Hidden Images, New Technologies: Improving Access to HSP’s Visual Materials

Posted on behalf of Sara Borden:

For the last year or so, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) has been working on a project to improve the image viewer that we use on our Digital Library website.  Utilizing Linked Open Data and RDF, the project will also enhance the discoverability of our graphics materials and allow for user-generated annotation to be displayed on images.  We have selected 500 pre-1923 political cartoons from our collections to be digitized and featured in an online history exhibit.  The exhibit will include annotation, interpretive text, and essays produced by project staff.  Funding for this project was generously provided by the NHPRC (National Historical Publications and Records Commission), and we’re calling it Historic Images, New Technologies, or HINT for short.

HSP has a history of creating online exhibits featuring items from its collections, but HINT is the most ambitious of its digital projects thus far.  The endeavor has got many moving parts, keeping project staff busy.  Our end goal is to create a digital exhibit that highlights our modified image viewer tool and which can be used by scholars of all ages, from elementary to college students and beyond.  Sounds simple, but getting there has required a lot of work from people both inside and outside HSP.

In order to create the annotations that will appear as overlays on the display of images, we are working with developers to modify our Digital Asset Management System (DAMS), Collective Access.  The annotations, which will be created using TEI, a form of XML encoding, require us to create new fields in Collective Access to accommodate the additional data that comprise the TEI.  Previously, our method was to create TEI documents from scratch that would be the basis of our Drupal exhibit.  However, with HINT, we’re changing our workflow so that TEI is created directly through an export from Collective Access.  In the end, we hope to have a DAMS into which we can put data and then export valid TEI documents for use on our digital political cartoons exhibit.  We intend that this will make the process of creating TEI documents much easier for our staff and result in a more automated workflow.  The developers of Collective Access have been working diligently with us to set up an import/export function and create all of the new fields we’ll need for this and future projects.

Collective Access is also the host of our image viewer, which itself required modification for HINT.  We need a viewer that allows for greater image manipulation, including panning, zooming, and rotating, among others.  The image viewer also must allow for display of on-image annotation in quadrant zones and the capability to draw exact shapes around image features (people, animals, any other relevant cartoon components) to which to tie annotations.  The Collective Access developers obliged our needs in this arena, as well, and we have a new and improved viewer ready to launch soon.

HSP has long used a Drupal platform for its digital history projects which utilizes the existing image viewer.  However, with the implementation of the new viewer in Collective Access, the Drupal module needs to be modified as well.  So we have been working closely with the administrators of our Drupal sites to modify our existing module to accept a viewer that displays annotations.  Since Collective Access will now be the source of the TEI documents that will be the basis of the digital exhibit, we also have to work with our Drupal administrators to change the process by which our exhibits pull data for display on the web.

Our project runs through August of 2015 and while we believe that the image viewer is near completion, if not finished, we’re still deep in the modification stages of Collective Access as well as our Drupal platform.  We hope you’ll follow our progress as we undertake this exciting project, either on our website or by keeping an eye out for HINT-related posts on HSP’s “Fondly, Pennsylvania” blog.  If you have any questions or would like more information, please feel free to contact me at sborden@hsp.org.


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