DH Press is an extensible and easy-to-use platform for the creation of digital humanities projects. Built on the open-source WordPress content management system (CMS), DH Press offers a user-friendly web interface over a MySQL database. As such, data can be migrated in and out of the system with relative ease.
While WordPress began as a blog platform (one which is used for nearly 16% of all websites today), it has since become a robust content management system for handling a range of data. The strength of WordPress is its flexibility. Plugin extensions allow users to modify the core to add functionality to the system. With close to 21,000 plugins to date, nearly anything is possible in WordPress. Creating and modifying plugins is far easier and more cost-effective than having to rewrite the code for custom-built software, thereby producing a more flexible and responsive system for digital humanities projects.
Growing out of data visualization experiments in using historical maps, DH Press has followed “agile development” principles: produce a set of especially useful tools that can allow a wide range of prospective users to create a digital humanities project quickly and cheaply, then iterate on the basis of user-feedback and the availability of easily adapted plug-ins and widgets. DH Press is now in version 2.6. During the 2014-15 academic year, lead developer Michael Newton led a comprehensive review of DH Press and is now implementing major updates and improvements.
What is humanities data?
Though humanists don’t often think of their work as data-driven, their source material is data. Archival records, photographs, maps, interviews and oral histories, field notes, newspapers and books, poetry, musical scores, sculptures, and so forth — all of this is information used to make connections, tell stories, create arguments, teach and learn. As this material becomes more readily available due to digitization and the growth of digital-born content, we will need tools to help manage and process the ever-expanding corpus of humanities-based data. DH Press is a free, open-source, easy-to-use tool to assist scholars and students, community members and cultural heritage organizations in handling and sharing their data.
Though DH Press is not a parsing tool for data harvesting or text mining, large amounts of data can be “dumped” into DH Press’s underlying MySQL database with minor modification. Data output from text mining tools can be formatted to work in DH Press. Content that you add can be exported to other DH Press projects, or to other databases. In this way, DH Press supports the creation and expansion of public data sets for the humanities.
Why use DH Press?
Think of DH Press as a flexible, open-ended, and repurposable tool for interacting with heterogeneous humanities content in a variety of ways. It is also a discovery tool: for both the creators of a digital humanities project and its end-users, DH Press facilities the discovery of new contexts, connections, and patterns.
DH Press supports many different types of content, including maps, photographs, PDFs, video, audio and time-stamped transcripts.
The latest version of DH Press (2.6) offers mapping, timelines, gallery views, tree graphs, and faceted browsing. Read more.
An audio/transcript widget allows users to listen/watch time-stamped interviews (streamed via SoundCloud or YouTube) while reading a synchronized transcript. The widget supports bi-lingual transcripts. Read more.
In March 2015, DH Press was updated to facilitate the translation of all end-user text into new languages. The new language-agnostic version of DH Press (complete since version 2.6.7) is now available on the DIL’s GitHub page. The work of translation has been facilitated by removing end-user text from code files and quarantining it in script files. The result of translating DH Press into a new language will be a new plugin that operates entirely in that target language for the end user. Read more.
A prototype of a Scottish Gaelic version of DH Press is available for demonstration purposes on this website.
Uses of DH Press projects
Principal use cases for DH Press have been developed by the Digital Innovation Lab through its interdisciplinary, collaborative, project-based approach to digital humanities. A number have resulted from collaborations with UNC Chapel Hill scholars as a part of their participation in the DIL/IAH fellowship program, a part of the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the UNC Institute for the Arts and Humanities.
For example, 2013 DIL/IAH fellow Renee Alexander Craft chose DH Press as the vehicle for her Digital Portobelo: “an interactive on-line collection of ethnographic interviews, photos, videos, art work, and archival material illuminating the rich culture and history of Portobelo, Panama–a small community located on the Caribbean coast of the Republic of Panama best known for its Spanish colonial heritage, its centuries old Black Christ festival, and an Afro-Latin community who call themselves and their cultural performance tradition “Congo.” This year-long collaboration also prompted further development of DH Press, making new functionality available to all users of DH Press versions >2.0. In turn, Renee’s immersion in collaborative digital humanities practice informed her scholarly monograph: When the Devil Knocks: The Congo Tradition and the Politics of 20th Century Blackness in Panama (The Ohio State University Press, January 2015). An article in the UNC Arts and Sciences Magazine discusses the role of digital humanities and DH Press in her scholarship.
2014 DIL/IAH fellow, Lucia Binotti used DH Press in her project How Do You Say It?: “an interdisciplinary and community service oriented proof of concept project that exploits the Digital Innovation Lab’s DH Press to layer, map and visualize information about the Spanish language varieties used to address Latin@ audiences in the prevention of intimate partner violence. The project’s long-term goal is to assess if the choice of different varieties of Spanish more specifically targeted to a regional sub-group of the larger Latin@ population increases the success/effectiveness of textual literature (brochures, signs, advertisements) as well as direct oral interaction (from support services, doctors, social workers, etc.) in preventing and educating about domestic violence.” She has also used DH Press as a learning tool in her field-based summer honors course on the history of Rome. She continues to work with the lab as we explore creation of a Spanish-language version of and documentation for DH Press.
The lab has also used DH Press in work with scholars to augment and expand previous digital humanities projects, built on other platforms, particularly in relation to their dynamic use in teaching and learning. Anne Whisnant used DH Press as a part of her public history class to further elaborate her scholarship and teaching on the Blue Ridge Parkway, building on a digital project she had undertaken with the UNC Library. The Unbuilt Parkway “brings together for the first time the stories of several Blue Ridge Parkway-related plans and proposals that were –- for a variety of reasons -– stillborn, killed, abandoned, or changed during the park’s now more than 75 year history. Taken together, these plans form a shadow Parkway –- the one that might have been. Their stories reveal the breadth and diversity of visions for what the scenic road could be.”
The lab has partnered with several faculty members to explore the use of DH Press in undergraduate learning–making students co-creators of digital humanities projects that could be amplified and expanded upon in subsequent offerings of the course or in a different course setting. For example, for American Studies professor Michelle Robinson’s 2013 course on women and detective fiction, the lab helped her develop The Nancy Drew Digital Project, which she describes as “an experiment in mapping fiction.”
Some DH Press projects arise from needs and opportunities brought to the lab by community groups or cultural heritage organizations. In the lab’s most ambitious public digital humanities initiative do date, we are working with Preservation North Carolina, the Gaston County Museum of Art and History, the Gaston County Public Library, community volunteers, and a commercial property developer to engage the public with the long and contested history of one of the state’s iconic industrial sites: the Loray/Firestone Mill in Gastonia, NC. DH Press has been deployed in key aspects of this initiative, including our most ambitious digital mapping project to date, “reconstructing” the Loray mill village in the early 1920s, using census enumerations and Sanborn Fire Insurance maps.
Scholars at other universities are downloading DH Press and using it in their own projects on a variety of subjects. A team of scholars from Oxford Brookes University, the University of Bristol, and the University of Exeter used DH Press as a part of their Italian Cinema Audiences project (funded by the AHRC) to map the location of cinemas in Rome in the 1950s.
During the 2014-15 academic year the lab began exploring the use of DH Press for quickly and cheaply translating DH project ideas into operating prototypes (Read more ), and for touch-screen tablet applications and on-site installations. Read more.
Who Can Use DH Press?
The latest version of DH Press (2.6) is available for download. It is free, open-source, and extensively documented. DH Press has been approved for use as a plug-in for all WordPress web.unc.edu websites at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
DH Press GitHub page: https://github.com/Digital-Innovation-Lab/dhpress/releases/
Stay tuned for further developments and follow our progress on our DH Press blog.