An Experimental Online Collaboration and Publication Tool for Scholars


Fri, 11/18/2011 - 1:00am - 1:30am
Room: Cairo


  1. Name: Susan Edwards
    Title: Sr. Web Writer/Editor
    Organization: J. Paul Getty Trust
  2. Name: Tina Shah
    Title: Developer
    Organization: The Field Museum of Natural History


Learn about the experimental process of developing an online collaboration and publication tool for scholars. Digital Mellini was created in a collaboration between librarians, scholars, and web technologists at the Getty and the University of Malaga in Spain. On the site, scholars compare manuscript pages of a 17th-century paintings inventory with transcriptions and translations, make connections to paintings, and annotate the texts. By sharing their annotations with others, scholars engage in critical discussion within the text itself. The intention is to create a space for scholars to collaborate online together, and then to produce an online publication out of the results of the collaboration.

Few tools have been created for humanities scholars—especially art historians—to collaborate online in their research on these materials. Created using open source tools, Digital Mellini is meant to be a platform used with other archival documents for textual analysis, collaboration, and publication.

Session Description:

In this paper, we will discuss the process of creating the Digital Mellini site, an experimental collaboration between librarians, scholars, and technologists. We will also demonstrate how the site works and explain what scholars hope to achieve through this online collaboration tool, and what the resulting online publication may look like.

Digital Mellini was initiated by a team of librarians, scholars and museum technologists, who have been working together in an agile, iterative process over an 18-month period. Each group had goals for the project. Scholars wanted an online space to work collaboratively on textual analysis, compare and refine translations of the text, and to create a collaborative publication. Librarians wanted to leverage the TEI markup of the archival document to create associations within the text between other art historical data sources (Iconclass, ULAN, museum collections, etc.), and to allow for future digital textual analyses. The technologists wanted to experiment with building an online collaboration tool, using open source technologies that could be repurposed for other online manuscript analysis and publication projects.

This project was not a high priority one, and was approached by the technology team with an experimental attitude of “Let’s see what we can do in our spare time.” We will discuss how we worked with the entire group to collaboratively develop realistic requirements for the project; choose an open source platform; and how we segmented the development to tackle small parts, one at a time, get feedback, and readjust our goals.

Reception to the project by scholars and digital humanists has been very positive. There has been very little open source scholarship or publishing among art historians to date, and scholars who are working with us on this project are hopeful that this can be a new, unconventional approach to collaboratively analyzing texts and publishing art historical scholarship.

Session Info

  • Type: Individual Paper
  • Keywords:
  • Relevance: Targeted Audience Digital humanities professionals, including librarians, archivists, and museum professionals who are interested in building and using online collaborative tools for scholars. Relevance Read about how a wide range of museum professionals and scholars came together to create a unique, collaborative tool to be used to further research in art history and humanities.