The Interface of the Collection

panel / roundtable
  1. 1. Geoffrey Rockwell

    University of Alberta

  2. 2. Stan Ruecker

    University of Alberta

  3. 3. Mihaela Ilovan

    University of Alberta

  4. 4. Daniel Sondheim

    University of Alberta

  5. 5. Milena Radzikowska

    Mount Royal University (Mount Royal College)

  6. 6. Peter Organisciak

    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

  7. 7. Susan Brown

    University of Guelph

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The Interface of the Collection

Rockwell, Geoffrey, University of Alberta,
Ruecker, Stan, University of Alberta,
Ilovan, Mihaela, University of Alberta,
Sondheim, Daniel, University of Alberta,
Radzikowska, Milena, Mount Royal University,
Organisciak, Peter, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
Brown, Susan, University of Guelph,


Rockwell, Geoffrey, University of Alberta,

Ruecker, Stan, University of Alberta,

Ilovan, Mihaela, University of Alberta,

“just as interface cannot – finally – be decoupled from functionality, neither can aesthetics be decoupled from interface.” (Kirschenbaum 2004, IV.34)

What is the interface to a collection? How has the interface to scholarly collections or corpora changed from print to the web? What interfaces are possible? As the scale of information that we have access to grows exponentially we are increasingly dealing with collections of documents rather than documents as individuals. These collections, whether they are craft collections of TEI documents like the Globalization Compendium ( (link) ) or industrial collections like Google Books ( (link) ), are the way we see through to human artifacts and the way we manage them. Collections and the ways they are put together impose interfaces on the individual artifacts in order to collect them. For this reason we are organizing a panel that pays attention to the collected interface and its evolution. While the interface to the collection would seem unimportant compared to the interface for reading the artifact itself, in this epoch of digital excess we believe that it is the corpus interface that is the way into the excess and it is the corpus interface that structures the readers perceptions of the scope and purposes of any collection.

The apparently obvious distinction between data and interface is troubled in various ways, most often from the user perspective, where details of the underlying architecture are not visible, so that the interface becomes, for all practical purposes, the data. From the perspective of the developer, on the other hand, the issue is one of layers of interface, not necessarily in the graphical user sense, but rather between different forms of representation of the data and code. For certain kinds of information graphics, theorists like Ben Schneiderman point out that one particularly effective design strategy involves “direct manipulation”, where the data is treated by the user as a kind of interactive widget (Shneiderman, Williamson & Ahlberg 1992). In this case, as in our final presentation in this panel, the question becomes one of how many layers of interface/data can be usefully superimposed to create not just a communicative environment, but also one where arguments can be formulated and considered.

In this panel, members of the Interface Design team of the Implementing New Knowledge Environments (INKE) project will discuss the manner in which collection interfaces are influenced by the structure of the materials included, by the history of traditions for representing collections, and by the intended use/needs of the users. We will review both print and digital interfaces in an effort to understand the way in which interacting with textual and non-textual content has changed and evolved.

As Clay Shirky points out, the problem of information overload makes us feel good as it explains why we aren’t getting anything done. It is also a standard starter for explaining the need for new information technologies. In Plato’s Phaedrus Socrates tells the story of the invention of writing (274c – 275b) which is developed ostensibly to help our memories and therefore make us wiser. Vannevar Bush in “As We May Think” likewise uses the problem of overload to introduce his ideas about new technologies like the hypertext workstation the Memex (1945, p.102). Clay Shirky, after acknowledging how overused this trope of overload is by technology writers, goes on to use it again to argue that the problem is actually “filter failure” (2008). In this panel we too are reusing this trope of overload and overabundance to practice what Matthew Kirschenbaum calls for in “’So the Colors Cover the Wires’: Interface, Aesthetics, and Usability.” Kirschenbaum argues that computers are “venues for representation” (emphasis in the original) and therefore we need to study the aesthetics of their interfaces, though the aesthetics can’t be detached from functionality (2004, IV.34)

This panel will, in sum, start with a general introduction of the problem, then look at the collected interface through five short interventions that either reflect back on the evolution of interface or look forward showing experimental interfaces as to what could be.

The Citation from Print to the Web

Sondheim, Daniel, University of Alberta,

What holds the collection together? One of the most important interface features for scholars is the lowly citation. The citation, whether in print or hypertextually instantiated on the web, is one of the interface features that weaves together citations through associations. In this panel presentation, we will survey the design of the citation as it has evolved from print to the web by presenting a draft topology of five citation design patterns:

Absence of citation is a (non)pattern of missing citation that reminds us of the historical construction of citation and its importance to scholarship. We will compare instances of missing references in print to their online equivalents that suggest a collaborative future for citation. Perhaps all we need to connect to a reference is a search string for Google.

Juxtaposition is a pattern of citation design where the citation is placed in the flow of the text, as in inline citation. The connective value of the citation comes from what it is juxtaposed with on the page. We will expand on inline citation to look at other spatial arrangements of information, both on the page and the screen.

The Canonical citation is a pattern that points to an ontologically general idea of a work. We will show how canonical citation has been instantiated online such that the user can interact with multiple editions of the referenced.

The Footnote is a pattern of citation design that creates a relationship between source text and cited text in a visual space. The citation is moved to the foot, but it can be moved aside in other ways especially online.

The citation of Other Media is a pattern in which the object of citation is of a different type than the citation itself. We are seeing citations within digital video and computer games. How are we to understand the adaptation of citation expectations to other media?

To conclude, we will show that current interfaces for navigating collections bear similarities to particular forms of citation, but that navigation is beginning to evolve beyond its print patterns.

The Paper Drill

Ruecker, Stan, University of Alberta,

In this panel presentation, we consider the question of how the principles of rich- prospect browsing can be used to extend the design of a database-reporting tool for journals in the humanities. While the previous presentation surveys existing interfaces, this one presents a new experimental interface, The Paper Drill, designed to navigate collections of articles through citations.

Figure 1: Paper Drill prototype

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Figure 2: Paper Drill prototype

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In the first year of INKE, we began to explore the possible affordances of a tool to support scholars in following citation trails through collections of academic articles (Ruecker et al. 2009). Our approach was to prototype a tool called The Paper Drill, where the user could choose a seed article, then obtain a report about the most frequently cited authors or articles. In year two, we are continuing development of the Paper Drill, but have added the concept of showcase browsing, where the home page of the tool provides heatmaps of the most frequently cited articles, arranged according to date range and journal category. The purpose of this overview is to add information that is not otherwise available in the display until after a report has been generated. We have also been experimenting with data sources, since the system becomes more effective (and the showcase visualization a more complex challenge) as the metadata in humanities journals improves. We will demonstrate The Paper Drill working on a journal article collection.

Diachronic View on Digital Collections Interfaces

Ilovan, Mihaela, University of Alberta,

This presentation looks at the interface design of three successful and important digital collections: Project Gutenberg (, Perseus Digital Library ( and the Victorian Web ( Each of these projects has existed for over 10 years and gone through multiple interface designs, sometimes across technologies, which makes them ideal subjects for a diachronic analysis of the evolution of interfaces to digital collections. Studying interface evolution over time helps us understand:

The relationship between the nature of the functionalities provided and interface design;
The perceived or real differences between different types of projects from open source projects like Project Gutenberg to scholarly editorial projects like the Rossetti Archive;
The pace of adopting and integrating new technologies and design perspectives; and
The amount and nature of the influence exerted by user-demands over design-decisions.
The methodology of the study includes, but is not limited to, a review of the existing literature about the history, architecture and design of the three collections, an environmental scan of all available versions of interfaces employed, and, where possible, interviews with people involved in the projects.

We will conclude our presentation by acknowledging the role played by interface design in the success of these collections and by assessing the value of the diachronic approach adopted in our study for interface analyses.

The Corpus from Print to the Web

Rockwell, Geoffrey, University of Alberta,

In this presentation, we will examine the design and evolution of corpus interfaces by comparing features from two epochs of information design, the epoch of print and that of the web. In order to survey this variety of design we will present a draft topology of corpus design patterns. Patterns that we have identified include legal, religious, literary and archaeological corpora.

Notable print corpora include the 6th century Corpus Juris Civilis, a collection of Roman laws that had as a notable effect the disappearance of the original writings on which it is based. In effect the collection replaces the individuals from history. Another significant example is The Royal Imperial Coinage, a print catalogue of Roman coins equipped with a variety of complex and innovative search and access interfaces.

We will then show the creative ways in which corpus interfaces have been adapted to the online environment, along with the attendant novel methods of access and navigation that are then offered. For instance, the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, begun in print in 1853 and now being maintained and developed on the web, illustrates the effects of web remediation on searching and layout for traditional corpora. The Pyramid Texts Online recreates the original physical structure of the corpus, offering an inventive map-based navigational interface leading to translations and photographs of original texts.

To conclude, this paper will reflect back on the development of the corpus from print to web, and will show how interface features within particular patterns have matured in the move to the web.

Structured Surfaces for JiTR

Radzikowska, Milena, Mount Royal University,

Ruecker, Stan, University of Alberta,

Brown, Susan, University of Guelph,

Organisciak, Peter, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,,

In this last presentation, we describe the usefulness of a structured surface in the design of human-computer interfaces to collections, and propose as an experimental design idea user-generated structured surfaces that can be controlled in an interactive manner. These surfaces are interfaces that structure items in a collection in different ways. A structured surface is a cognitive interface artifact that provides a layer of meaning that supports the data imposed upon it.

Figure 3: Nightingale’s Rose Interface

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We experimented with a mashup of content provided by JiTR (Rockwell et al. 2009, Rockwell 2008) and a structured surface inspired by Florence Nightingale’s rose diagram. The surface is composed of wedges representing months and a series of segments representing cause of death. That’s where the original information graphic ends, but we propose adding an additional layer of information. In this case, dots representing medicine shipments. Alternatively, the dots could represent the individual deaths of soldiers from Shropshire or number of ambulances with flat tires. In the context of JiTR, depending on your metadata, the wedges might represent genre, the segments authorship, and the dots are individual people who were at last year’s DH conference. We should mention that the structured surface could be one of a number of preexisting visualizations. Our intention is to experiment with Stanford’s excellent collection at (Heer et al. 2010). We feel that the third layer of information represented by the dots or pins provides an exciting opportunity for people assembling dynamic collections to feed into the text analysis tools available through JiTR.

Bush, V 1945 “As We May Think, ” Atlantic Monthly, 176 101-08 July 1945

Heer, J Bostock, M Ogievetsky, V 2010 “A Tour through the Visualization Zoo, ” Queue, 8 5 pp.20-30

Kirschenbaum, M 2004 “So the Colors Cover the Wires: Interface, Aesthetics, and Usability, ” Schreibman, S R. SiemensJ Unsworth A Companion to Digital Humanities, Oxford Blackwell 2004 1 November, 2010 (link)

Hamilton, E Cairns, H 1961 The Collected Dialogues of Plato including the Letters, Princeton Princeton University Press

Rockwell, G Stan R Organisciak, P Sinclair, S 2009 “Ubiquitous text analysis, ” Digital Humanities 2009 conference, University of Maryland

Rockwell, G 2008 “Just In Time Research (JiTR): Supporting Experimental Text Analysis., ” Paper presented at CaSTA 2008, New Directions in Text Analysis, conference. University of Saskatchewan Saskatchewan

Ruecker, S Rockwell, S Radzikowska, M Sinclair, S Vandendorpe, C Siemens, R Dobson, T Doll, L Bieber, M Eberle-Sinatra, M Lucky, S The INKE Group 2009 “Drilling for Papers in INKE, ” Proceedings of the INKE 2009: Research Foundations for Understanding Books and Reading in the Digital Age,

Shneiderman, B Williamson, C Ahlberg, C 1992 “Dynamic queries, ” Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems - CHI '92, the SIGCHI conference, Monterey, California 669-670 (link)

Shirky, C 2008 “It's Not Information Overload. It's Filter Failure, ” Web 2.0 Expo NY, viewed 1 November 2010 (link)

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2011
"Big Tent Digital Humanities"

Hosted at Stanford University

Stanford, California, United States

June 19, 2011 - June 22, 2011

151 works by 361 authors indexed

XML available from (still needs to be added)

Conference website:

Series: ADHO (6)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None