Discipline-Specific Tools: Digital Humanities 3: History

building with poolThis is the third and last, at least for now, post in my series of tools for the digital humanities (DH).  I continue to have the two problems I mentioned in my last post, of there being too many good resources to cover (which, admittedly, can be a good problem to have), and of the fact that DH tools don’t readily fit into one specific discipline.  I’ve divided the last two posts into literature and history, but the tools for one often work for the other as well.  Historians often analyze texts, as do those in literature; literature professors and students are creating maps and timelines as are historians.  So the divisions I’ve created are to a degree arbitrary.

In this post I want to cover tools for mapping, creating timelines, and creating exhibitions. First however, I want to mention a great resource that provides tutorials on tools of use to digital humanists, but with a slant towards historians.  It is The Programming Historian, which offers online, open access, peer-reviewed tutorials to help humanists learn digital tools, techniques, and workflows.  Tutorials are in the categories of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), Data Management, Data Manipulation, Mapping and GIS, Omeka Exhibit Building, Python Programming Basics, Topic Modeling, and Web Scraping.

 Mapping/Geospatial Data

Mapping, often drawing on geospatial data, can create rich representations whether for projects by faculty, graduate students, or undergraduates.  Many of the resources for maps/GIS and timelines have come from J. McClurkan’s Digital Liberal Arts Workshop Links and Resources.

One recent mapping resource is Maphub, a prototype for annotating and georeferencing high quality digital maps.  Take a look at the video on the top page to see all the features, but you can, for example, add annotations from Wikipedia, and open views in Google Earth.  Annotations can be enriched by sources that, for example, add tags for geographic references in other languages.

Naturally, one of biggest map resources is Google Maps.  Usually thought of in a personal context, it can be used in the classroom as well.  HOW TO: Get the Most Out of Google Maps provides a nice introduction to navigating the maps, as does How to Use Google Maps – Navigating Google Maps.

Maplib is another product which allows you to make map images zoomable and searchable, and annotate and share the maps.  It also offers the Maplib integrator, which allows you to host maps on your own site.

Some of these products make a mess of the categories mentioned above.  Neatline, for example is a very nice product that fits into all three categories.  It is a collection of tools that act as plugins for Omeka, the exhibition software, that allows one to add both mapping and timelines to an exhibit.  Take a look at the exhibit on the top Neatline page to see how attractively it can package valuable information.

WorldMap is another excellent mapping tool, this one from Harvard: “Build your own mapping portal and publish it to the world or to just a few collaborators. WorldMap is open source software.”  It allows the user such features as uploading large datasets and using them to create layers, creating and editing maps that can link to media content, sharing to large or small groups, exporting data, using online cartographic tools, and publishing privately or publicly.  Click on view map to see examples, such as this Women In the World map.  See also the FAQ and the Profhacker post Using the WorldMap Platform.

VisualEyes is a multifaceted web authoring tool that brings together maps, charts, video, timelines, and data into compelling educational resources.  It was developed at the Virginia Center for Digital History, and unsurprisingly tends to be heavy on resources about Thomas Jefferson, to the extent that the narrator of the project on the top page says that the project one year took a break from all things Jefferson.

Timelines

Up until the digital age, timelines were labors of love, time consuming, if one will forgive the pun.  These days tools make it possible for anyone who can do basic html to create visually handsome timelines. Simile Widgets is open source software that arose from the Simile Project at MIT, and houses widgets primarily for data visualization.  One of those widgets is Timeline, which creates interactive timelines.  Brian Croxall, a digital humanities professor at Emory, created an excellent tutorial, Build Your Own Interactive Timeline.  It uses the timeline and exhibit widgets from Simile, and Google spreadsheets to create the timelines.

Timeline JS is another project that can be created from a Google Spreadsheet or the more complex JSON software.  It can bring in media from a variety of social media including Twitter, Flickr, Google Maps, YouTube, Vimeo, Vine, Wikipedia, and more.  Amy Cavender in a Profhacker post on the software points to good features such as its easy inclusion of BC dates and that it resizes properly in responsive web designs.

Another winner in the cross-category stakes is TimeMapper,  which combines timelines and mapping (Doh!).  It is open source,  and came from an Open Knowledge Foundation project.   It is built on other open source software such as Timeline JS, and,  like several of the other programs mentioned in this post,  uses a Google spreadsheet to power the resulting display (see Croxall’s tutorial on Simile as an example).

Mapstory, like TimeMapper,  also includes both timelines and mapping,  but looks quite different.  Basically it is an animated map built on data, so you see the map change as the time and data change.  It is nice, but hard to design well…sometimes the data are slow to move, creating a map that is about as exciting as watching paint dry.  For a good example, see the mapstory of Women’s Right to Vote .

Exhibitions

For the most part, only one software is mentioned by academics for creating exhibitions, and it is Omeka.  It is beloved by all kinds of archivists, but it is easy enough to use that it has become a teaching tool – for example, a final assignment in an undergraduate course might be to create an Omeka exhibit.  Omeka is open source software from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.  Profhacker has discussed Omeka in more than one post.  For example, see a post introducing it and a followup on using it in the classroom.  For an idea of what it can do, take a look at the introductory video:

 

For more examples of what Omeka can do, see the showcase page.

Conclusions

For a field that only hit the tipping point a few years ago, the Digital Humanities is now producing a wonderful set of (mostly open source) tools that allow the creation of an even richer set of content, packaged attractively to draw in the reader.  There is now so much material on  DH that even in three posts I can only cover some of best resources and tools that I have found (see the first post for general resources), and only a couple of subdisciplines, literature and history, rather than the full range of humanities.  I find that I am envious of students who are exposed to such a wonderful array of tools they can use in assignments, and faculty who have new ways to add value to the academic corpus.

Works Cited

Cavender, A. (2013).  Easy Timelines with Timelines JS. Profhacker, retrieved June 29, 2014.

Croxall, B. (n.d).  Build Your Own Interactive Timeline. Brian Croxall, retrieved June 29, 2014.

Lawson, K.M.  (2014).  Add Space and Time to Your Omeka ExhibitsProfhacker, retrieved June 29, 2014.

Lawson, K.M. (2014).  Using the WorldMap PlatformProfhacker, retrieved June 29, 2014.

McClurken, J. (2014)  Digital Liberal Arts Workshop Links and Resources.    Google Docs.

McClurken, J. (2010).  Teaching with OmekaProfhacker, retrieved June 29, 2014.

Meloni, J. (2010).  A Brief Introduction to OmekaProfhacker, retrieved June 29, 2014.

Nations, D.  (n.d).  How to Use Google Maps – Navigating Google MapsWeb Trends About.com, retrieved June 29, 2014.

Van Grove, J. (2008)  How to: Get the Most Out of Google MapsMashable, retrieved June 29, 2014.

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