4 new tools for scholarly research

by Joshua Allen Holm
RL: http://opensource.com/education/15/4/open-source-digital-humanities

Welcome to the second installment of a monthly feature in which I explore how open source software and the open source way are used in the digital humanities. Every month I will take a look at open source tools you can use in your digital humanities research as well as at humanities research projects that are using open source tools today. I will also cover news about transparency and open exchange as well as how the other principles of the open source way being applied to the humanities.

Let’s start with an explanation of the digital humanities. The digital humanities is where traditional humanities scholarship—or, the academic study of arts, language, history, and the like—meets the digital age. By using technology in new and innovative ways, digital humanities scholars can create research projects that explore topics in ways that were not possible (or were extremely laborious undertakings) before computers.

Text/data mining, visualization, information retrieval, and digital publishing are some of the key features of digital humanities research. With computers, it is possible to analyze text, discover patterns, and visualize data with relative ease. For example, digital humanities projects can make reading and analysis a collaborative undertaking, like what the Infinite Ulysses project has done with James Joyce’s novel Ulysses.

In March, several interesting new software releases and tutorials came out. I have highlighted the most interesting of them below. Perhaps one will inspire you in your own digital humanities research or help you learn about this interesting field of scholarly research.

4 new tools and tutorials

Use Twine 2.0 to tell interactive stories

On The Chronicle of Higher Education’s ProfHacker blog, Anastasia Salter shares how Twine 2.0 can be used in education. Salter introduces readers to this beginner-friendly, open source tool for creating interactive, branching stories. Twine is easy enough for beginners, making it great for K-12 classrooms, but it is also powerful enough to be used to create interactive, online lessons.

Using Twine, a historical or literary narrative can easily be transformed into an interactive, choose-your-own-adventure story. Readers could learn by taking an active part in the narrative and making choices that impact their experience. Every branching choice could lead readers down a different path, allowing them to experience a different story and learn new details with each play-through.

Twine runs in a web browser, so check out the online version or download it and run your own copy locally.

New release of Omeka improves accessibility and usability

Omeka is a powerful content management system specifically designed for creating scholarly collections of textual, audio, and visual resources. The newest version, Omeka 2.3, came out on March 10. This latest version has several new features, but some of the major enhancements are in the areas of accessibility and usability. Omeka is already easy to use, but the new enhancements will make for a better workflow.

If you have never used or heard of Omeka, check out the Omeka showcase to see projects built using Omeka, or try the Omeka Sandbox for a sample installation. If you like what you see, you can download Omeka and a large number of add-ons from the Omeka website. If you do not want to host your own installation, Omeka.net—a hosted version with free and paid payment plans—is an alternative.

Create interactive editions of visual materials with Neatline

The Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia Library released an update forNeatline, an Omeka plugin “for creating interactive editions of visual materials.” With Neatline a scholar can create an interactive exhibit built around a map, a painting, a scanned page of text, or similiar items. In addition to the base Neatline plugin, there are a few extentions—NeatlineText, NeatlineSimile, and NeatlineWaypoints—which provide even more advanced features.

Neatline creates beautiful interactive exhibits without requiring too much technical knowledge. Explore the Neatline demos to see many excellent examples of what can be accomplished with Neatline and Omeka.

Design SVG patterns for data visualization with Textures.js

When visualizing data, it is important to make sure that the visualization is both understandable and visually appealing. One excellent way to do this is to useTextures.js—a new JavaScript library for creating SVG textures. Textures.js can create textures in different colors and patterns so that the data being visualized is clear and understandable.

Textures.js is built on top of the powerful D3.js library, a JavaScript library for “manipulating documents based on data.” D3.js has a GitHub wiki that includes alarge number of examples of how it can be used to visualize data. You can also find a large number of tutorials and books on the wiki’s tutorial page. Check out D3.js and Textures.js the next time you want to create a quality visualization, and I think you will be happy with the results.

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