Through my university account, I have access to an amazing storehouse of scholarly knowledge named JSTOR. This garden of intellectual delights contains thousands of academic articles and pamphlets, some going back to the 1800’s and earlier, in PDF format. The older articles are obviously scanned in from the originals, and they have been scanned very meticulously. By this I mean that the pages were carefully aligned to the scanner, so that the lines of text aren’t tilted about all a-kilter; this rectification must have been achieved by computer. (My guess is that newer articles were already available in PDF format, so they didn’t need to be scanned in.)

But the really cool thing about JSTOR is that the words in the body of the articles — not just the titles, not just the abstracts — have been indexed. The JSTOR staff must have had some sort of optical character recognition software to do this. This means that one can go to JSTOR, do a search on arbitrary search terms, and receive hits even in ancient articles with archaic fonts, even if the search terms occur in the body of the article rather than merely in the title.

It would be very tedious to manually go through hard-copies of journals, looking for all occurrences of some search term such as panpsychism or Aquinas. But with JSTOR, one can do it in seconds.

Do you realize how awesome this is?

From doing many, many searches on JSTOR on various topics of interest, it has become clear to me that if you’re going to write an article and you want future generations to be able to find your article, it would help to choose the title very carefully; rather than some vague title like Further Thoughts on a Recent Controversy, insert concrete topical words in the title, e.g. The Split-Brain Experiments Revisited. Also, you should try to follow the consensus spelling of proper names (e.g., Scriabin vs. Skryabin, or Rachmaninoff vs. Rachmaninov), even if you don’t agree with them. Otherwise, if people try to use the most common spelling of terms to find articles, they will miss your article! Of course, what might be a consensus in one era may drop out of favor in another era.