The practica for our final week, PressForward and Scalar, are tools for organizing digital intellectual properties. Both platforms embrace a non-linear, born-digital approach to scholarship. While PressForward is a means to collect and curate existing scholarship, Scalar is a platform on which to publish one’s own work in an innovative way designed to incorporate all the best aspects of born-digital projects. Both platforms take advantage of the flexibility and the power of digital media to empower both the consumers and creators.
PressForward is a free plugin of the WordPress blogging site. As such, its functionality compliments the blogging format. It is, essentially, a curatorial tool for storing and subscribing to articles and blog posts from other WordPress users. It’s analogous to Tumblr or Pinterest, but for scholarly works. In one’s profile, one can collect media from others’ blogs and categorize it in ways which make sense to the WordPress user. In addition to collecting individual articles, one can also subscribe to others’ profiles. This is useful in the case, for example, that another blogger has similar interests to yours and you want to see what they post in case it’s something you’re interested in curating. From a consumer standpoint, PressForward can be very useful for finding pre-collected information on various topics by experts in the field. This tool would, I imagine, be very useful during the early phases of a research project as one gets familiar with the historiography and wants to keep their materials in order. Likewise, it could be a very powerful tool for later reference, as the organizational tools allow each user to tag and categorize their materials in the way which is most intuitive for them.
Two examples of the PressForward blogs are Digital Humanities Now and DH+LIB. The Digital Humanities Now mission is “refining processes of aggregation, discovery, curation, and review to open and extend conversations about the digital humanities research and practice.” Part of this mission is achieved by collecting works on this topic and sharing them through the PressForward platform. Digital Humanities Now collects “Editor’s Choice” articles and publishes them for their readers. If one enjoys an author’s work, they can follow links to the author’s other works, to the author’s reading lists, or to posts with similar tags. DH+LIB takes even further advantage of this platform “to provide a communal space where librarians, archivists, LIS graduate students, and information specialists of all stripes can contribute to a conversation about digital humanities and libraries.” Their highlighted articles—originating also from a variety of sources—are organized under several categories, such as “Data Praxis Series” and “dh+lib review.” These allow users to explore similar content by a variety of creators, pre-curated by those working at DH+LIB. This plugin, in short, takes advantage of the digital media capabilities of sharing, storing, and organizing information in a way which is best suited to each unique user.
Scalar also capitalizes on the strongest aspects of digital media, this time with regards to the creation of digital scholarship. Scalar creates digital “books” either from existing print scholarship or as a born-digital work. These books are multi-media, non-linear, and highly collaborative. Scalar publications are serial in nature; these projects have separate pieces, which can include text media, videos, audio, photographs, and any other media plugins. Each of these projects can be consumed either in a sequential order or through tags. This offers the audience the choice of following the posts in sequential order, in alternate sequences, or following tags to find related information. This organization allows a wider audience to use Scalar books. Because the content can be tailored to different people’s interests and used as the audience wants, Scalar projects can appeal to either a popular or scholarly audience. The audience also has the option the write comments on any part of the Scalar project. These comments become a living part of the Scalar book and the ensuing conversation. This impetus on collaboration also extends to other Scalar authors. Every project in Scalar has the potential to be collaborative and works from a place of connecting people and ideas and from the power that lies in these connections. Other powerful connections offered by Scalar are the metadata about projects. This feature allows a content creator to see what works about their projects and on what they can continue to do or continue to improve. Scalar takes advantage of all the strongest aspects of digital media—connectivity, multi-media, collaborative, non-linear, available metadata—and has created a very powerful publishing tool for born-digital and adapted works alike.
Historians are in the business of telling stories. These stories are told with the information attainable and the resources available to the audiences who want to listen. With tools like PressForward and Scalar, access to scholarship is increased dramatically. This means more dynamic projects with more authors and greater context. This also means that the projects can reach larger audiences, essentially anyone who would take an interest. These platforms take advantage of curatorial and organizational practices to allow audiences the freedoms to collect articles they’ve enjoyed, to subscribe to creators in whom they’re interested, and to explore scholarly projects on their own terms. They also empower creators to make content with the audience’s expectations and needs in mind. What truly impresses me is the potential both within the scholarly community and for the public audiences who has a more hobbyist interest in these subjects to aid in the dissemination and consumption of history projects.
- Where do you see the most potential in either (or both) of these products?
- In the hypothetical scenario that you ran a PressForward page, how do you imagine others would benefit from your work? How would you benefit?
- In what ways is a Scalar book more useful than a print book? Can you imagine any drawbacks?