New Open-Source Tool!


Thea Lindquist sends the following note:

A colleague and I at the University of Colorado at Boulder are interested in the idea of adapting or developing an open-source tool designed for use with digitized historical primary sources and would be interested in your feedback. This tool would be aimed primarily at students and offer them enhanced opportunities to interact with the sources and collaborate with others, hopefully also from mobile devices. We feel that engaging student interest in this way is increasingly pressing as digital collections propagate; as students integrate Web 2.0 technologies into every aspect of their lives; and as close work with primary sources becomes an ever-more important component of humanities curricula. Depending on how things go, this tool could be the first in a suite of extensible, open-source pedagogical tools that will facilitate student engagement with primary sources.

We are considering a tool that will allow students to: view and annotate text-based primary sources as well as images such as maps, cartoons, and photographs; create linkages between documents within the collection and to outside resources; and save the augmented source as a new learning object that can be shared among classmates and (at the instructor’s discretion) released for broader consumption. This is just one idea – we intend to work with students to assess their needs but are also interested in the instructor perspective.

As a first step, we are creating a freely available digital collection of World War I primary sources to use as a test-bed and are now beginning to look into what sorts of tools are currently available or in development that aim to achieve the same sort of goals. That way we can contact potential collaborators and also be sure not to duplicate effort.



13 Responses to “New Open-Source Tool!”

  1. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Thea, is there a URL for this tool, or is that still being developed? It would be helpful to see a page to get a clearer sense of how this promising tool functions.


    • Thea Lindquist Says:

      We are just in the beginning stage of developing the tool and were hoping for feedback on what features you would find most helpful as instructors and users. I know this sounds vague, but really at this stage any and all comments and questions are welcome. We would like this tool to be useful for interacting with a variety of primary-source materials and thus would value your feedback as users of 18th-century sources.

      In case you’re interested, we can share the URL for the corpus against which we will be testing the tool, a large collection of World War I materials. The online corpus is not yet complete and the site is still under development:


  2. Benjamin Pauley Says:

    Kudos to you and your colleague for taking on this project. I’m having a little difficulty understanding the kind of tool you have in mind. Were you thinking an open source tool for building web sites, or a stand-alone tool for individual work?

    The sample corpus you link to looks really promising (and makes me think that you may be inclining more towards a tool for building collections). You seem to have multiple ways of discovering texts (timeline and map, in addition to browsing), though not yet a mechanism for tagging, annotating, collecting, or sharing them.

    Your interest in allowing users to “create linkages between documents within the collection and to outside resources; and save the augmented source as a new learning object that can be shared” sounds like it would have something in common with Omeka and with Collex, the engine that runs NINES and 18thConnect. Might there be room for collaboration or coordination there?

    I haven’t really done any serious work with Omeka yet (though I’ve downloaded it to experiment a bit), but I think there might be real possibilities there. There are already plugins, for instance, for uploading and displaying .pdfs and other documents, for building collections, and for annotating images (a la Flickr). I wonder if it might be profitable to extend some of those offerings—I think it would be excellent if students could work to annotate a facsimile of a text collaboratively, for example (sort of like Flickr for multi-page .pdfs, I suppose).

    Best of luck with this project; I look forward to following your progress.


    • Benjamin Pauley Says:

      Apropos: there’s a new post at ProfHacker on Omeka, with a promise of another later on today:


    • Thea Lindquist Says:

      Thanks for this information! We’re particularly interested in evaluating Omeka as a platform. To (try to) answer your question, what we initially were thinking about was more a tool individual students could use for collaborative work with primary sources. Tagging, annotating, and sharing are features we hope to incorporate, very similar to the example you give at the end of the post. It’s great to know that instructors would find these features useful! The goal is also for the tool to work across collections (CU’s digital collections and others as well) and be easy-to-integrate into existing platforms.

      Thea Lindquist & Holley Long


  3. Dave Mazella Says:

    This looks interesting. I’m imagining this as a generic template that could be used to direct a bunch of undergraduate researchers while they tag and organize a bunch of primary materials.

    I’ve often thought that there are lots of small special collections rooms (and small museums) that could benefit from a project like this, because there might be a small number of unique artifacts that could be aggregated together virtually for greater impact.

    Items like letters or diaries would be particularly helpful if they could be digitized and annotated in this manner. Is this the kind of the thing you have in mind?


    • Thea Lindquist Says:

      Yes, it sounds like we have the same type of tool in mind. Our test collection doesn’t have letters or diaries at the moment, but we envision it for use with all manner of primary sources.

      Thanks for your input! – Thea & Holley


  4. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Also, is there a way to search for just photographs, or just diaries? And is the material archived limited to material at the University of Colorado? In a way this would be great because it would help students and everyone else see what is in the library there.


    • Thea Lindquist Says:

      Great questions Anna – there’s not currently a way to search the collection by material type, but this is something we can consider as the the collection diversifies. The material in the WWI collection is currently limited to a collection in the CU Archives, but we hope expand to include other collections at CU and potentially beyond in the future.

      Thanks, Thea & Holley


  5. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Thea, very interesting set of documents and good plans to make them more widely used and available. As Anna notes, such projects would help make a particular library’s collection more visible. In that vein, after a course or several courses built a project exclusively based on in-house documents, then future courses might build/link to the base project by working with other area collections such as those housed in historical societies and small museums (as Dave intimates). That said, is the tool envisioned primarily as a space for work-shopping among students or is publication/official sanction an ultimate end goal for such projects?

    I would imagine one could search by genre, medium, and the like as the project is developed and the various documents further identified and tagged.

    Similar tools such as the ones already mentioned do exist–although they may not have all the functionality you are envisioning. Still, even if the tools exist to some degree, the project seems quite useful in illustrating concretely their instructional value, perhaps extending their capabilities, and detailing their availability through concrete application.


    • Thea Lindquist Says:

      In our minds, the tool would fall somewhere between the two. We hope it will be used for educational exercises but also that the resulting learning objects can be archived and made accessible for future inquiry. I hope that makes sense…

      We really appreciate your feedback and encouragement!

      Thea & Holley


  6. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Thanks, Thea & Holley. I did gather that your primary aim was pedagogical, and that makes perfect sense. I also think that an extra benefit would be to make the humanities more dynamic and concrete for the general public–show why these collections matter. Plus, offering the type of experiences your tools would allow students to have offers them very important training for today’s world.


  7. Anna Battigelli Says:

    That is a great point Eleanor, that a tool like this would help interpret the humanities and particularly special collections for the general public. Showing why these collections matter always seems necessary.


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