Organising and Annotating Research Photos with Tropy

If you’ve been rummaging in the archives, you probably have a lot of digital images. They can be quite tricky to manage, especially when you’ve got more than a few dozen. Although tools like Zotero are great for bibliographic data, they’re not really suited to archival material. Fortunately, the Zotero developers have also created Tropy.

Launched a couple of years ago, Tropy is a free tool to help you organise and annotate your research photos. It’s rather like a database with a friendly interface. You can import most image formats, including PDFs, simply by dragging them into the application.

Here’s an example from my collection. This is a letter from the Victorian novelist Florence Marryat to George Eliot, offering condolences on the death of her common-law husband, G H Lewes. Marryat’s handwriting is terrible, but Tropy offers some useful functionality to help me.

Screenshot of Tropy

1) From this toolbar, I can zoom in on the writing, rotate the image, deskew it, and even fiddle about with the colours. This gives me a much better chance of deciphering the text.

2) Once I’ve fathomed the writing, I can transcribe it in the notes field below. When I next return to this letter, I no longer need to squint at it. Here I might also add some thoughts on the significance of the document.

3) In the left-hand panel, I capture the metadata. As all archives have their own system, I can change the fields (something that’s not possible in Zotero, for instance) and also make my own templates. This means I know exactly where I found this material and also I can cite it properly. There’s a tab here for adding tags – labels that link your items together. This is similar to the tagging feature in Zotero and you can even colour-code them.

All your metadata and notes are fully searchable, making this a powerful tool for large image collections.

There are a few limitations with Tropy:

  • It’s not cloud-based, so you have to install the software on a desktop computer (Mac, Windows, or Linux)
  • Unlike Zotero, you can’t synchronise your account between multiple machines
  • There’s no tablet or smartphone app

The large filesizes involved mean it’s unlikely that Tropy will ever be cloud-based. However, the functionality makes it a top choice for managing a large collection of images. You can see how other researchers are using Tropy on the blog. You’ll also find a full user guide, training opportunities, and tips.

No doubt there are many other ways you could use Tropy for your particular project. Do let us know in the comments below.

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