Toy Chest (Online or Downloadable Tools for Building Projects)

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The EDKB Wiki is a database that makes available the various interests, talents, and resources of the English Department community. See the Main Page to learn more about the EDKB. The wiki does not offer information on current course offerings, nor is it a comprehensive archive of materials related to all past courses. Visit the English Department home page for this type of information.

This page is now obsolete. The "Toy Chest" has been updated and is continuing to grow at the following location: -- Alan Liu (April 8, 2012)
"Toy Chest" collects online or downloadable software tools/thinking toys that humanities students and others without programming skills (but with basic computer and Internet literacy) can use to create interesting projects. Most of the tools gathered here are free or relatively inexpensive (exceptions: items that are expensive but can be used on a free trial basis). Also on this page are "paradigms"--books, essays, digital projects, etc.--that illustrate the kinds of humanities projects that software thinking tools/toys might help create.



Tools collected here are online or downloadable, usually free, and can be used by the ordinary humanities scholar with some computer familiarity to develop interesting projects.

Gaming Tools

See also the following tools in other categories that can be used to create games: NetLogo, Scratch

Ivanhoe (Online Literary Interpretation "Game")

Screenshot from Ivanhoe Game
Originally created and theorized by Jerome McGann and Johanna Drucker of the University of Virginia English Department, Ivanhoe is a pedagogical environment for interpreting textual and other cultural materials. It is designed to foster critical awareness of the methods and perspectives through which we understand and study humanities documents. An online collaborative playspace, Ivanhoe exposes the indeterminacy of humanities texts to role-play and performative intervention by students at all levels. While we often refer to Ivanhoe as a 'game,' it is important to understand that the concept has broader implications for humanities pedagogy and research, and that many modes of sophisticated, scholarly gamesmanship are possible in the Ivanhoe environment. The “rules” of the game are up to its players and initiators. Ivanhoe can foster both competitive and collaborative interaction, well suited to research and teaching. . . . In simple terms, Ivanhoe is a digital space in which players take on alternate identities in order to collaborate in expanding and making changes to a 'discourse field,' the documentary manifestation of a set of ideas that people want to investigate collaboratively." (from Ivanhoe "About" page) Allows users to create an account and join games or to create new games; runs in Java. (Besides the current blog-home page of the project, see the older home site with records and discussion of games played. See the Demo guide and the Full Manual (.pdf).)

Mapping Tools

David Rumsey Historical Map Collection (Online Mapping Tool)

David Rumsey Historical Map Collection
"The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection has over 14,800 maps online. The collection focuses on rare 18th and 19th century North and South America maps and other cartographic materials. Historic maps of the World, Europe, Asia and Africa are also represented. Collection categories include antique atlas, globe, school geography, maritime chart, state, county, city, pocket, wall, childrens and manuscript maps. The collection can be used to study history, genealogy and family history."

Google Earth (Online Mapping Tool)

Google Earth
Google Earth historical map (England and Wales in 1790, overlaid on satellite map)
Free, downloadable program that communicates with Google servers to provide interactive fly-over/zoom-in satellite images of the world with superimposable map and location data that can be turned on or off (roads, boundaries, locations of interest, hotels, dining, etc.) Allows users to annotate maps and add placemarks that can be shared online as part of the "Google Earth Community" (e.g., place markers with links relevant to local community interests). Highest resolution images are for high-density urban and other populated areas; lower resolution elsewhere. In some areas of the world, Google allows users to superimpose historical maps from the Rumsey Historical Map collection over current satellite maps (available under "Featured Content" in the Google Earth sidebar.

Google Maps My Maps (Online Mapping Tool)

Google "My Maps" Example
Tool from Google that allows users to overlay Google maps or satellite images with lines, shapes, and annotations (click on the "My Maps" tab on the page). "Make Google Maps your maps. Create and share personalized, annotated maps of your world.... Mark your favorite places on your map. Draw lines and shapes to highlight paths and areas. Add your own text, photos, and videos. Publish your map to the web. Share your map with friends and family."

Google SketchUp (3D Modeling & Mapping Software)

Google SketchUp
Google's free, downloadable 3D modeling tool that allows users to create 3D drawings of buildings, artifacts, etc. (in CAD-style, but assisted by simple "push/pull" tools and 2D-to-3D extrusion), navigate walk-throughs of their creation, and then place their creation on a Google Earth map as an overlay. (For Windows and Mac.) Also see the Google SketchUp Blog and Google SketchUp for Educators site for ideas and instructions.

Google Lit Trips (Examples of Modeling with Google Earth)

Google Lit Trips Example
Google Lit Trips is a collection of Google Earth files that map out works of literature, organized by a teacher (not directly affiliated with Google). The website includes background material on why to create Lit Trips and documentation about how to make them, including video tutorials. The examples include screenshots and are downloadable for navigating with a personal copy of Google Earth.

Mashup Creation Tools

"Mashups" combine content from multiple Web services with open API's (ways of communicating interoperably with other services) so as to create ad hoc, custom Web applications--e.g., a combination of data from Google Maps and Flickr customized to show only particular pinned locations with clickable photos.

Microsoft Popfly (Online Mashup Creation Tool)

Popfly visual programming environment
Example of Popfly output showing images from this Toy Chest page displayed in a book with turnable pages
Users drag and configure a variety of off-the-shelf data modules for the display of resources, images, video, etc. from online sites, then connect the modules so that, for example the "Image Scraper" module (which harvets images from a particular Web page) outputs through the "PageTurner" module (which displays pages in a "book" with animated, turnable pages). (Requires users to have a free Microsoft Live account and to install the Microsoft Silverlight program.)

Yahoo Pipes (Online Mashup Creation Tool)

Yahoo Pipes visual programming environment
Output from user-created pipe
Working in a visual-programming interface, users drag, drop, configure, and "pipe" (i.e., interconnect) modules representing a variety of data sources (e.g., Flickr, Google Maps) and relational operators (e.g., filters for particular phrases). The output is a custom-made mashup--e.g., a Google map showing clickable locations for all Flickr photos with a particular tag within 10 miles of Santa Barbara in the last month. (Requires users to have a free Yahoo account.)

Simulation & Modeling Tools (including Visual Programming tools)

(Downloadable Software for Agent-Based Simulations)

NetLogo "Rebellion" simulation of a subjugated population rising against a central authority
"NetLogo is a programmable modeling environment for simulating natural and social phenomena. . . . NetLogo is particularly well suited for modeling complex systems developing over time. Modelers can give instructions to hundreds or thousands of independent 'agents' all operating concurrently. This makes it possible to explore the connection between the micro-level behavior of individuals and the macro-level patterns that emerge from the interaction of many individuals. NetLogo lets students open simulations and 'play' with them, exploring their behavior under various conditions. It is also an authoring environment which enables students, teachers and curriculum developers to create their own models. NetLogo is simple enough that students and teachers can easily run simulations or even build their own. And, it is advanced enough to serve as a powerful tool for researchers in many fields. NetLogo has extensive documentation and tutorials. It also comes with a Models Library, which is a large collection of pre-written simulations that can be used and modified. These simulations address many content areas in the natural and social sciences, including biology and medicine, physics and chemistry, mathematics and computer science, and economics and social psychology" (from "What is NetLogo?" on the NetLogo site).

(For suggestive examples, seee Shawn Graham's uses of NetLogo to simulate/model ancient societies.)

Scratch (Downloadable visual programming environment for animation and game creation)

"Tintern Abbey First-Person Shooter," created by Alan Liu
Scratch is a visual programming environment designed by MIT Media Lab to allow children and other novices to learn programming logic by creating interactive animations or games. Implemented in Java, the program runs on the user's computer. It comes with several pre-made "sprites" (e.g., a cat) that can be programmed to move, make sounds, say things, and interact with other sprites or with mouse/keyboard controls by "snapping together" a variety of program logic "blocks" (like snapping together Lego blocks). Users can also draw/import their own sprites and backgrounds.

Second Life (3D online digital world or immersive environment)

Part of UC Santa Barbara English Department's Second Life campus
Second Life is one of the most widely used of the general-purpose Internet-based, immersive, 3D, and highly scalable (massively multi-user) "virtual worlds" where users can create an avatar (a visual, mobile representation of themselves), create richly rendered spaces and objects, and interact with each other as well as with various media sources (e.g., videos). An increasing number of educational institutions have set up virtual campuses in Second Life. (Created with an instructional improvement grant in 2007, the UC Santa Barbara English Department's "UCSB Lane" site can be visited at the Second Life address Possible innovative educational uses for Second Life include: co-learning with teachers and students elsewhere in the world; taking class "field trips" to Second Life conferences, art shows, and other events; exhibiting student work; creating architectural or stage sets; performing a scene from a play; etc. As of 2007, Second Life allows users to talk to each other through both text and live voice. (Use of Second life requires installation of the Second Life program and a free user account; paid accounts allow for higher degrees of use, including owning land.) (A convenient set of Quicktime-movie tutorials for building objects and other construction activities in Second Life is offered by the CTER site created by the Educational Psychology Dept. at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.)
UCSB students are welcome to hold team meetings in the UCSB English Department's Second Life campus:
"Sandbox" where UCSB students can build objects
Building objects in the sandbox
  1. Follow the invitation on " this Web page to "teleport" to the UCSB Lane location.  (If you do not already have a Second Life avatar, follow the link on the page to "sign up" for a free account; requires installing the Second Life program on your computer.)
  2. Or, if you already have a Second Life account and the program installed on your computer, go directly to UCSB Lane by clicking on the following Slurl, which will open the Second Life program with your avatar at the proper location:
  3. A special "sandbox" is set aside on the UCSB Lane campus where students have the permissions needed to experiment with building objects. (Locate the sandbox on the property as illustrated in the screenshots here.)
Note that Second Life users can now talk to each other in-world either through typing or through live voice.

Text-Analysis Tools

CLAWS Part-of-Speech Tagger (Part-of-Speech [POS] Analysis Tool; online Web service)

Results of ClAWS POS Tagger as applied to Wallace Stevens's "The Idea of Order at Key West"
Tag set key for ClAWS
Created by the University Centre for Computer Corpus Research on Language group (UCREL) at U. Lancaster, CLAWS is a grammatical tagger that analyzes words in a text by part of speech. Based on the approximately 10 million words of the British National Corpus (BNC), CLAWS returns each work in a text passage listed by line number with a tag identifying its part of speech. (The Web site makes available keys to the tag sets.) Punctuation is also identified. The free CLAWS online Web service limits the user to submitting 300 words of text at a time for analysis; the full version requires an institutional or individual license.

Crawdad (Text and Content Analysis Tool; downloadable for Windows system only)

Text-analysis software that models the content and relations of material not just by equating word frequency with importance but through "natural language processing" and "a network model of text" reflecting "linguistic theory concerning how people create coherence in their communication." Interfaces for analyzed content include: tree-flow vizualizer, browser that highlights keywords, "comparator" that finds common and unique material in two texts, classifier that clusters texts according to similarity, and a sequencer that "exports keyword metrics for further secondary analysis." (This is a high-cost software tool; but there is a free 30-day trial.)

Gender Genie (Text Analysis Tool; online)

Gender Genie keyword analysis
A simple online tool that uses an algorithmic model to guess the gender of the author of a piece of text (with options for fiction, nonfiction, or blog post). The results include a color-coded display of feminine and masculine keywords in the text (such as personal pronouns and prepositions). This analysis sparked some controversy on blogs and in newspapers, and the page links to a few of those sources.

The algorithm and results can be compared to GenderAnalyzer, a similar tool.

Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (Text Analysis Tool; online)

LIWC text analysis
"LIWC is able to calculate the degree to which people use different categories of words across a wide array of texts...LIWC allows you to determine the rate at which the authors/speakers use positive or negative emotion words, self-references, big words, or words that refer to sex, eating, or religion." This is an expensive software tool, but there is a simple online tool ("Try LIWC Online") where a user can submit a piece of text and see a count of self-references, social words, emotions, etc. in that text compared to counts of those words in personal texts and formal texts.

The Regressive Imagery Dictionary (Conceptual Text Analysis Tool; downloadable script)

RID text analysis
This is a tool "designed to measure 'primordial' and conceptual content" in a body of text, categorizing the words by type: primary ("free-form, associative"), secondary ("logical, reality-based"), and emotional. Examples include "EMOTIONS:AGGRESSION" and "PRIMARY:ICARIAN IMAGERY:HEIGHT". It's like psychoanalytic computing. This implementation of the Regressive Imagery Dictionary is a Python script, so it requires some familiarity with using scripts from the command line. A quick guide for Mac OS X: download the file to your desktop, open Terminal (in the "Utilities" folder of "Applications"), type "cd Desktop" and enter, and then type "python < Something.txt" and enter. "Something.txt" should actually be a plain text file on your Desktop containing the text that you want to analyze.

TAPoR (Collection of Online Text Analysis Tools with "Recipes" for Use)

TAPoR: Wordbrush visualization of Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey"
Created by a consortium of Canadian universities, TAPoR is a collection of online text-analysis tools--ranging from the basic to sophisticated--that allows users to run search, statistical, collocation, extraction, aggregation, visualization, hypergraph, transformation, and other "tools" on texts. (The site comes seeded with prepared texts, but users can sign up for a free account and input their own.) TAPoR allows tools to be mixed and matched in a mashup-style "workbench." Particularly impressive is the "recipes" page, which in step-by-step fashion suggests ways that tools can be combined for particular purposes--e.g., identify themes, analyse colloquial word use, visualize text, explore changes in language use by a writer, create an online interactive bibliography, build a social network map from text, create a chronological timeline from bibliographical text, etc. As regards the general philosophy behind TAPoR,
TAPoR: Wordcloud visualization of Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey"
which descends from the mature computational-linguistics side of humanities computing (the oldest use of computers for the humanities), project developer Geoffrey Rockwell says at the beginning of his article for the Text Analysis Developers Alliance (TADA) entitled "What is Text Analysis?":
"Text analyis tools aide the interpreter asking questions of electronic texts:" Much of the evidence used by humanists is in textual form. One way of interpreting texts involves bringing questions to these texts and using various reading practices to reflect on the possible answers. Simple text analysis tools can help with this process of asking questions of a text and retrieving passages that help one think through the questions. The computer does not replace human interpretation, it enhances it.... (1) Text-analysis tools break a text down into smaller units like words, sentences, and passages, and then (2) Gather these units into new views on the text that aide interpretation."

Caveat emptor: multiple, complex, and inconsistent interfaces (characterized by an abundance of checkboxes, dropdown lists, and popup windows) for configuring TAPoR for particular tasks can be confusing, but also fun to experiment with. Also, the algorithmic and interpretive assumptions that underlie the tools are not transparent. It is like discovering a box of surgical tools made by an alien civilization, using them to open up the body of a living text, and seeing what happens. TAPoR is a method of discovery.

WordCount (Language Exploration Tool; online)

WordCount tool for exploring the frequency of words in English)
Enter an English word and see it visualized in a series of words ranked by their frequency of use or "commonness." "An artistic experiment in the way we use language, [WordCount] presents the 86,800 most frequently used English words, ranked in order of commonness. Each word is scaled to reflect its frequency relative to the words that precede and follow it, giving a visual barometer of relevance. The larger the word, the more we use it. The smaller the word, the more uncommon it is. WordCount data currently comes from the British National Corpus."

WordHoard (Text Analysis Tool; online)

WordHoard concordance and analyses of Shakespeare)
Example from WordHoard manual of the kind of information that an experienced user of the system can generate from a body of literary texts (in this case: the different frequencies with which men and women use the word "love" in verse and prose)
Highly powerful and granular text-analysis tool for a select group of "highly canonical literary texts"--currently, all of early Greek epic (in original and translation), all of Chaucer and Shakespeare, and Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene and Shepheardes Calendar. WordHoard is based on the principle of applying corpora-scale textual analysis (corpora linguistics) to specific authors/texts. It is also based on "deep tagging" (i.e., fine-grained application of the underlying computational description or encoding) of texts, so as to allow users to constrain their searching, collocating, concordance-building, time-charting of word use, and other text analyses not just to word forms but to specific works, speakers, the gender of speakers, publication year, prose vs. verse, metrical shape, parts of speech, etc. "It is a basic assumption of WordHoard that new kinds of historical, literary, or broadly cultural analysis will be supported through the forms of data access that are made possible when literary texts are treated in the manner of linguistic corpora. Deeply tagged corpora of course support more finely grained inquiries at a verbal or stylistic level. But more importantly, access to the words of a text at such microscopic levels also lets you look in new ways at the imaginative worlds created by those words." Wordhoard is a Java-based application that starts on a user's local computer and interacts through the Internet with the literary texts and text-analysis programs on WordHoard's servers. [Note: clicking on the "Download and Run WordHoard" link on the homepage starts the Java application. No manual installation of a program on the user's computer (the usual implication of "download" in such a context) is required.]

WordNet (Concept and Language Exploration Tool; can be used online or downloaded)

WordNet conceptual analysis of the word "book" (partial)
Accessed online or in downloadable form, WordNet allows users to tap intelligently into "a large lexical database of English" for the purpose of exploring concepts and their interrelations. "Nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs are grouped into sets of cognitive synonyms (synsets), each expressing a distinct concept. Synsets are interlinked by means of conceptual-semantic and lexical relations. The resulting network of meaningfully related words and concepts can be navigated.... WordNet's structure makes it a useful tool for computational linguistics and natural language processing." In essence, WordNet can be conceived of as an extremely high-powered, interactive thesaurus that facilitates the rapid pursuit of conceptual relations and affiliations--a kind of "rapid prototyping" of language-based concepts. While reading a poem, for instance, one might use WordNet to explore the author's choice of a particular word by seeing the word cocooned within a structured universe of alternative and related "synsets."

WordNet 3.0 Vocabulary Helper (also known as EVA) (Language Exploration and Hyper-Thesaurus Tool; online)

WordNet Vocabulary Helper results for search on the word "book" (partial)
Accessed online, WordNet Vocabulary helper is a very powerful means of discovering and following the radiating network of signifying relations around a word. Entering "book," for example, produces a hyper-thesaurus/glossary of definitions and usages in the categories:
   * Overview of noun book
   * Overview of verb book
   * Hyponyms of noun book
   * Synonyms/Hypernyms (Ordered by Estimated Frequency) of noun book
   * Part Holonyms of noun book
   * Member Meronyms of noun book
   * Part Meronyms of noun book
   * Meronyms of noun book
   * Holonyms of noun book
   * Derived Forms of noun book
   * Domain of noun book
   * Domain Terms of noun book
   * Coordinate Terms (sisters) of noun book
   * Meronyms of noun book
   * Holonyms of noun book
   * Troponyms (hyponyms) of verb book
   * Entailment of verb book
   * Synonyms/Hypernyms (Ordered by Estimated Frequency) of verb book
   * Derived Forms of verb book
   * Sample Sentences of verb book
   * Coordinate Terms (sisters) of verb book

See also the following tools in other categories that can be used for text analysis:

Text-Generation Tools

Cybernetic Poet / Poet's Assistant (Text-Generator for Poets); downloadable for Windows)

Poem in the style of Emily Dickinson written with the aid of Poet's Assistant
The free version of this tool allows one to choose a poet-vocabulary (e.g., Blake, Byron, Dickinson) and be prompted--by means of an assistance window alongside the main composition window--on what that poet might next say after any entered word. The scale of "what's next?" can be set optionally to alliterative sequences, the next word, the rest of the line, and the rest of the poem. The paid version of the program allows poets to model "what's next?" on their own style.

Visualization, Graphing, and Pattern-Discovery Tools

aiSee (Downloadable Graphing Software)

Gallery of aiSee graph types
Powerful graphing program, though with a fairly steep learning curve. "aiSee reads a textual, easy-to-read and easy-to-learn graph specification and automatically calculates a customizable graph layout. This layout is then displayed, and can be interactively explored, printed and exported to various graphic formats. aiSee has been optimized to handle huge graphs automatically generated by applications. It is available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X." aiSee is available for a 30-day free trial; academic (and other non-commercial users) can write in for a license that extends free use of the program indefinitely.

combinFormation (Online Semi-autonomous Web Crawler, Visualization, and Idea Discovery Tool)

Agent-driven, semi-autonomous tool that builds collage-style combinations of visual and textual scraps from web sites, allowing the user then to rearrange and reprioritize the found-data to facilitate the discovery of relations. "combinFormation is a creativity support tool that integrates processes of searching, browsing, collecting, mixing, organizing, and thinking about information.... Each collection of information resources is represented as a connected whole. This promotes information discovery, the emergence of new ideas in the context of information. Temporal visual composition generates a continuously evolving informationscape." Created by Andruid Kerne and the Interface Ecology Lab at Texas A&M University.

GapMinder World (Online Data/Statistics Animation Tool)

GapMinder animated chart of life expectancy vs. per capita income in different countries across time
Created by the developers of the TrendAnalyzer tool, acquired by Google in 2007, GapMinder provides demo-videos of its animated statistical charts (see for example, this effective demo) as well as an online GapMinder World tool, which allows users to work with animated statistics interactively. The Motion Chart Google Gadget allows users to upload their own datasets.

Gliffy (Online Diagramming and Flow-Charting Tool)

Online tool for creating diagrams and flow charts. Users work in an online interface that approximates the experience of working in a software program located on one's own computer (i.e., not the older submit info and wait for a screen refresh paradigm of the Web but the newer, so-called "Ajax" paradigm of "Web services"). Also noteworthy is the fact that diagrams produced in Giffy can be either private or shared online. (The basic, free account allows only three private diagrams at a time.) As the Giffy site suggests, Giffy can be used for "Flowcharts, UI wireframes, Floor plans, Network diagrams, UML diagrams, or any other simple drawing or diagrams." Giffy describes its shared, collaborative features as follows: "Collaboration enables others to see and edit your work by simply entering their email address. Publishing creates a read-only, or public, image of your diagram that you can easily embed in a wiki, blog, or other type of web software."

Many Eyes (Online Data-Set Visualization Tool with Social Networking Features)

Chicago Population Density by Decade
Many Eyes is a powerful, flexible online suite of dataset-to-diagrammatic visualization tools. Developed by Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg of the IBM Collaborative User Experience research group's Visual Communication Lab, Many Eyes allows users (after registering for a free IBM alphaworks account) to enter their own datasets in table format, generate visualizations chosen from a wide variety of styles (including interactive, dynamic visualizations), share/discuss datasets and visualizations, and create personalized "topic hubs" to track data visualizations of interest. (Note: Many Eyes displays data and visualizations publicly and grants IBM non-exclusive intellectual property rights for the use of data/visualizations [see terms of use].)

Simile Widgets (Javascript Tools for Visualizing Time-Based Data)

New Legal Permanent Residents in the U.S. (per year)
Timeline and Timeplot are "like Google Maps for time-based information" — they are interfaces for displaying sets of data in human-readable forms. The user creates an HTML page that includes a reference to the Timeplot or Timeline Javascript files, provides another file containing time information in a specific format (a space or comma separated file, or a special XML file), and adjusts the results. This requires some understanding of code but no actual programming. These widgets are products of the MIT Simile Project.

See also: a tutorial for making Simile timelines with Google Docs.

TagCrowd (Online Tag Cloud Tool)

Tag cloud of William Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" created with TagCrowd
"Create your own tag cloud from any text to visualize word frequency." Online tool that allows the user to submit a text (or upload a text file) in order to generate a "tag cloud" (also called a "word cloud" or "text cloud") visualizing the frequency of words. The result is a piece of HTML suitable for embedding in other websites.

WidGenie (Online Data Visualization Tool)

widgenie editing screen
Free online tool that allows registered users to upload data in spreadsheet and other formats; create animated, customizable "widgets" (graphs, tables, etc.); embed them on a variety of online sites; and share them.

Wordle (Online Tag Cloud and Word Cloud Tool)

Word cloud of William Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" created with Wordle
Wordle calls itself "Beautiful Word Clouds" - it allows the user to submit text (or an RSS feed or a Delicious username) and generates a word cloud that visualizes the number of times each word appears in the submission. It is similar to TagCrowd but with many options for word colors, sizes, alignment, and typefaces; it generates an image instead of HTML.

WordsEye (Online 3-D Graphics Modelling Tool)

3D scene rendered in WordsEye from text description
[The following summary and image are from Nicole Starosielski's research report on WordsEye for the UC Transliteracies Project]: "WordsEye is a text-to-scene conversion tool that allows users to construct a computer modeled scene through the use of simple text. Users describe an environment, objects, actions and images, and WordsEye parses and conducts a syntactic and semantic analysis of these written statements. The program assigns depictors for each semantic element and its characteristics and then assembles a three-dimensional scene that approximates the user’s written description. This scene can then be modified and rendered as a static two-dimensional image."

See also the following collection of ways to visualize information:


Machinima ("machine cinema") tools allow users to create their own CGI [computer generated imagery] movies using 3D animation "engines" of the sort originally used in first-person shooter and other computer games)

MovieStorm (Free, downloadable machinima creation program for Windows; Mac version in progress)

MovieStorm editing interface
Full-featured production environment for machinima that comes with starter suites of characters and sets (more can be downloaded free or for a price). Create your setting; cast your film; edit, place, move, and direct your characters; dub-in speech and other audio; direct the action; manage camera placement and movement; wrap and share online as desired. The MovieStorm site features films by its user community. ("Moviestorm runs on Windows XP and Windows 2000. It may run on Vista but this is not supported and is not stable. A Mac version is planned but we have no release date for it.")

Paradigms and Examples

Idea bank of suggestive examples
Not directly usable tools but books, essays, maps, proprietary interfaces, non-downloadable or proprietary software, etc. that show what might be done.

Edward Castronova, Arden: World of William Shakespeare. [Online MMOG Game]

Arden: World of William Shakespeare, TravellerSim
Download and install to play the game (but must own or purchase the game Neverwinter Nights: Diamond Compilation Pack, approx. $15). Driven by the game engine for Neverwinter Nights, "Arden" was designed by an economist to use the paradigm of Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG's) to study the social and economic behaviors of populations. Along the way, players learn Shakespeare. Castronova: "What we plan to do is have people encounter the texts in Shakespeare and ideas in the text at many points within a really fun, multiplayer game, so without even knowing it, they gradually are learning more about the bard’s work" (quoted in the Second Life Reuters newspaper). The makers of the game encountered challenges – covered at Wired (see here) and Technology Review (see here), among other places.

Charles Cumming, The 21 Steps [Online Map-Based Story]

From Chapter 1 of The 21 Steps
This is an interactive adventure story where the user clicks "next" to read the text while the background map moves to trace the path of the main character. The story was inspired by The 39 Steps by John Buchan; the map is a customized version of Google Maps. The project is part of "We Tell Stories", a digital fiction series sponsored by Penguin UK in partnership with a game designer: "creating tales that take full advantage of the immediacy, connectivity and interactivity that is now possible...a unique, immersive and innovative experience" (from the about page). This interview with the author provides further context: "I've likened it to writing a screenplay."

Phil Gyford (and collaborators), Adaptation of The Diary of Samuel Pepys [Diary in Weblog Form]

The Diary of Samuel Pepys
"This site is a presentation of the diaries of Samuel Pepys, the renowned 17th century diarist who lived in London, England...A new entry written by Pepys will be published each day over the course of several years; 1 January 1660 was published on 1 January 2003." This project provides detailed, community-generated annotations for each entry, along with contemporary weather information and cross-references to other diaries and sources. It uses the diary text from Project Gutenberg and runs on a customized version of Movable Type, a popular blog software package.

Shawn Graham, NetLogo Simulations of Classical History and Archaeology [Simulation Models]

Shawn Graham, TravellerSim
Shawn Graham is a Classics graduate student who uses the NetLogo agent-based simulation program to build simulations of social organization in ancient Rome. "Using a computer, we instruct autonomous agents in the rules by which to behave. These rules are the behaviours that we observe in the archaeology, in the traces of individual interactions that we find. Then, we set the agents loose, and let them interact with each other as per the rules. From all of these countless interactions, iterated over and over again, larger-scale behaviour (society) begins to emerge. Thanks to the computer, we can study these large scale behaviours (what in human terms is social science) and compare our artificial society with what we know or believe about the ancient society. If we have deduced correctly the behaviours behind the individual interactions found archaeologically, then our artificial society should be an excellent analogue to the ancient society. History runs only once. But in the computer, it can run over and over again. We can explore (by altering the variables) the entire possible range of outcomes for different behaviours. We can compare what did happen with the parameters of its closest silicon analogue, and know the ancient society better than ever before" (from Graham's web site). (See the models on the site; Web pages include embedded Java applets running the NetLogo simulations.)

Ira Greenberg, Animated Visualizations of Felicia Heman's poem, "Domestic Affections" for Laura Mandell's Poetess Archive. [Visualizations of literary work]

Visualizations of Felicia Hemans' "Domestic Affections"
"Digital artist Ira Greenberg has created for the Poetess archive several types of visualizations using XML-encoded documents. The text we used is Felicia Hemans’s poem “Domestic Affections.” The first visualization is a word fountain. Based on word count, this dynamic picture alphabetizes the words and shoots up water: the higher the water, the greater number of times that word appears in the poem. The highest water spurts correspond to words such as “the” and “a,” so we are really interested in this middle range. If one scrolls over it,..."

Sorin Matei, Mental Maps [Research methodology with instructions and examples]

Mental Map of Los Angeles
Same Map in 3D
"Mental mapping visualizes the imaginary maps people carry in their minds to navigate in geographic space. Sorin Matei has found an efficient way to make these maps visible and analyzable with quantitative methods. Mental maps are colored by emotions and preconceptions, varying a good deal from the cartographic maps that represent the geographic space they cover.... Geologic or social morphologies are replaced by social and emotional landscapes. These, just like physical space, can be seen as peaks and valleys, as plains and canyons." Developed by Sorin Matei, Purdue University. The site includes a step-by-step tutorial for creating mental maps that blends sociological research methods with digital map-making.

Jerome J. McGann, Radiant Textuality: Literature after the World Wide Web (Palgrave, 2001), Chaps. 4-5 [Chapters in book]

Radiant Textuality
Can reading a poem backward or using a scanner + optical character recognition program (OCR) on an art work badly or perversely yield unexpected new knowledge? Can "deformance" supplement aesthetic interpretation? Find out in chapters 4 and 5 of this award-winning book by Jerome McGann, a leader in the field of humanities computing. (Chap. 4, co-written with Lisa Samuels, is titled "Deformancce and Interpretation"; chap. 5 is titled "Rethinking Textuality.")

Franco Moretti, Atlas of the European Novel, 1800-1900 (Verso, 1998) [Book]

Atlas of the European Novel
The predecessor to Moretti's Graphs, Maps, Trees book. The opening paragraph reads: "An atlas of the novel. Behind these words, lies a very simple idea: that geography is not an inert container, is not a box where cultural history 'happens,' but an active force, that pervades the literary field and shapes it in depth. Making the connection between geography and literature explicit, then--mapping it: because a map is precisely that, a connection made visible--will allow us to see some significant relationships that have so far escaped us." And from p. 6: "The idea for this work came to my be sheer chance, from a sentence in Braudel's Mediterranean [Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II] that kept coming to my mind during a long car journey in the summer of 1991: we don't have artistic atlases, we don't have literary atlases . . . So--why not try to make one?" Example of maps included: "Jane Austen's Britain" and "Movements of Four Dickens heroes."

Paul Mutton, Using PieSpy to Detect Social Networks in Shakespeare Plays [Models of Social Networks]

Still from an animated model of Antony and Cleopatra
This project uses "a tool designed to infer and visualize social networks on Internet Relay Chat (IRC)" that interprets relationships between people or characters based on how often they talk to each other: "You can see from this diagram that there is a strong social link between Cleopatra and Mark Antony (as you might expect!)." The page includes a link to a description of how the PieSpy tool works, stills from a few of the time-based animations that Mutton made for networks in different plays, and links to some of the full animations.

See also: "Your Literary Masterpiece Was Delicious", an essay by Maciej Ceglowski about making a social network visualization of characters from The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov, using custom software.

Visible Past Exploratorium/Georeferenced Wiki (gWiki) [Research and teaching environment (under development)]

Roman Forum in Google Earth
Omaha Beach Reconstruction
"Visible Past is a cross platform, scalable research and learning environment. Its primary aim is to help students and scholars to experience and communicate with fully immersive, historically accurate models of past geographic realities or to relate information to specific real geographic locations. It also includes a social networking utility and content rating/review facilities. If fully immersive models are used, these can be visualized and interacted with in a number of settings: virtual reality theaters, webpages or geographic exploration interfaces such as Google Earth or NASA Worldwind." "The heart of the environment is the data store behind its georeferenced wiki (gWiki). Our idea explodes the common model of wikis by opening read/write capabilities to any/all clients capable of reading and rendering georeferenced data, including Google's Maps and Earth, NASA's WorldWind, location-sensitive mobile devices, and immersive VR environments such as Purdue's Envision Center CAVE, and of course the more traditional, web-based wiki interface common to users of WikiPedia, Wiktionary, WikiMedia Commons (see the Clients page for a complete list of clients we are actively testing)." Under development by a research team led by Sorin A. Matei at Purdue University. See also their article, "Visible Past: Learning and Discovering in Real and Virtual Space and Time" (First Monday, 12.5 (May 2007).

See also:

--Alan Liu 01:55, 19 October 2007 (PDT)

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