[Humanist] 29.720 Darwin Letters and Drupal

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Feb 18 07:06:58 CET 2016

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 720.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 18 Feb 2016 04:43:16 +1000
        From: Desmond Schmidt <desmond.allan.schmidt at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re:  29.712 Darwin Letters website
        In-Reply-To: <20160216055932.BD487C69 at digitalhumanities.org>

While I mostly second Peter's comments here I'm not sure that the problem
lies in the interface design per se but perhaps in the tools used to
construct it. According to whatcms.org the Darwin Letters site uses Drupal.
We have extensive experience with Drupal both on the AustESE project and on
Charles Harpur. But we found that content management systems in general
tend to do what it says on the tin: they manage content that *you* write.
Whereas a digital scholarly edition is a collection of content that a
historical author wrote. And the two types of content are not really
compatible. To get the functionality we needed out of Drupal we ended up
reducing its role to that of a mere container of our data and
functionality. So in Charles Harpur less than 5% of the site is actually
provided by Drupal. The needs of a scholarly edition are not the needs of a
news or special interest site, but that is the kind of material a CMS is
designed to manage. For example, handling variants, annotations, providing
comparison tools and the many special visualisations required for a
successful edition are hard to do inside a CMS using CMS tools. Although we
are practised hypocrites in that we too have followed this route it does
bias the site towards stuff you write as opposed to stuff the author in
question wrote.

I should add that in holding up charles-harpur.org as an example of
interface things like browsing that this site is not yet complete.

Desmond Schmidt
eResearch -ITEE
University of Queensland

On Tue, Feb 16, 2016 at 3:59 PM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

>                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 712.
>             Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                        www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                 Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>         Date: Mon, 15 Feb 2016 08:52:15 +0000
>         From: "Robinson, Peter" <peter.robinson at usask.ca>
>         Subject: Re:  29.709 Darwin letters website
>         In-Reply-To: <20160214084650.8D3FEC2B at digitalhumanities.org>
> I second Desmond’s comments below.  Frankly, I am lost in this site.  It
> is extraordinarily difficult, and more than a little frustrating, to get to
> the text of any one letter. There seems no way at all to carry out the
> simplest possible operation, available in any print edition, which is just
> to browse the letters one after another, day by day, as they were sent.
> After half an hour’s struggle, I have been able to find only a handful of
> actual letters. Yes, I can go straight to the famous 1844 letter from
> Darwin to Hooker. But I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to see
> all the other letters between Darwin and Hooker. Various of the links shown
> next to this letter go nowhere.
> It seems the only way I can find the letters (say) for Hooker is as
> follows:
> --- I can search for “Hooker” in the search panel
> — this returns me NOT just letters to/from Hooker but everything
> concerning Hooker
> — however, I can use “refine your search” on the top right just to select
> letters concerning Hooker
> — and then, I can select correspondent as Hooker just to give the letters
> to and from Hooker, and then I can browse them year by year.
> This does not seem to me a very straightforward procedure. Also, I too am
> surprised at the absence of any images of the actual letters.
> This does raise interesting questions about interfaces and their
> adequacy.  I have for some time nursed a personal conviction that the
> people who gather the data should NOT be the people who make the interface
> to it.  Not a popular point of view, but this website provides a lot of
> ammunition for the argument.
> Peter Robinson

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