Three new open projects in the digital humanities

Student-collaborator rights, Kisumu app, and new Zotero release

Mouse, digital humanities
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On Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0.
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In June this year, a few open source projects expanded and several useful resources were published, along with many other developments in the digital humanities. 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.

Every month, I take a look at open source tools you can use in your digital humanities research and some humanities research projects that are using open source tools today. Read more about this series at the end of the article.

A Student Collaborators' Bill of Rights

Collaboration is one of the pillars of the open source way, and it is crucial to many scholarly projects, especially those in the digital humanities. For many projects, the collaboration is between peers (i.e. professors collaborating with other professors). But other times, the relationship between various collaborators is unequal. When students are collaborators in digital humanities projects, they can learn a lot, but the unequal relationship between professor and student has the potential to complicate the collaboration.

To deal with the unequal relationships between students and faculty, and to protect students' rights, UCLA's Center for Digital Humanities has posted "A Student Collaborators' Bill of Rights", which informs senior scholars of key areas of concern and empowers students to be successful collaborators. In addition to endorsing the principles of the Collaborators' Bill of Rights, the post contains ten key principles that should be adhered to in order to develop a mutually beneficial collaborative relationship between scholars and students. The ten points cover collaboration in the classroom and as internships, how students should be treated as collaborators, the right for students to include their work on their CV or resume, and making sure that students have something they can include in their portfolio (i.e. a live project an archived copy).

The issues covered in "A Student Collaborators' Bill of Rights" are something every academic institution should review and consider for adoption, but there are also things that people outside of academia could learn from this Bill of Rights. Collaboration is important in open source development, and the power dynamic between an experienced, paid contributor and a new, volunteer contributor is not much different than that of scholar and student. Not every point is going to apply to open source volunteers, but there are issues to consider that might benefit open source projects.

Kisumu app receives grant to further development

Mark J. Souther and Meshack Owino, Associate Professors in Cleveland State University's History department, have been awarded a grant by Cleveland State University's Office of Research for their project, "Mobilizing Humanities Research in East Africa", an extension of their Curating Kisumu project. According to a blog post by Mark Souther, "[t]he purpose of the new grant is to accelerate the prioritization of modifications to the Curatescape app framework, including administrative and end-user interface modifications, and accelerate plans for project sustainability, including engaging potential collaborators in the Lake Victoria Basin region."

The project is being built using the open source Omeka content management system and Curatescape, a collection of plugins and themes for Omeka and native applications for mobile devices. While the Curatescape plugins and themes are open source and available on GitHub, the native mobile applications are, unfortunately, proprietary and require a license fee. Even so, the open source plugins bring many nice enhancements to Omeka, including a handy tour builder, and both are worth checking out for your own Omeka projects. The website for Souther and Owino's project, MaCleKi, which will host the content for the mobile apps, still has a coming soon notice, but should be ready in the near future, providing digital humanities scholars and students with a practical example a project built using Omeka and Curatescape.

New version of Zotero released

The Center for History and New Media at George Mason University has released an updated version of Zotero. Zotero is a powerful tool for keeping track of bibliographic citations and organizing research. It can even integrate with LibreOffice and Microsoft Office to help you add references to your papers and generate a bibliography. This new version of Zotero adds several nice enhancements, the most prominent of which is the enhanced functionality of the Zotero button in Firefox's toolbar for the Firefox extension version of Zotero. (Zotero can also be installed as a standalone application.)

In older versions, a small icon would appear in the address bar if Zotero detected embedded metadata for a website. Clicking on the icon would add the website to your Zotero library. If there was no metadata detected, no icon appeared, but you could right click on a website and choose the appropriate menu item to perform the same function, only with less detailed metadata. The new toolbar button combines the two methods and makes it easier to add any website to your Zotero library with just one click. Other new features include enhanced language selection options for generated bibliographies and export functionality for Zotero groups.

Download Zotero and give it a try, if you are not already using it.


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.

Open source software is changing academic research, enabling new discoveries and innovation in ways that were previously impossible. 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. In addition, digital projects can be much more accessible to the general public than traditional scholarship. For example, digital humanities projects can develop a prosopography of the Byzantine Empire, or explore fairy tales and folklore in new and exciting ways.

Have a digital humanities project you would like me to include next month? Feel free to send me an email with your suggestion.

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Joshua Allen Holm
Joshua Allen Holm -