Google for the Anthropology Student (Part I?)

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I’m a big fan of Google. I know a lot of people tend to get a little paranoid about big corporations like Google, Microsoft, Intel, etc. getting their fingers in everything, but so far everything that Google gets into is practically free to the average user. And, for the anthropology student, free can mean the difference between that $100 textbook and, perhaps more important, a week’s worth of Pizza. You don’t need to be an Anthro student to benefit from these tips, though.

Email

Okay, Gmail is the core of it all. If you have a Gmail account, the rest falls into place. If you don’t have one, start by going to mail.google.com and click the “Create Account” button on the lower-right. This is a must if you want to take full advantage of what Google has to offer and the tips that follow.

Gmail is a very powerful and flexible mail application, giving you access to POP and IMAP. This is useful if you use a mail application like Outlook, Evolution, Thunderbird, Claws, etc. Running an email application like Thunderbird can allow you to access your Gmail and other mail services without having to log into them directly but synchronizing your mail with your desktop application. I prefer Thunderbird and Evolution on Linux and Outlook on Windows, but mostly I just use the Gmail cloud application. “Cloud” because it doesn’t reside on your desktop but in “the cloud” of the Internet (as it were).

Within Gmail, there are many features you can take advantage of such as assigning labels which can act as folders or tags. There are many useful widgets that you can install that enhance the Gmail experience, but I’ll just mention three: Calendar, Chat, and Docs. These each put the Google applications of the same name in your Gmail inbox, making access and viewing information convenient and quick. I’ve only mentioned the barest surface strata of the many layers of features available for Gmail, but let me just add that Gmail’s spam filter is simply the best you’ll ever find.

Docs

So you’ve got that term paper to write. 30 pages? Double-spaced? Hanging indents on the references? No problem. Working from multiple computers and keep losing your USB drive? No problem.

At docs.google.com, you can upload MS Word, Power Point, and Excel documents as well as Open Office, PDF and RTF documents. Once uploaded to the Google Documents servers, you can access them anywhere and edit them anywhere as long as you can access Google. Not only will you be able to access them from any Internet connected computer, but you can share documents with collaborators or friends. I’ve uploaded PDF files of journal articles to share with colleagues in order to get their comment or opinion. You can choose who sees the documents and they are quite secure. You can even email documents to your docs space by copy/pasting a rather long email provided by Google, a service that’s handy if you already have a document in your inbox.

Scholar

You’ve got the great idea for the term paper. Perhaps an outline and an abstract or an introduction… but now that writer’s block has set in. You need more information and the library is closed. You have access to your university’s online databases. How do you find the relevant journal articles? The answer is Google Scholar. As a search application, it’s in Beta testing, but the functionality is solid. You can search diverse set of sources to get citations, abstracts, books and full papers and even see the number of times an article or source has been cited. If you click this link to the search results for “forensic DNA,” you’ll see an example of the results I described.

Books

You say you need some books for your paper? Maybe you have a book, but you want to search for specific keywords within it. If you clicked the link in the preceding paragraph, you should have noticed a link that began with “[book]” which takes you to Google Books about the third link down (though this might have changed by the time you read this). By clicking that link, you might go to this book where you can see the forward, table of contents, introduction and many of the pages of many if not all of the chapters. You can catch the page that carries all the citation information (date/place of publication, title, author, ISBN, etc.). In addition -and this is what’s really cool- you can search the book for keywords. Try this, go to the book link above, find the search box on the left side-bar, and insert “fluorescent dye” without the inverted commas. Then you’ll see the results.

If the page is available for preview, you can click on it and read the surrounding text for good context (no excuses for quote-mining here). If the page is not available for preview, Google Books will still show you what page the term(s) appear on and a portion of the sentence it resides in. You might ask, “meh, what good is it if you don’t have the full page text?” Remember when I said you can search books you own? I’ve used Google Books on several occasions to help me search books I have sitting in my lap. The index might show 7 or 8 results for “fluorescent dye,” but Google Books returns 41. See the value now? You can use Google Books find specific phrases or words that the author didn’t even index. It’ll give you the page number even if the page isn’t part of the preview and you can turn to it in the physical book!

Oh, and you can collect books in a “library” of sorts. Just click the link “add to my library” and, when you’re ready, click the “My Library” link at the top of the page. Just to give you an idea of the books available in preview and the extent of the previews, take a look at my own library. It’s heavily skewed to physical anthropology with a smattering of cultural anth here and there. Feel free to read. They’re your books too!

There are still several Google apps and services that could benefit the anthropology student (or any student, for that matter), so perhaps I should do another part, covering Calendar, Chat, Blogger, Reader, and others to show how they can benefit the anthro-student. If you’d like to see me cover more or if you’d like to start a discussion on Google apps, comment below. Feel free to share your own tips and suggestions.

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