DHd2018 in Cologne!

It’s about time for a new blog post! 3DH has progressed quite a bit in the last couple of months. We fleshed out wireframes based on the conceptual foundations that came out of the workshop in Montreal, iteratively refined them and finally brought the concept to an interactive prototype level that we were able to present at the DHd2018 conference in Cologne.


After the Montreal workshop we focussed on the classic close reading scenario with an emphasis on interpretation because it can be considered the one to which 3DH postulates apply the most, so we wanted to make sure we cover that first: Exploration of free annotations to sharpen the literary research question.

Developing an early prototype as a proof-of-concept for this scenario first would make it easier to transfer interface principles to the other scenarios, so we reasoned. Over the course of the last months we chose a text we deemed appropriate for the prototype and for the intended audience and populated the scenario with real data. The text we wanted to annotate needed to fulfill some basic requirements: It should be well-known, so people can relate to it. It should be complex enough, so different paths of interpretation can be pursued and it should be short enough, so people can actually read the text without spending too much time, if they want to. It should also be long enough, so visualization as a method of getting an overview really makes sense. We picked the short story In der Strafkolonie von Franz Kafka.

For this short story we created over 600 annotations in 19 different interpretation categories in Catma. In the next step we exported our Catma annotations as JSON and built a web-based demonstrator with Javascript and D3 that shows the most important interactions of the concept.

The main principles of our concept are the tripartition of the interface and the representation of annotations as glyphs. So, while we clung to the idea of glyphs (mentioned in the last article), we have abandoned the idea of a strict spatial separation between the two activity complexes research and argument. We came to the conclusion that scholarly activity is better represented by three adjustable spaces text, canvas and argument.

Here text is simply the part of the interface, where our research text can be read and annotated. For each annotation a glyph is created on the canvas in the middle of the interface. We can sort these glyphs, structure them according to different criteria and draw connections between individual or groups of glyphs. Scholars can save multiple canvasses each of them highlighting a particular aspect of the text. In the argument space on the right side of the interface these canvasses can be combined and arranged to form an argument.

Since this year’s topic of the DHd2018 conference was critical perspectives on digital humanities, our contribution put an emphasis on our design process and the accompanying design-based critical perspective we have applied in the process. We talked about how we incorporated the four methods scenarios, wireframes, prototyping and design reviews into our process and how these helped us to gain new insights and arrive at the current state of design.

Here’s a link to the early prototype that allows you to explore the interaction between annotations and glyphs:


You can find our slides here:


These two videos show the interplay between the three parts of the interface:


3DH Workshop in Montréal

Prior to this year’s DH conference in Montreal, Canada (8 – 11 August) some of us flew in a little earlier to come together for a workshop in the context of the 3DH project. Apart from the core project team and our colleagues Evelyn Gius and Marco Petris we were joined by our associated members Johanna Drucker, Geoffrey Rockwell and Marian Dörk as well as Laura Mandell.

Over the span of two and a half days we had an intense and productive workshop that had the goal of refining and reifying the three concepts we had developed so far over the course of the last weeks. Springboards for this process were on the one hand our four conceptual 3DH postulates: 2-way-screen, parallax, qualitative and discursive, on the other hand reflections about supporting the process of interpretation in digital tools. We specifically discussed the relevance of the article “Thinking about interpretation: Pliny and scholarship in the humanities” by John Bradley.

What is intriguing in the software “Pliny” described by Bradley, is, that scholars are very not bound in the way they organize their notes and annotations, there is no need to assign distinct categories or relations to them. Instead, these can be organized on a plane and emerging structures becoming apparent can be inscribed by encapsulating them in boxes, when the interpretation progresses.

This appears to be a way of modelling interpretative data that takes into consideration methods scholars have been using in the analog world, however, also exceeds that and opens up new possibilities enabled by the digital (in terms of interaction with and visualization of data), an approach that seems very much related to the goals of the 3DH project as well.

In our design process so far we have based our concepts on real-world scenarios fed by experiences of literature scholars in research projects and arrived at similar conclusions as Bradley: It seems counterintuitive for scholars to force them to apply structure to their annotations when they start with their process. Relations between and qualitative statements about annotations often can only be made when the process has progressed.

When we discussed the wireframes in the workshop we realized that we can differentiate two different environments or spaces of literary scholarly work: Johanna called this research and argument space. While we define typical descriptive acts of the scholarly process like annotating, collecting and commenting as research activities, we consider tasks like grouping, ordering and organizing as interpretative or at later stages  argumentative activities. Usually scholars switch between activities of either of the modes perpetually.

img_2222Interplay between research environment and argument environment (by Johanna Drucker)

We understood that this circumstance has to be supported by the interface much more deliberately. Thus, for the next steps in the design process we will focus on the representation of and interaction between these spaces in the interface. What would an interface look like that supports continuous switching between these mentioned activities?

In the discussion we came up with the concept of a semantic plane that might allow us to bring these two spaces together. While we would produce annotations in the research phase that would be represented as glyphs on the plane, in the argument phase we would position and manipulate these glyphs to assign meaning to them and create  arguments that we later can publish.






Getting more specific: Refinement of our narratological use case(s)

Second Co-Creation-Workshop in Potsdam May 31st, 2017

We are halfway through our lecture period by now and since our first co-creation workshop in Potsdam at the end of April a lot has happened.

The concept sketches that were created by our five student groups during the first workshop were elaborated on in preparation for the next exchange between Hamburg and Potsdam.

On May 10th, Marian Dörk and I, together with the Potsdam interface design students, visited Chris Meister, Rabea Kleymann and the other members of the team to join Chris’ seminar and the accompanying exercise.

In the seminar Chris gave an introduction to the collaborative annotation tool Catma and explained to the Potsdam students, how you would use the tool with a certain literary question in mind. This introduction was meant to serve as a primer to Catma on the one hand, but also as an insight into the literary scholar’s process. Since the Potsdam students are supposed to base their visualizations on real data, i.e. narratological annotations produced in Catma, we deemed it necessary to make them comfortable with the process and the tools. The annotations they will eventually use, will be produced and made available to them by the Hamburg students via Catma.

In the exercise the interface design students presented their refined concepts in front of the Hamburg students and Chris Meister’s team. The concepts were quite diverse, in terms of narratological questions they were supposed to address, as well as media, technology and design. The images depicted below give an impression.

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Sketches from short presentation in Hamburg

The predominant issues addressed with the concepts were, among others: narrative levels, advanced text search, narrative polarities and relations between objects, characters and parts of the text. After each presentation the literary scholars gave feedback on the projects. In the following three weeks the students had time to continue working on their concepts, before the two student groups from Hamburg and Potsdam got together again.

On May 31st our second co-creation workshop took place at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam. The goal of this workshop was to sharpen the students’ concepts with respect to their ability to help answering narratological questions.

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