I’ve been sent to elementary school libraries to do “research”, which inevitably devolved into re-writing the encyclopedia entry on my subject in such a way that my report wasn’t outright plagiarism–perhaps with one or two details gleaned from the one or two lines about it in the whole of the rest of the library.
I’ve been sent on research treasure hunts in college libraries, with card catalogues and microfiche machines and hours spent hunched over in the hot, musty stacks.
I’ve been sent out on campus with a buddy to trick unsuspecting subjects into giving linguistic data on the star-cluster: dear sir, we’re lost. Can you tell us where State Avenue is? You mean State Shtreet? Why yes we do, thank you very much. Mark that one down as a palatization.
I’ve taken the freshman psychology course, and been a subject of research. Oh, oops, the computer totally just hung, let me re-set it … yes … start that set of questions from the beginning … that had NOTHING to do with the experiment, I promise.
I’ve worked in a biology laboratory. I have dissected the spinal nerves out of leeches, pinned them out on augur, run impulses through them. I have made frog embryos (with the help of frogs) so I could dissect out the 21-hour notochords (20 and 22 hours won’t do) for neural stem cells. I have pulled the pollen out of Easter lilies. I have run a liver enzyme assay on myself while I had mononucleosis. I have counted my own chromosomes.
I have run n-gram analyses on the WSJ corpus. I have built computer models. I have written a thesis, and then a dissertation, defended it to my committee, and never thought about the daffy thing again.
This research, though. The research to write historical fiction? A supreme delight. The 21st century lets me do it in my pajamas, in my study. It lets me download whole books for free. It plates up lists and maps instantaneously. What was the cost of room and board at a Pennsylvania tavern in 1795? We got that info right HERE.
Truly, it is the future, and I like it.