Interview: Historian Robert Caro on the Importance of Analog Research in a Digital Age
From an Interview with Robert Caro Published by Popular Mechanics:
Four decades ago, Robert A. Caro began writing a multipart biography he calls The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Over 3,000 pages and a Pulitzer later, he’s still working on the fifth and (allegedly) final volume.
“In writing about me and my hopes of finishing, [journalists] often express their doubts of that happening in a sarcastic phrase: ‘Do the math,’ ” Caro, 83, writes in the introduction to Working, a new book about his research.
Yet concern over longevity might be better suited to his tools. Caro writes first drafts longhand, then types them up, complete with carbon copies, on a Smith-Corona Electra 210 typewriter.
Popular Mechanics: What do you bring with you when you go to the archives?
Robert Caro: It depends on the archive. I have a computer on my desk [a Lenovo Thinkpad], although I still write and do most of my stuff on this typewriter. The reason I have a computer is that some years ago, the Johnson library said that my typewriter was so noisy, it was disturbing the other researchers. So I bought a computer and I took all my Vietnam notes on it, but I still write on the typewriter and in longhand.
It makes me think more. Today everybody believes fast is good. Sometimes slow is good.
PM: Do you ever use Google?
RC: Sure. But you know, I don’t use Google a lot. What I use a lot is control-find.
Let’s say—during the Vietnam War, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had a lot of executive sessions. They’re endless. They’re volume after volume of small type. It really would be sort of an impenetrable mass, but with control-find, of course, if I want to know if there were additional references to the Gulf of Tonkin after the truth started to come out, I just hit control-find. That is the great help for researchers.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (email@example.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.