Progress Update: Autumn 2013

Posted: October 29th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be showing one, and possibly two prototypes of Visible Prices at MLA 2014, on the panel DH From the Ground Up, where I’ll also be discussing the role that this project played in helping me finish my dissertation.

You can see my latest prototype, which is built in ANVC’s Scalar platform, here.

Working with Scalar has been really exciting for several reasons: it allows me to draw on some of the semantic web knowledge that I picked up this summer at the Digital Humanities Oxford Summer School, and it’s by far the most sophisticated ready-made platform that allows me to create visualizations that users can navigate.

In addition, while Scalar does have a learning curve, and require a mental adjustment in order to think effectively about how you’ll use it, it requires very little technical programming knowledge. What you need most in order to work with it is to be able to think clearly and flexibly about how you organize your data for users.

Between DHOXSS and working with Scalar, I realized something that should have been clear to me earlier. In the past, my long-term goal has been to make VP a fully realized project, holding thousands of offers and prices, with a way of collecting data automatically from digitized texts and records.

That’s still a good long-term goal, but there’s a better short-term goal that I should be focusing on. That short-term goal is making a miniature prototype that displays the potential of the project, and prepares me for writing grants that will fund its larger development through future iterations. This means I need to think in terms of objectives that help me identify the specific tasks and problems involved in building the collection; and identify the ways that I want users to be able to interact with it.

With that goal in mind, here is my task list for the next four months:

  • Add  between 200 and 250 prices from VP master sheet into Scalar:
    • Historical branch: Approximately 100-125 of these prices will be drawn from the period of 1785-1794, and therefore encompassing the period of the French Revolution, and economic anxieties that accompanied it within England. They will include a mixture of prices drawn from literary and from historical texts, but the majority will most likely be historical.
      • For the historical branch collection, create a master page which includes the different types of objects included, i.e. foodstuffs, live goods, textiles, entertainment, etc., which may be of interest to historians who work in those areas in particular.
    • Literary branch: Approximately 100-125 of these prices will be drawn from 18th and 19th century English novelists (Richardson, Fielding, Burney, Austen, Eliot etc.).
      • For the literary branch collection, create a visualization page of authors included. I anticipate that this page will be of interest to literature scholars who may or may not be highly interested in the historical side of the project; and potentially of interest to non-academics who stop by purely out of curiosity and/or their interest in a particular author, i.e., Jane Austen.
  • Create two major visualization paths that traverse each set of prices in Scalar.
    • I want users to be able to see just how many prices occur in literary texts that go unnoticed. The literary branch collection is meant to highlight this point.
    • The historical branch collection has two primary purposes. It should provide users with a view of different goods, services, and experiences that have the same price — i.e., 1 gallon of wheat is equivalent to 1 day’s wages for a general day labourer. It should continue providing me with greater knowledge about the forms in which these prices are recorded, and the challenges that are involved in including them in the collection. For example, one challenge is that certain prices are recorded only as a range, rather than a specific amount, i.e. pork is sold for between 2.5-4.5 pence. This makes it difficult to present the offers in a way that connects them with equivalent prices.
  • Produce a document identifying the specific challenges involved in including prices in the database. (This will be based on previously acquired notes and work, and on the work listed above.)
  • Produce a document identifying the specific challenges involved in representing Visible Prices in Scalar. Identify the most important challenges (1-2), and write to ANVC Scalar inquiring about potential customizations, or whether any of these challenges are areas in which they have plans for future iterations of the platform.
  • Bonus goal #1: create a Visible Prices twitter feed, which will tweet 2 prices per day, with links back to their page in the Scalar database. Program the feed with multiple prices, scheduled in advance.
  • Bonus goal #2: create a collection of unusual prices, and a path to navigate them.
    • Both bonus goals are primarily for the purpose of building a greater audience for Visible Prices.


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