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Using LaTeX in the Humanities

I interrupt my series of posts reviewing my recent publications on Pasyon and Revolution to briefly touch on the subject of LaTeX and its use in the humanities. 

When I embarked on the writing of my doctoral dissertation, I was confronted by the question of with what software I would write. I knew that I would be managing an immense number of citations and had no desire to write the entire work in Word or LibreOffice Write.

I have happily used LibreOffice for short articles, letters, and other minor projects, but I knew that this would require a sophisticated adaptability calibrated to the needs of scholarship. I began looking into the use of LaTeX.

There was an initial, rather steep learning curve to LaTeX for me, but the results have more than compensated for this effort. I have been able to seamlessly manage a thousand separate sources which were incorporated into an neatly formatted 950 page final document. LaTeX made writing a distraction free affair, in which I could focus on producing content and set aside formatting for a separate stage in the process.

Here is a snippet from the opening of my main tex file which pulls together and compiles the document class I created, JPSDissertation.cls, the bibliography, JPSDissertation.bib., and all of the seventy-eight chapters, five appendices, and three indices, including numerous images, maps, and tables.

The end result was not only in compliance with the requirements of UC Berkeley for doctoral dissertations, but also, I believe, elegant.

I have made the code of both my master’s thesis and my doctoral dissertation available on Bitbucket.

I wrote my entire dissertation in Vim. My sources are maintained in a bibtex file.

I found using git to be extremely useful for version control and keeping tabs on my progress. I used git branches to make major revisions to my dissertation. Thus I could on one branch maintain a stable copy of my work in progress that I could distribute if needed, while on a separate branch I could make major modifications and only merge the branches when the modifications had reached a presentable stage.

For those interested in working with LaTeX on a longer academic work in the humanities, I would encourage you to review the code. I will occasionally on this site go over certain points in the code that I created that I believe will be particularly helpful for other scholars.

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