The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture

Special Issue of Urban History Released in Scalar


Urban History has long supported the publication of online-only, multimedia works. Since 2004 the journal, published by Cambridge University Press, has delivered a number of open-access, multimedia companions, both for special issues and for individual journal articles and in 2006 the journal released Urban Icons, a groundbreaking interactive special issue focused on urban visual history.

This week the journal once again demonstrated its commitment to born-digital scholarship, releasing a special issue, ‘Urban Sights: Urban History and Visual Culture,’ guest edited by Matt Delmont and authored entirely in Scalar. “Drawing on photography, painting, film, television and other visual and textual evidence,” Delmont summarized the special issue, “the essays explore how diverse visual forms not only shape metropolitan spaces, experiences and identities, but also shape the ways in which people imagine, remember and forget such spaces and events.”

Putting the study of the visual at the center of urban history, these born-digital essays examine a wide range of visual assets and, in the case of Bridget Gilman’s essay (see below), allow readers to explore interactive timelines and visualizations of Robert Bechtle’s paintings. Delmont, in fact, worked closely with the Scalar team, as well as Urban History’s Multimedia Editor (2004-2015) and Scalar Co-PI, Phil Ethington, to see that each essay took the greatest advantage of the platform’s affordances. Delmont writes:

By presenting the special issue in Scalar, we hope to offer both new research on urban visual history and also new models for the visual and textual presentation of such research. In contrast to a traditional print issue, Scalar affords the opportunity to present a large number of images, including color images; present selected clips from films and television that are analyzed in the essays; and create visualizations to present evidence in more dynamic ways. The authors have used digital technology to expand and extend their historical analysis of and to bring this sustained engagement with the past to a wide audience through an open access online format.

Urban Sights contains the following essays:

Scalar Webinars: Announcing Our Summer 2016 Schedule

The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture will offer another series of free online webinars this summer.

All webinars will feature our new interface, Scalar 2. Our “Introduction to Scalar” webinars will cover basic features of the platform: a review of existing Scalar books and a hands-on introduction to paths, tags, annotations and importing media. Our “Intermediate Scalar” webinars will delve into more advanced topics including the effective use of visualizations, annotating with media and a primer on customizing appearances in Scalar.

Our summer schedule will include four dates:

Introduction to Scalar: July 14, 4pm-6pm (PST)
Intermediate Scalar: July 28, 4pm-6pm (PST)
Introduction to Scalar: August 11, 10am-12pm (PST)
Intermediate Scalar: August 25, 10am-12pm (PST)

Register here.

Page Layouts in Scalar 2: Splash Pages and Image Headers

Figure 1. Book Splash Layout. Taken from Steve Anderson’s Bad Object 2.0: Games and Gamers.

This is the third installment in a series on our new page layouts in Scalar 2. If you missed the others, you can view them here, and here.

Many of you know how to use our splash and image header layouts. In fact, more and more, we’re seeing really stunning uses of splash pages in new Scalar projects.

But we still get questions, from time to time, about selecting images for splash pages and the image header layout as well as queries about the differences between our two types of splash pages. So let’s start there.

Figure 2. Styling Menu.

The Image Header layout displays the page’s “key” image as a header, with the title and description of the page overlaid. The rest of the page follows the Basic layout, with text and media interspersed (see Figure 3). Splash layouts display the page’s “key” image full screen, with either the page’s or project’s title at the bottom. If the page is part of a path or is itself a path, a navigation button is shown below that title (see Figure 1).

Setting a page to either a Splash or Image Header layout is a two-step process. First, choose the image you’d like displayed either full screen, in the case of the Splash layouts, or at the top of the page, in the case of the Image Header layout by selecting “Key image” under “Styling” in the page editor (see Figure 2). Second, select your layout from the “Layout” drop down menu, also in the page editor. In the case of Splash layouts, you’ll have two choices: Splash and Book Splash. The Splash layout will display the title of the current page over the image you’ve selected. The Book Splash layout will display the title and author(s) of the entire project, over your selected image. In addition, if the page you’ve set to either Splash or Book Splash layout is the parent page of a path, the layout will include a “Begin with…” button at the very bottom of the page (see Figure 1), or if the page is included within a path, a “Continue to…” button.

Figure 3. Image Header Layout. Taken from Alex McDowell et al’s Makoko 2035.

Book Splash layouts are perhaps best used for the landing page of a project while Splash layouts can be used to good effect in introducing sections, chapters or individual essays within a project. In fact, if you use the same image you’ve chosen for the splash page introducing a section as the background image for all the pages in that section, you can effectively visually delineate it from other sections within the same project. The Image Header layout can be used in a similar fashion.


Page Layouts in Scalar 2: Google Maps

Figure 1. Google Map Layout. Taken from Larry Landis’ A Photographic History of Oregon State University.

This is the second installment in a series on new layout options in Scalar 2. If you missed our prior piece on Media Gallery layouts, you can always view it here. Today we’ll be discussing the new Google Map layout.

The Google Map layout plots the current page plus any content it contains or tags on a Google Map embedded at the top of the page. Every item to be plotted must include either dcterms:coverage or dcterms:spatial metadata in the format of decimal latitude, decimal longitude. Each pin shown on the map will reveal the title, description, thumbnail and link for its content when clicked (see Figure 1). The rest of the page follows the Basic layout, with text and media interspersed.

Let’s walk through an example. I’m writing about architecture in Los Angeles. At this point my project contains several paths each of which cut through my material along a different vector. For instance, my readers can move along one path containing pages relating to individual architects; another related to design movements; and yet another containing pages related to specific architectural icons in the Los Angeles area. This third path is arranged chronologically, acting as a kind-of timeline for cutting-edge architecture in LA. But I’d also like my readers to be able to navigate those same pages discussing individual architectural structures geographically, not just chronologically. That is, I’d like my readers to be able to navigate those same pages -those same architectural icons- by way of a map.

Here’s how I’d go about doing this in Scalar.

Step one: Gather metadata. First, I’d collect the latitude and longitude, expressed in decimal degrees, for each of the architectural structures I’d like to plot on a map.

Step Two: Add metadata. Second, I’d go to each of the pages discussing individual architectural icons and add metadata to those pages. In other words, I’d (1) go to the page in my Scalar project where I discuss the LAX Theme Building; (2) click on edit to go to the edit page; (3) click on “Metadata” just below the text editor on the edit page; (4) click “Add additional metadata”; (5) within the dialogue box that pops up, tick the box under “dcterms” for either “spatial” or “coverage”; (6) click “Add fields” at the bottom-right of the dialogue box; (7) enter the latitude and longitude for LAX (in this case, 33.9425° N, -118.4081° W) into the new field that I just added under metadata called either “dcterms:spatial” or “dcterms:coverage” (depending on which field I selected); (8) save the page. I’d repeat these steps for each of the pages I’d like to plot on the map, in each case, inputting the appropriate latitude and longitude. I’d then have several pages in my Scalar project, each discussing an individual architectural structure with geospatial metadata for the location of that structure added to its respective page.

Figure 2. Google Map layout using a tag structure.
Click on graph to enlarge.

Step three: Create a page that pulls your material together. Third, I’d create a page, called, for example, “Architectural Icons in Los Angeles” and then either (1) tag that page (“Architectural Icons in Los Angeles”) to all the pages for individual architectural structures to which I just added geospatial metadata (see Figure 2) or (2) make that page (“Architectural Icons in Los Angeles”) a path and select as items in that path all the pages for individual architectural structures to which I just added geospatial metadata (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Google Map layout using a path structure.
Click on graph to enlarge.

Step four: Select the Google Map layout. Finally, I would set “Architectural Icons in Los Angeles” -the page that tags or contains the other pages- to the Google Map layout. To do this, I’d click edit on “Architectural Icons in Los Angeles,” and, once in the page editor, select “Google Map” from the drop-down menu under “Layout” (see Figure 4).

In addition, the Google Map layout will also plot the current page -in our example here, the “Architectural Icons in Los Angeles” page- if it too has geospatial metadata associated with it.

Figure 4. Layout options in the page editor.

But pages aren’t the type of Scalar content one can plot on a map. Once again, Scalar’s unique organizing principle in which everything is equal to everything else means that anything can do everything to anything else. In this case, it means all elements in a Scalar project can be plotted on a Google map. Or more specifically, it means that all items in a Scalar project can both have metadata associated with them and be added as a path or tagged to a page that is set to the Google Map layout. Have a set of photos taken around Los Angeles? Add geospatial metadata to those photos in Scalar and tag them to a page set to a Google Map layout. Have a video clip of twenty famous scenes all shot in Los Angeles? Annotate the video calling out those locations, add geospatial metadata to each of those annotations and then tag those annotations to a page set to the Google Map layout. Have ten short stories that each take place in a different area of Los Angeles? Make each of those stories a path in Scalar, add geospatial metadata to each of those paths (i.e. to the parent page of each path) and then tag those paths to a page set to the Google Map layout. Because tags, paths, pages, annotations, media objects and readers comments are all equivalent in Scalar, structural features -in this case, the Google Map layout- are incredibly flexible and extensible.

See you next time, when we’ll talk about the Image Header and Splash layouts.

Page Layouts in Scalar 2: Media Galleries

Structured Media Gallery. Taken from Jacqueline Wernimont et al’s Performing Archive: Curtis + “the vanishing race”.

Scalar 2 was developed in an effort to give books composed in the platform greater versatility and visual impact while also making them easier to read and navigate. To this end, we added several new page layouts options, allowing users to choose, with more precision, the look, arrangement, and in many ways, the function of individual pages within a project. In the coming weeks we’ll be blogging about those various options, which include, among others features, an image header, splash images, visualizations, and a Google Map that plots geo-reference Scalar content. Today, we’ll be talking specifically about our two media-focused layouts: the Media Gallery and the Structured Media Gallery layouts.

Figure 1. Media Gallery Carousel. Taken from Cecilia Wichmann’s Sound and Documentary in Cardiff and Miller’s Pandemonium.

Our Media Gallery layout gathers all media objects inserted on a page as well as all media objects associated with the page -that is, all media object that have been tagged by the page or are in a path contained by the page- and displays them in a flip-through media carousel. Put another way, if you insert several images on page and then set that page to the Media Gallery layout, those images will appear in a carousel at the top of the page. If instead, you tag that page to several videos or make that page a path that includes a series of videos, those videos will also show up in the carousel.

The Structured Media Gallery layout functions in a similar fashion, but with a few key differences. Pages set to the Structured Media Gallery layout will display media associated with that page, not in a carousel, but as a collection of thumbnails. More importantly, it will not only gather media that are associated with the current page, but also media that are associated with its associated pages. Meaning, it will not only display media that are tagged or contained by the current page, but also media that are tagged or contained by pages that it tags or contains.

Figure 2.

Let’s take an example. A user wants to create a collection of media used throughout their project; they want to split that collection into several mini-collections, for instance, based on themes; and they want to display the whole collection, made up of those mini-collections, all on the same page. To do this, a user would first build the mini-collections of media objects by creating paths for each –that is, creating a path for one theme, selecting the media objects that are contained in that path and then doing the same for other themes (remember, in Scalar, you can put anything on a path; not just pages, but media as well) (see figure 2). Second, they would create a top level path –say, called Media Collection- put the thematic media paths they just created on that path (again, in Scalar, you can put anything on a path, including other paths) and set that top level path to Structured Media Gallery (see figure 3). The result would be a page that displayed all of the mini-collections (paths), together, each under its respective title (see the example of the Structured Media Gallery in the header image to this article).

Figure 3.

Pages set to the Structured Media Gallery layout will also gather and display media objects that have been tagged to the current or associated pages. So between paths and tags, there are any number of combinations one can use. Meaning, you could get the same result as above, were you to tag several paths of media objects or tag several pages that tag media objects or create a path of pages that tag media objects. The Structured Media Gallery layout will latch onto any parent to child to grandchild set of relationships in Scalar.

But, of course, one doesn’t have to use the Structured Media Gallery layout as a way to aggregate media objects two levels removed from the current page. One can also  use it to gather media associated with the current page, as with the Media Gallery layout. But in this case, that media will be displayed, not in a carousel, but as thumbnails. Jason Mittell for instance, has done this to great effect, in his Complex TV, creating a thumbnail gallery of clips used across his book.

UBC Press and the University of Washington Press Receive Mellon Grant to develop indigenous studies publishing platform using Scalar


Thanks to a generous grant from the Mellon Foundation, UBC Press and the University of Washington Press will work with the Scalar team to develop a digital platform for publishing multimedia books in Indigenous studies. The publishing platform will offer a suite of tools for linking data and analyses to digital content from around the world and for interacting in culturally sensitive ways with heritage materials, ranging from clothing, beadwork, weapons, and tools to songs, stories, and dances. It will provide authoring teams with customizable methods to label content and inform readers about Indigenous cultural protocols for access and use of specific content.

Scalar will sit at the center of this project, constituting the core infrastructure upon which the publishing platform will be built as well as the reading interface in which the multimedia books will appear. Our team will also work to develop significant new functionality for Scalar as part of this grant, including the ability to import media with Traditional Knowledge (TK) labels and to properly display those labels for readers viewing the media. In addition, the Scalar team will develop a new middleware media importer dubbed “Tensor.” As a stand-alone platform, Tensor will sit between online archives and Scalar projects and allow users to browse archives, create playlists of media they find there and sync those playlists to one or more Scalar books.

We look forward to working with the wonderful people at UBC Press and the University of Washington Press on this project.

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The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture

The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture was created with the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.