Practicum: Scalar


Scalar describes itself as “a free, open-source authoring and publishing platform…designed to make it easy for authors to write long-form, born-digital scholarship online.” The nature of its platform makes it a sort of democratizing force in the academic space, and it offers interesting ways to showcase visual material within scholarship. The latter function is an aspect of significant importance, considering that Scalar is a project created by The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture—an organization which prioritizes greater scholarly understanding (and usage) of visual culture. 

Scalar “About” page. List of attributes can be found directly underneath the Scalar logo.


Scalar’s most noteworthy attributes are broken down into categories: annotations, media support, flexible structure, web standards, open API, archive partners, reader feedback, custom styling, built-in visualizations, multiple authors, and third-party apps. Here is an abbreviated breakdown of each:

Annotations: This is a really neat function of Scalar. It allows you to annotate video and audio files, and even source code. As the site explains, “Want to annotate source code with poetry? Or audio with video? Scalar makes it possible.”

Media Support: The site says that “Scalar pages are HTML, just about anything you can imbed in a webpage will work in your publication.” Here, you can find a list of supported media formats for native support.

Flexible Structure: Scalar distinguishes itself from other publishing platforms through its usage of paths (linear) and tags (non-linear), which, in the most simple terms possible, means “‘anything can do everything to anything'” according to the site. Read more about it here.

Web Standards: Scalar is based on the semantic web standard RDF (Resource Description Framework) and is compatible with Dublin Core, SIOC (Semantically-Interlinked Online Communities), and ArtSTOR.

Open API: Through Scalar’s open API, your content is easily accessible. You can create custom interfaces for it and mashup with other data sources.

Archive Partners: Scalar partners with the Internet Archive, Hemispheric Institute Digital Video Library, and the Shoah Foundation Institute Visual History Archive to make a wide range of source material available to users.

Reader Feedback: Scalar’s comments feature makes open communication between authors and readers possible.

Custom Styling: Scalar offers a variety of options for authors to create visual interest within their publications with image galleries, Google Map layouts, and CSS functionality.

Built-In Visualizations: Built-in visualizations allow for page-level and book-level viewing. Through the latter function, content from an entire book can be viewed by readers in “graphical format.”

Multiple Authors: This function is pretty self-explanatory–Scalar allows multiple authors to edit a project, and it keeps track of who contributes what.

Third-Party Apps: Scalar maintains a “flattened hierarchy” which utilizes various third-party apps like CodeIgniter and ARC2 to achieve full functionality. The full list of third-party apps can be viewed here.


Under the Scalar Showcase tab, you will find a wealth of projects created using the platform. The work showcased here displays Scalar’s impressive range—authors can upload theses and dissertations, create digital exhibits, and even write “book companions” to help readers understand the basics of their work.

Click the “Showcase” tab to view different project categories.


Visit Scalar’s “Webinars” tab to view upcoming webinars (of which there are currently none –and I’m not entirely sure this is an active feature of the site).

Get Involved

Scalar offers some neat ways to get involved with the site, from offering feedback, to hosting workshops, to coding. You can also check back occasionally to see if Scalar is hiring (but currently, they are not). If you’re interested in providing feedback about bugs and other suggestions, check out Scalar’s public issue tracker; and if you fancy yourself a Scalar expert, you can contact the team and get involved in their feature and platform testing.


Overall, Scalar seems like an incredibly interesting platform for anyone interested in publishing their work on a more democratized, open, digital media-focused platform. I really enjoyed looking through their project showcase and appreciate that they make all of these academic works available to the public. Scalar also offers great opportunities to brush up on your tech skills and contribute to the site’s improvement. Check it out!

9 Replies to “Practicum: Scalar”

  1. Hi Karly!

    Thank you for the introduction to this site. I was so excited when I got to the part where you mentioned that readers can comment and create dialog with the authors. I feel like that is also a great way to peer review these posts on an open format where students of history can see the process. I wonder if the site has comment policy for what is appropriate or if they delete comments if they are inappropriate. If they don’t, I think it would be a great idea to add that to help with the dialog of the posts.

    -McKenna Crews

    1. Hi McKenna! Thanks for your comment. That’s a great question – according to the site, Scalar allows authors to either automatically permit comments on their published pieces, or, alternatively, they can personally select which comments are allowed to be posted.

  2. Hey Karly!

    Great work on this – super organized and indepth. Scalar seems like a super usable platform for academic conversation and accessibility. One of my least favorite parts of grad school is trying to figure out how to actually get to a journal article that I know I have access to. On top of that, like McKenna mentioned, I can see the appeal of being able to comment on articles and have conversations back and forth. Imagine the cool conversations to be had between scholars and interested parties alike! It also goes back to our conversation about the unacademic stigma around blogs. This shows that academia doesn’t have to hide behind paywalls and fancy publications to be excellent. I do wonder what the publishing process is like – does it go through a review process before being publsihed or can anyone post? I will definitely be using this resources through the rest of my studies!


    1. Hi Caroline! Good question – Scalar presents itself as a dynamic combination of an e-book and a blog; thus, the platform seems significantly less exclusive than traditional academic publishing. To your point about paywalls, I agree that Scalar is a hopeful turn toward less gatekeeping and inaccessibility within the academy.

  3. Hi Karly! Thank you for this thorough introduction to Scalar. I had never heard of this platform before, but it seems like a fantastic resource. I love that they host webinars and workshops to help their users get the most out of this platform, and also to learn really valuable tools for whatever field they’re in! And I really love the Showcase tab. I think it’s amazing to have access to so many creative and brilliant projects, and it’s even better for the creators who worked so hard on these projects to get recognition from a wider audience. Looking forward to learning more about Scalar and how it’s best used in the history field. Thanks. again!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Molly! I also loved looking through the Showcase tab. One of the huge perks of the Internet is the vast amount of information any one site can contain – the ability to view so many scholars’ work at once is such a neat thing!

  4. Hi Karly! Thanks for the introduction to Scalar! This platform seems really interesting and I love how accessible it is! No paywalls! How beautiful. I also think the collaborative/discussions with authors is a great way to build community inside and outside of academia. This seems like a great resource for students and non academics alike and I appreciate its focus on born-digital materials. I was wondering if there was any discussion of sustainability on the website? Thanks! 🙂

    1. Hi Emma! You’re right – no paywalls is truly a beautiful thing. As far as I could tell, Scalar doesn’t directly discuss sustainability on their site. However, they do have other channels of communication available to users, so there might be more information available elsewhere.

  5. Hi Karly! Thank you for this awesome introduction to Scalar! This seems like a really useful platform, especially when looking for examples of digital history projects that are already out there as inspiration for your own work. I also agree with previous comments that it is spectacular that this is entirely accessible without paywalls, allowing for work to become available to those outside of academia.

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