Prospect Workshop at Digitorium 2017, Uni Alabama

We’re delighted that Prospect will be highlighted at Digitorium 2017, hosted by the Alabama Digital Humanities Center at the University of Alabama, 2-4 March 2017.

There will be a workshop about Prospect on Friday 3 March 2017 at 3:30-4:45 PM, as indicated on the official program (on this webpage). Please come along and learn about what it can do and how to operate it.

Prospect will also be highlighted in the plenary address by Dr. Anne MacNeil and Dr. Deanna Shemek, the former whose research into the early modern music of Italy, in the Isabella D’Este Archive, has made extensive use of the Prospect platform.

We hope to see y’all there!

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New Prospect Roll Out

The Digital Innovation Lab is pleased to announce the roll-out of a greatly improved version of Prospect – 1.8.4 – and an entirely new website devoted to Prospect and to facilitating its use.

The new version of Prospect offers many new features and enhancements, such as:

  • A new feature set we call “Qualified Relationships” (explained in greater detail in this blog post)
  • Ability to use shapes and images in several visualizations
  • Improved behavior of and controls on Legend and Selection List
  • and more …

The new Prospect website offers much more general information about our data curation and visualization platform, an updated manual, sample projects, and more.

We’ve also translated some early projects from the work of the Digital Innovation Lab into Prospect for demonstration purposes, such as the Mapping the Long Womens’ Movement, which illustrates the use of Prospect for visualization of and access to ethnographic recordings, and the Charlotte 1911 Project, which reconstructs the city center of this North Carolina town as it was in the early 20th century.

And more project translations to Prospect are coming! Stay tuned …

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Prospect 1.4 Released

Although Prospect is already arguably the best choice for creating, curating, visualizing and presenting digital collections for Digital Humanities projects, we’re thrilled to announce the latest new and improved version: 1.4. Here the lowdown on some of the improvements and new features.

Network Graphs

The Network Graph visualization offers another means of representing relationships between the Records in your data. It is designed to:

  • represent complex network graphs of relationships;
  • group Records together based on their relationships (so that Records of different Templates can be next to each other);
  • allow dots representing Records to be colored by the Legend;
  • allow dots representing Records to be sized according to a numeric Attribute (optional);
  • allow for a different color for each kind of relationship.

Here’s an example from a sample project (the Exploring Celtic Civilizations data visualization).


Bucket Matrix

The Network Graph visualization offers another means of representing relationships between the Records in your data. It is designed to:

  • sort Records into “buckets” according to the value of a specific Attribute (on a Template-by-Template basis);
  • create a visually compact representation (pack in as many Records as possible into the available space);
  • represent the relationships between the Records situated in buckets so as to highlight cross-category connections;
  • allow for a different color for each kind of relationship.

Here’s an example from a sample project (the Exploring Celtic Civilizations data visualization).


Exhibits and Volumes

These new visualization types can be used in both Exhibits and Volumes!

Get It Now!

You can download Prospect 1.4 from GitHub here, or simply use the standard WordPress repository!


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Prospect vs. the Rest

… or, Why Prospect is the best choice for creating a DH project

I’ve just released a whole new suite of exciting features and affordances in Prospect 1.2 (especially Volumes), and am working on new extensions to enhance its capabilities even further (a help system, Filters for Pointer Attributes, …).

As digital platforms are new to most scholars, it may be of use to those interested in creating digital projects to see the capabilities and limitations of the options available to them. I’ll start with a brief description of the features and strengths of Prospect and compare these to two other similar platforms (there simply aren’t many our there). And for the purposes of this comparison, I’m assuming that the DH project is a collection of digital objects that have properties that can be interpreted meaningful by visual representations (e.g., Lat-Lon coordinates, numeric values, etc.). If your project is a digital edition of a text, or an extended textual analysis of a large set documents, you should find other tools.

Now, it should be emphasized that all computer-based tools require some amount of training as well as a reasonable level of digital literacy. They also expect you to be familiar with data models and basics of databases (concepts of attributes/fields and records, for example). There is no magic bullet – but available tools exhibit a variety of approaches and designs, and address particular kinds of representations.


Ease Of Use: Prospect is a plugin for WordPress. WordPress is very popular across academic environments and is easy to use. You can install and activate Prospect with just a couple of button clicks.

Prospect requires you to define and configure a minimum of three types of data entities (Attributes, Templates and Exhibits); however, this is all accomplished through the standard WordPress Dashboard with a GUI interface. Prospect has a minimal learning-curve and learning resources to help you through it.

Ownership and Online Access: Prospect enables you to create Exhibits that are available to anyone, anywhere with an internet browser. All of the data can be stored on your own WordPress server (although you can also point to resources stored elsewhere on the internet). You have ownership and control of all of your own resources, and you can also keep some of the data private so that only those who have accounts on your WordPress site with the appropriate privileges can access them.

Curation and Work-Flow: Prospect recognizes that many projects require the coordination of teams and the contributions of multiple people (i.e., “crowd-sourcing”). It therefore leverages the mechanisms in WordPress that provide different capabilities to accounts with differing privilege levels: Contributors can create and edit their own data but can’t make them publicly visible, Editors can edit and publish anyone’s data, etc. This system supports the work flow inherent in the building of many projects. You can import data from spreadsheets or create/edit it on forms that Prospect generates dynamically for you on a GUI interface.

Versatile Data Types: Prospect supports a wide variety of data types and flexible means of handling them visually, not least via the Legend mechanism (which allows the project administrator to define how values translate into colors). This versatility enables a wide variety of types of information to be encoded and effectively rendered into graphic representations.

Playback Widgets: Prospect recognizes that the research materials of many scholars include ethnographic materials and multimedia resources in the form of audio and video recordings and textual transcripts. Prospect supports the use of “playback widgets” to make those resources available to end-users.

Language Independence: Prospect uses standard PHP and WordPress mechanisms to enable all of the text in the system to be translated to any language needed on a website-by-website basis.

Licensing: Developed in an academic environment with an ethos of making digital tools accessible to all, Prospect can be downloaded and used for free. As an open-source project, anyone can change any aspect of the system to meet their own needs if they wish to.


Tableau is a very powerful, commercial data visualization platform – or really, a variety of platforms with different emphases – used for a variety of analytical purposes. You can find details here.

Ease of Use: Tableau is very powerful, but it has a very steep learning curve. Users are expected to know technical concepts and terms relating to databases. There are many learning resources available but they do require a strong technical background.

Ownership and Online Access: Tableau has a range of products for data storage, from webservers that run as applications on your own computer to webservices that enable you to store your data on Tableau’s own infrastructure. However, all of these options have associated costs. Data stored via Tableau’s “free” webservices cannot be well protected or privatized.

Curation and Work-Flow: Forms of support exist on enterprise applications.

Data Types: A full range.

Playback Widgets: Limited supported; requires technical expertise.

Language Independence: Preselected list of language options (English, French, German, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, and Simplified Chinese), not extendable by customer.

Licensing: Tableau is proprietary, commercial software; a free version with limited capabilities is available, but with limitations including those noted above.


Palladio is a digital tool that runs in your private web browser, produced by Stanford’s Humanities + Design lab as a spin-off of some of their other Digital Humanities work. It is slick but has a much more limited range of visualizations and features than Prospect. You can find details here.

Ease of Use: Palladio is reasonably powerful and reasonably easy to use. Still, its approach to data and visualization configuration is fairly technical and can’t be avoided by end-users. Training resources are very limited.

Ownership and Online Access: Data and visualizations only exist on your personal web-browser; they cannot be made visible to the “outside world.”

Curation and Work-Flow: No support.

Data Types:  A good, though minimal, selection of types: text strings, numbers, lat-long coordinates, relationships, URLs and images.

Playback Widgets: Not supported.

Language Independence: Not supported.

Licensing: Palladio can be loaded and used for free, but the software is proprietary and cannot be examined or modified.

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New Prospect Features: Linking Textual Sources to Visualizations

Were thrilled to announce a new set of features for Prospect which allow you to create an extended textual document with embedded references to the Records of your data universe. Prospect will allow the end-user to interact with the text source and set of data visualizations and automatically coordinate the two to create dynamic diagrams!

Watch the video here!

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Prospect Training Videos (1)

The first of the Digital Innovation Lab’s training videos about Prospect is now available here. It briefly demonstrates the basic features and functionalities of Prospect’s front-end data visualizer using a sample data set about the first 20 presidents of the United States. You can interact with the Prospect exhibit for this data set yourself on this webpage.

The DIL is currently working on training videos about the back-end of Prospect to teach how to create, curate, edit and publish data sets and exhibits (visualizations) about them.

Prospect Running on UNC web services

We are happy to announce that Prospect 0.9.4 has now been integrated into the WordPress infrastructure!  This means that anyone who creates a website in the UNC WordPress environment can activate the Prospect plugin and create their own data visualizations using our new platform.

Visualizations from two of the sample projects on the Prospect website – biographical information about US Presidents and data about mass shootings in the US – have been uploaded and can be actively used by end-users (by clicking the links).

NOTE: The UNC Heelium theme does not work with Prospect. You will need to select one of the other WordPress themes if you wish to use Prospect.

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Prospect: A Lens on Campus History

This week we are celebrating the debut of the first public project created using Prospect: “Names in Brick and Stone: Histories from the University’s Built Landscape.” This project engages with and contributes to ongoing discussions about how history is embedded in the built-environment of the UNC campus.

This produced by the students in History/American Studies 671: Introduction to Public History taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the Fall of 2015 by Dr. Anne Mitchell Whisnant and assisted by American Studies Graduate Research Assistant Charlotte Fryar. It thus provides an excellent demonstration not only of public history but of the use of digital technologies for student work and classroom participation.

Besides providing visualizations that end-users can casually explore, the exhibit currently has four different associated Perspectives that provide specific interpretative lenses on this material.

The Digital Innovation Lab is proud to have played a supporting role in this important work.

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