Some humanities projects call for close reading of text and image; others, a rich sense of cultural context; still others use numerical methods to unearth voices hidden by history or expose larger trends. This diversity, across disciplines and between academics, stands at the center of how Hyperstudio works with individual faculty members. We seek ways to further humanistic research using appropriate digital tools—never to subordinate your research concerns to whatever digital tools are currently “in vogue.”
The principle of diversity, that no “one size ﬁts all,” guides the design of Hyperstudioʼs Repertoire software. Experience with multi-purpose online media repositories (like m:media) showed their usefulness in getting new faculty and students involved in digital humanities, particularly in reading across text, image, and video and participating in online discussions. However, media repositories stop short of the full immersive experience of projects that tailor the digital environment to the humanities intent—rather than the other way around. For example, the Berliner sehen projectʼs non-linear ﬁlm interface enables viewers to probe speciﬁc topics and follow individual characters through real-life vignettes of Berlin, always keeping culture and ﬁlm at the fore. Or, to take a project developed elsewhere: the Valley of the Shadow at University of Virginia gathered together searchable primary sources, timelines, statistics, and maps, using custom-built databases and geographic information systems to convey a balanced view of two communities on the cusp of the American Civil War.
Repertoire was conceived to allow Hyperstudio the ﬂexibility to pursue such customizations, without re-inventing the wheel. Its purpose, in short: to put the individual professorsʼ humanities approach ﬁrst.
To enable this more ﬂexible approach, Hyperstudio staff identiﬁed some key features:
- individual projects need their own characteristic graphic design, or “look and feel”
- since each project has a unique view of its content, it should be able to maintain custom databases
- likewise, each project should be free to implement its own collaboration or analysis code
- even if reﬁnements take time, it should be relatively fast to get a basic project up and running
- where desired, projects should have access to each othersʼ software tools:
- user management and collaboration
- data visualization
- text markup and data extraction
- full text searching
- faceted browsing
- timeline display
The result is a software “ecosystem” rather than a monolithic “platform.” Individual projects make use of the modules that provide functionality they need, and ignore the rest. Hence the name “Repertoire,” a stock of digital humanities skills or proﬁciencies that you can mobilize as needed.
Repertoire projects are written in Ruby, a well-known programming language that balances ease of development with a full range of features. Most projects also build on Rails, a system for building web software that provides access to databases and tools for publishing your project to web browsers and mobile devices.
Because Repertoire relies on well-tested open source software like Ruby and Rails, it leverages the larger software communityʼs innovations and reﬁnements. Likewise, most projects use PostgreSQL, one of the most reliable and widely-used SQL databases, to store their data. On top of this basic set of software, Repertoire modules provide functionality useful to digital humanities projects.
Below is a short description of each existing Repertoire module. As individual projects require them, more will be written. Most importantly, however, remember that Repertoire modules are intended to make writing individual projects easier where commonalities exist. The most important aspect of using Repertoire is the ﬂexibility and ease of development that Ruby provides for implementing humanities perspectives speciﬁc to your project: the ability to invent what you need if itʼs not in the box.
In other words, Repertoire was designed to maximize your individual projectʼs options and creativity, while still providing a core set of humanities functionality.