Here is a version of my talk, which I presented at the Digital Frontiers 2014 conference at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas on September 18, 2014.
In the introduction to her book, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology and the Future of the Academy, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, writes, it is “important for us to consider the work that the book is and isn’t doing for us; the ways that it remains vibrant and vital; and the ways that it has become undead, haunting the living from beyond the grave.”1 What I think Fitzpatrick means by “undead,” is that although the scholarly monograph may not be as viable a format as it once was, it is still considered to be the gold standard in humanities scholarship, primarily when it relates to promotion, tenure, and peer review. At my current institution, I am not limited to publishing exclusively in print format or an individually authored monograph, therefore, I felt free to explore open modes of scholarly publishing and digital technologies, which could greatly enhance my research.
Several years ago, as I began my research on Teresa Carreño (1853-1917), a Venezuelan pianist, composer, and pedagogue, my original goal, largely influenced by traditional music scholarship, was to publish a monograph in the form of a bio-bibliography. However, I soon realized that due to circumstances, such as geographic dispersal of primary sources and the staggering amount of periodical literature left after Carreño’s fifty-five year long international career—documenting her performances in print format only, would prove to be a difficult task. Carreño left us with an enormous legacy and a lengthy trail of paper circling the globe—yet has been largely overlooked by scholars.
As I began to amass information from primary source materials, including correspondence, manuscripts, periodical literature, concert reviews, and programs, I considered the approaches for presenting historical content and data, which could make the greatest impact and reach the widest audience. I questioned what the physical book could or couldn’t do for my research and decided that it was necessary for me to experiment with digital modes of creating and visualizing content and data. My goal evolved from simply publishing a print book to publishing an open access, knowledge site, where I can document a representative selection of performances from Carreño’s career from the early 1860s through 1917 with content and data derived from primary source materials, as well as newly created metadata, controlled vocabulary, and geo-spatial and temporal visualizations. This process has involved reviewing different platforms to assess their flexibility, intuitiveness, and interoperability, which could allow scholars, the public, and myself to interact with, view, contribute, and potentially reuse content and data in new research. In addition, this process has given me the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues in the library, archives, and IT department, as well as receive feedback from other scholars who are also creating digital content and projects.
In today’s presentation, I will briefly discuss the platforms and tools that I explored and provide examples of their potential application for use by other librarians, scholars, or students. I will then discuss Omeka, the platform I selected to use for my project, Documenting Teresa Carreño, along with examples to illustrate certain aspects or features of this platform, which will enhance my research.
One of the first platforms that I reviewed was Viewshare, a free web-based application for creating and customizing visualizations, such as maps, timelines, facets, and tag clouds, which allow users to interact with and explore cultural heritage digital collections. Unlike other platforms, Viewshare does not host your content, but rather ingests your data. This data can then be edited through the Viewshare admin interface. In Viewshare, you can import data in the form of spreadsheets (i.e. xls, csv), XML MODS records, Dublin Core Data from an OAI-PMH (Open archives initiatives end-point), and ContentDM. Data fields, as well as data types are provided in the admin interface and the field names can be edited based on your needs. If you have an image collection, you can point to the files using image URLs in your data and have that image appear in your item view. This data is pulled from your spreadsheet and displayed in a Simile exhibit as a list of item records. Additionally, you can augment your data through maps by including latitude/longitude information OR timelines by using an international standard notation (ISO 8601) for dates (YYYY-MM-DD) or conventional date format (MM-DD-YYYY).
Viewshare can be used in history-focused courses as a way for students to explore alternate modes of interpreting and presenting historical events. It offers multiple ways of presenting data through timelines, maps, charts, tables, word clouds, or lists without the hassle of having to use different software or write scripts for each type of output. Using Viewshare in the classroom setting allows librarians and instructors to introduce the students to thinking about structured vs. unstructured data, how to clean, organize, and present their data and content to the public and make their research accessible through the use of metadata.
Another platform that I assessed was WordPress, an open-source platform originally used for blogging, now more frequently used as a content management system and publishing platform. WordPress.org requires hosting by the individual or institution and allows infinite customization through the use of existing plugins, widgets, and themes. It also allows development of code to create new functionality or tools. This platform is being used by scholars for the creation of digital editions or to aggregate and curate open scholarship and resources, such as the Digital Humanities Now site. With plugins, such as CommentPress Core, scholars can encourage open-peer review and accept commentary or annotation throughout their text. One example of this use is Writing History in the Digital Age, a (2012) born-digital, open-reviewed volume edited by Jack Dougherty, Associate Professor of Educational Studies at Trinity College in CT and Kristen Nawrotzki, Lecturer at the Paedagogische Hochschule Heidelberg in Germany. This book is also available through the University of Michigan Press’ series: Digital Culture Books (2013).
While both Viewshare and WordPress are intuitive and user-friendly, only Viewshare was built primarily with (LAMs) or librarians, archivists, and museum professionals in mind. Its user interface is not complex and requires no programming knowledge for users who want to start building an exhibit or presenting data through visualizations. In addition, Viewshare exhibits can be embedded into platforms using HTML and further customized using CSS. This interoperability can be beneficial to users whose institutions host content on multiple platforms.
I will now turn to Omeka, the final platform that I explored and chose to use as the foundation for my project. Omeka, is a free open-source web-publishing platform. It is a multimodal system for content and collections management, and archival digital collections. While it was built for LAMs—scholars, public historians, and non-academics alike, are using it as a publishing platform. It has a flexible templating system with plugins and themes that can be uploaded and customized. As with most open-source software, Omeka has a growing community of users (i.e. developers, programmers, scholars) who continue to create new plugins and themes, as well as provide a forum for those seeking assistance. It does not necessarily require that you have programming knowledge, however, the more customization your site requires, the greater the need will be for either you or a member of your project team to make changes to various components of Omeka—plugins, themes, CSS and PHP files. I found that Omeka offers greater flexibility, access, and discovery to content and data, than what a print monograph alone could provide. For my own project, it has allowed me to curate and present details about specific performances by Carreño, which include digital objects or URLs and visualizations.
As a content management system, Omeka allows me to store, organize, and retrieve my content and data. Through plugins it allows me to do the following:
- Provide transcriptions from primary sources to document Carreño’s concerts, tours, as well as criticism and reception using the Scripto plugin;
- Provide a collaborative space for crowd-sourcing transcriptions. The Scripto plugin incorporates with Mediawiki, allowing other contributors to create transcriptions of documents that are inaccessible to me, which will then be reviewed and can later be added to the site;
- Create geo-spatial and temporal visualizations by plotting or tracing Carreño’s concert tours using maps and timelines made possible by the Neatline plugin; AND
- Encourage open peer-review from visitors to the site, as well as promote my research and engage with scholars or the public.
Several built-in features, which will benefit my research, include:
- Full-text searching across content using fields, such as keywords, names, subjects, and tags, will allow users to locate information easily and quickly;
- A built-in Dublin Core metadata element set guides the creation of each item record, which for my research represents an individual performance. It encourages the use of a controlled vocabulary for consistency across items and enables optimal searching of the site;
- And the COinS plugin (ContextObjects in Spans – specs for publishing OpenURL references in html), which automatically embeds citation metadata into each Omeka site, making it viewable to citation management tools, such as Zotero.
The use of a controlled vocabulary is of importance to my project, not only to facilitate searches of the site, directly or through search engines, such as Google, but also to enable closer readings of the data through tags. Each item record can be assigned multiple tags, which if created consistently using a controlled vocabulary, can provide a frequency view of the names of musicians/composers, titles of compositions, geographic locations, and venues, all of which offer greater insight into Carreño’s performance career and network.
Using controlled vocabulary, based on the Name Authority Files in the Library of Congress Linked Data, as well as Virtual International Authority File (VIAF), I can ensure that the names of composers and composition titles are consistent and accurately represented. In the near future, I plan to link all of the name authorities with VIAF URIs or LC Linked Data to enable greater discovery. As additional performance records from Carreño’s career are added to Omeka, noticeable patterns in her repertoire selection will begin to emerge and become visible through the frequency of tags.
In order to provide alternative ways of interpreting and viewing Carreño’s career, I am using the Neatline plugin (Features, Simile, Waypoints), which will allow me to create interactive geo-spatial and temporal visualizations using map and timeline tools. These visualizations will allow scholars and the public to interact with the content and artifacts. Item records containing annotations, transcriptions and data created in Omeka can be pulled into a Neatline exhibit, or new item records [separate from your Omeka items] can be created directly in Neatline. A selection of Carreño’s concerts will be plotted and displayed on a map and timeline, allowing users to visually navigate through her concert tours and access the metadata and resources created in Omeka item records. In addition to using a timeline, I am exploring the use of waypoints, which may be more intuitive and provide better guidance for users in the Neatline exhibit.
In a later phase, I hope to overlay historical maps onto modern maps to accurately represent several of the routes traveled by Carreño during her nineteenth or early twentieth-century tours. These geo-referenced historical maps would allow users to follow the routes she traveled, with descriptions and content linked directly from the item records in Omeka. With the assistance of the GIS librarian and a grad assistant, I was able to geo-rectify several historical maps using ArcMap software. We have discussed the type of data sets, file types, and information about railroad routes, which I would need in order to plot her route during concert tours.
The main content of Documenting Teresa Carreño consists of detailed annotations with information about Carreño’s performances, such as performance venue, date/time of event, ticket prices, performers, and repertoire. This type of information, in addition to the interactive map and timeline tools will allow scholars, students, and the public to interact with primary source materials and visualizations, therefore encouraging exploration and alternative ways of interpretation of content, beyond what a standard narrative or annotated bio-bibliography could provide.
Curating my research in Omeka has given me opportunities to think about metadata and controlled vocabulary creation, as well as the access to and discovery of content they enable—all of which is greater and deeper than what a print monograph can offer. By presenting my research in Omeka, I can offer users a different way to access content and data about Carreño, which will help them gain a better understanding of and provide context around her performance career. Creating spatial and temporal visualizations of her performances, allows users to explore her career non-linearly, and interpret it differently. For me personally, being able to see her concerts plotted on a map helps connect pieces about her life that may still be unknown, such as gaps in performance locations, which may be easier to figure out once her routes are mapped. While working on this project, I have thought of a number of additional applications for the data I am creating, such as visualizing Carreño’s social network of artists or using text analysis on the transcribed performance reception to examine the language used by critics describing her technique, style, or physical appearance, and compare it to reviews of other artists or see how it may have changed over the course of her career.
Another positive aspect of working on this open source project has been the collaboration and interaction not only with colleagues at my own institution but with those in the United States and abroad, some of whom reached out to me after visiting the project site and expressing an interest in helping me develop the content. I have been contacted by scholars from several countries including, Venezuela, United States, Germany, and France, who have access to content from primary source materials, which I had been unable to examine in person. These interactions have been beneficial to my research and would not have occurred if I was writing a traditional monograph with no digital presence.
In conclusion, I believe that Documenting Teresa Carreño will allow users to experience first-hand, unique content derived from primary source materials, through which they can develop their own understanding of Carreño’s career. It will promote her legacy and encourage scholars, students, and the public to engage with me or to collaborate and contribute to the project. In conclusion, I believe that Documenting Teresa Carreño will allow users to experience first-hand, unique content derived from primary source materials, through which they can develop their own understanding of Carreño’s career. It will promote her legacy and encourage scholars, students, and the public to engage with me or to collaborate and contribute to the project. This project gives me an opportunity to discuss the technical components, skills, and people necessary to make a digital project a reality. It allows me to demonstrate to faculty and students how they may be able to apply these or similar tools to their own research and teaching, as well as think about how this type of project could be evaluated during PTR or part of a student’s dissertation process. Moreover, I hope that this open-access project will encourage interaction, sharing, and reuse of content, as well as further research about Carreño’s performance career.
- Kathleen Fitzpatrick. Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology and the Future of the Academy. (NYU Press, 2011):5. ↩