The Ultimate Museum Scholarship Plugin

Last October we published an article called “Sites in the Service of Museum Scholarship.” The scholarly work that goes on behind-the-scenes at museums often remains concealed from the public (and other scholars) due to some unique challenges related to publishing and sharing scholarly content in a digital context. This important and valuable work finds outlets in scholarly monographs, exhibition catalogues, and academic seminars—but rarely finds itself published on the web. In that article we discussed the importance of citations, references, peer review, permanence of versions and version history, and other factors that bring challenges to the online display of scholarly content.

This month we return to the subject of scholarly content, but from a slightly different perspective, and with the intention of finding partners as we plan the development of a scholarly content plugin based on the OpenSeadragon CurtainSync viewer we built for the Leiden Collection.

For the “Scholarship” article we interviewed Jennifer Henel, Digital Humanities Developer at the Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art. Since then we have been working with her to establish a set of features to add to the CurtainSync viewer that will enable art historians and scholars to easily publish parts of their research and share that work with other scholars online—as well as create stories that can be readily shared on a WordPress website. We have worked up specifications for a WordPress plugin using our OpenSeadragon CurtainSync viewer. This plugin will provide options for publishing scholarly observations and enable deep dives into stories about art history research on the web.

If you’re interested in contributing to this project (both its feature sets and its funding) please contact Jennifer Henel at jennifer.henel@gmail.com or get in touch with me at eric@cuberis.com.

The Enhanced CurtainSync Viewer

Previously we’ve demonstrated our viewer’s ability to smoothly deep zoom two or three registered versions of an image. In the Leiden’s case, for select paintings, you can view the original, full visual spectrum image, as well as X-ray and infrared versions of the painting. This format provides an engaging context for exploring in deep zoom with all three views at the same time. But exploring an image in this way can be further improved by providing additional comparative figures from related works.

Jennifer’s team at the NGA has built a similar comparative figures feature which you can see in action here. But this uses Mirador’s implementation of OpenSeadragon. Our implementation will offer this new URL saved state capability and will package it up into an easy-to-deploy WordPress plugin.

One of the benefits of this WordPress plugin will be the ability to have related figures on the same page as the CurtainSync viewer. And though the comparative figures will not be CurtainSync-enabled (since it is rare that general images would have additional registered views) they would be OpenSeadragon-enabled for independent pan and zoom.

Key Feature – URL State Preservation

Of course this kind of capability can already be found in Project Mirador (which we featured in the previous article on scholarship) but the new feature we are planning would allow a researcher to set comparative figures at a certain level of zoom, along with the Curtain viewer image in a chosen state, and save those relationships through a URL. So when a researcher discovers a comparative observation, they can display those details together and then save a URL to share this view with others. Going to that link will bring up the viewer page with all states showing these comparisons at the predefined zoom level and proper coordinates highlighting the areas of observation.

Another feature of this new version of the CurtainSync Viewer will allow CurtainView images and comparative figures to be dropped into any page via a WordPress shortcode. This will allow any page or post to include an embedded OpenSeadragon deep zoom viewer with a detailed view already set to the particular detailed observation where that observation is referenced in the text.

While Mirador offers far more capabilities for deep research and should remain the primary platform for active research, our viewer plugin will enable the valuable observations discovered through image mining in Marador to be easily preserved and presented online. The plugin will also allow for integration into standard page content so that historians, researchers, and art scholars can more effectively utilize the web as the dynamic scholarly content platform it always should be.

Open Source Via Github

The code for this advanced scholarly viewer will have a Github repository. So even if your site isn’t on the WordPress platform another developer should be able to use most of the code to rebuild an implementation for another platform. (We already have the existing Leiden curtain viewer available via github thanks to the generosity of the Leiden Collection who allowed us to release our work on their viewer to the OpenSeadragon open source project.)

Improved Scholarly Storytelling
In addition to these improved capabilities for researchers and scholars to deepen their observations and share them in detail, we’re also planning to add a set of tools that will create a platform for deep zoom visual storytelling. This will be similar to what the folks at Cogapp recently did for their Storiiies lab.

By establishing hotspots at various levels of zoom, and specific coordinates, content editors will be able to associate those image spots with corresponding explanatory text. By setting up a series of coordinates with captions, readers will be able to follow the sequence with the viewer automatically panning and zooming to image details overlaying annotations along the way. As Coggapp’s Storiiies examples demonstrate, this is a great platform for rich scholarly narrative in the context of the object itself.

Our version of this feature will be CurtainSync enabled, easily administered, and easily deployed through the WordPress plugin.

Help Us Get This Off the Ground

Jennifer Henel has been working with her institution to build interest and find funding for this initiative. As with all scholarly endeavors, funding is often a function of grants. But if we can find a few institutions who recognize the value of adding this kind of WordPress scholarly apparatus to their sites, we should be able to fund this initiative and provide this extended capability for museum scholars.

Cuberis, once we have the initial funding to complete the plugin, will likewise release the code to the OpenSeadragon open source initiative. However, we can’t make open-ended commitments to maintain the code base indefinitely. We will however, be inviting any museum who decides to implement this plugin on their site to opt-in to our support system, whether or not they are a full client of Cuberis. This will provide a la carte support for any museum that would like to have support, or that might want to further customize the plugin’s tools. We do expect to integrate and include any such customizations back into the open source project. If you’d like to know more about Cuberis general support terms of service you can find them here.

We look forward to enabling the work of scholars through the building of this plugin, and enabling important art historical research to be transformed into rich stories for art exploration!

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