As part of a small project I’m working on for the Council on Library and Information Resources, I’ve been evaluating online tools produced by “Digital Humanities Centers.” These are academic centers focused on bringing computing into humanities research.* The tools they’ve developed have a variety of primarily humanities research functions: 3d animation technology for virtually recreating archaeological sites, course software, text analysis software, online note-taking and annotation software aimed at academics, etc.
But a few, especially those developed by the creative folks at George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media, are broadly construed and would be useful to anyone working on community web projects, teaching online research skills, or beginning web archiving projects.
For community web work, GMU has a number of useful tools. Web Scrapbook is, as they say, a “clipping file for the internet.” You can share your clipping file or keep it private. Groups working together on any sort of research or interest project could use this tool to gather and annotate web sources of interest. Survey Builder and Poll Builder are both easy-to-use, what-you-see-is-what-you-get editors for creating survey and polls and adding them to websites.
For those teaching research skills or information access, I highly recommend GMU’s Zotero bibliographic software: www.zotero.org. It’s a free, open-source program that runs inside the Firefox browser. As you browse library catalogs, journal databases, Google Scholar, and even Amazon.com, Zotero can grab citation information at your command and save it to your computer. You can easily keep track of your references, and even better, make in-text citations, footnotes, and bibliographies using Microsoft Word. I was an EndNote user in the past, and have also taught students to use RefWorks, and I think Zotero is an excellent – and free – replacement for either of these programs.
Another useful tool for teachers and students: GMU’s Syllabus Finder. Syllabus Finder will do a tailored Google search for syllabi on whatever keywords you type into the search interface. This is a great way to figure out if/where classes are taught on a subject you’re interested in, or what reading materials others are using in their courses on X, Y or Z.
Perhaps most exciting for me, but still in private Beta so unavailable – yet – is GMU’s Omeka platform for publishing collections online. This promises to be a widely accessible tool for building digital archives and exhibits. This could be a great way for community organizations and small archives with digital collections to display them online, or to draw attention to their non-digital materials by creating an online exhibit.
Kudos to the Center for History and New Media for such creative, free digital information tools.
* Because of the nature of the current CLIR project, my scope is limited, and I’m only familiar with tools from about 30 U.S.-based centers.