful for English teachers who teach English at a university level?

I’m afraid I haven’t formally taught English since 1992. I’ve marked a LOT of language exams in the intervening time, but I’m very out of touch regarding the sort of material you mention. Sorry to disappoint.


OCR and PDF compression is good enough. It is at professional level like Abbyy paid versions, but with less options. And yes, it has a laser beam that fires 3 times (or has 3 lasers) that measures the book curvature and flatten it. It is like magic but not perfect. To me is enough.

I store two copies, well, three. One in DT, one in Dropbox, and one in my NAS. I use DT to search inside them, sometimes using the See Also && Classify to find similarities, mostly to investigate relations or find, as you say, similarities but, as I store more things (encyclopedias, old reference books, etc) to compare facts. But nothing at professional level.


“Sorry to disappoint.”

No problem. My situation is similar. I bought my first Mac in 1992 and then there were newsgroups and email lists available about almost everything. Now they seem to have all disappeared. When I asked my Internet Service Provider about newsgroups the salesperson didn’t know what I was talking about. He had never even heard the word!


Thank you very much for the link to the related discussion thread about academic research.

“all my research is in DT”

What happens when you have finished a project, i.e. when you don’t need a particular research material anymore? Do you then remove it from DT? Or do you just keep it in DT?

With this approach I’m afraid I would soon run out of space. My MacBook Pro has 1 TB internal disk, and my external disk, where I keep my research material, is 4 TB, and it’s already getting tight, I have only got 51 GB left.

“I still find effective research on verse a challenge”

It certainly is. For my personal needs only, I was thinking about creating a FileMaker Pro database for categorizing poems according to literary motives. Nothing spectacular, just a private working tool to help me find similar poems. Think of “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, for example. “The poem explores the fate of history and the ravages of time: even the greatest men and the empires they forge are impermanent, their legacies fated to decay into oblivion.” (Wikipedia)

I have read innumerable poems with similar motives, but when it comes to tell you the titles and the authors of these poems I’m afraid I can’t remember any of them. I think a database with the keywords

life is transient; impermanence (or something like that)

would be helpful for me. Nothing of great scholarly value, just a toy to play with.

For my writing projects, when I am done and do not need the files in DEVONthink anymore, i am loathe to delete. So, I create a new database named as the project. Move all the applicable files into that new database. Then create an archive backup (using the DEVONthink menu command) and put that file on my NAS in the archive folder. In the old days I would write the file to a CD or DVD. Then delete that database just created.

Saves clogging up my computers.