Who Knew Manuscripts Would be a Social Media Hit?

Being on the social media team meant I spent a lot of time on social media, scoping out similar accounts and related content to try and grow our online presence with people who would appreciate our content instead of bots and it is a whole different world out there. Academic Twitter or Medieval Twitter is an already established community where academics can collaborate and ask questions, or make funny jokes and it is a great space to be apart of. Instagram  (@medieval_book) is less of an academic space since most of your media is consumed through photographs and many people neglect to read the captions because of mindless scrolling. I was pleasantly surprised at how many medieval accounts are on Instagram and the mini community they have. Most of it is looking at interesting marginalia, or looking at beautiful manuscripts but one thing I found is that everyone in that community follows one another help try and grow the community. It kind of overlaps with the calligraphy community and the meme genre since you can make some great memes from marginalia or manuscripts.

I also found a lot of sellers form auction houses selling manuscripts on Instagram which I thought was an interesting thing to do on this platform, but it kind of made sense since it is such a photo based social media platform. By the time of our exhibit launch, our Instagram account grew to 168 followers and an average of 50 likes per post which is incredible engagement for such a niche community. The account is also only two months old so that is incredible growth. I wish we could keep the account running, and continue to post more to it in hopes we can gain more engagement and attract more people to medieval studies, and history in general because I do not want this field to die out.  I love history and hope our online presence continues to go and take over the world 😉

IIIF and Project Mirador

For the exhibition website we had planned to implement a IIIF viewer for the display of the manuscripts as we had seen many examples of through the semester.  For this we decided to select the open source Project Mirador viewer due the nature of it being one of the largest projects. However our efforts ran into issues due to the fact that it is an actively and rapidly developed project, this meant that a lot of the projects documentation is left unfinished or still work in progress.  This led to many issues in trying to implement the project and after a period of experimentation and work we eventually had to change to try and find a different option this led to us attempting to use several different IIIF viewers such as openseadragon, a far more lightweight program, but we also failed to be able to get those to work.  After the failures in trying to succeed in getting either  of the IIIF viewers to work we settled on using a simple image zoom tool to view the images.  The struggles we encountered in these attempts demonstrated one of the main problems with open source projects in that no matter how good the actual project is that they are producing if they haven’t taken the steps to properly document there processes and steps using the software becomes extremely difficult to use, in an ideal world of course all programs and projects would have detailed in depth documentation and assistance, of course though when you are developing a project and are focusing on making it work and become high quality to stop and go back to do that can easily become a low priority task.

Accessibility in digital humanities

The idea and use of accessibility in the digital humanities is a two sided debate encompassing the use of differing means of presentation to present material to those with disabilities and to make the materials more open to the general public as well.  There are many people who have difficulties with the presentation of material in traditional ways of exhibition with items displayed visually, there are and exist many ways that this barrier can be lowered, including the addition of tactile and audio components to projects. This whole area of adding non-visual components can be easily and furthered through the use of digital and online aspects which allow for both more advanced accessibility features common in most modern technology that can make even visual aspects far more widely accessible, the use of digital technologies also allow further features to be added such as, video and described video which would be difficult and problematic in more physical spaces and presentations.  The use of digital and online components can also allow for even greater access to an exhibit and presentation of material, with the creation of supporting websites.  Through the use of these digital methods it can allow for people who otherwise could not attend or see material to be able to see and in some case still experience the same affects as that found in the physical space through the use of 3-D video and recordings of spaces.  As well the ability for very high quality images and scans of material, coupled with higher quality screens and more accurate advanced software and frameworks, such as IIIF and UHQ screens, allow for much greater access and interactivity with material that can not be physically viewed.  These abilities to use digital media in more advanced fashion allow for exciting opportunities for the digital humanities

The Design Brief: Medieval to Digital

As our project continued to grow, it seemed like new ideas were becoming actionable plans every day. This was undoubtedly exciting, but we quickly realised that because we operate largely in our specialised groups (Exhibition, Media, and Website teams) we faced the problem of stylistic cohesion between the teams. We needed a creative design brief, a concise document that outlined the styles, colours, materials, and requirements that would be universal in our project. A simple but vital example was matching fonts and colour scheme throughout our social media posts, exhibition, and website.

In a previous in-class brainstorming session we developed profiles and objectives for the project. We answered key design questions including:

-Who is our audience? Who are our contributors?
-What are our main objectives?
-What is our budget?
-What is mandatory for our project? What is supplemental?

Once we established the answers to these questions, we had a clear direction. We were ready to start producing —but first, we needed a cohesive design.
We knew our audience: exhibition guests would be students, faculty, and enthusiasts and what they shared in common would most likely be their residency (live in Ottawa) and their interests (enjoy medieval things, museums). It was important to address these in our design of both the physical exhibition and the website.

Ottawa residents would likely be drawn to the fact that the manuscripts and folia in our collection belong to an Ottawa institution, Carleton University. Therefore, the logo of the institution will feature quite prominently. Exhibitions tend to draw in visitors both young and old, and accessibility concerns were a major factor. We chose neutral dark tones (black, dark grey) and with white to provide the high-contrast needed for colour-blind visitors and those with eye-strain (after all, students and professors spend a lot of time looking at screens!). For our accent colour, we built a colour palette with coolors.co using a scan of one of the folio to be exhibited. The result was a beautiful variant of blue called lapis lazuli (#26619c) which was serendipitous following this article that came out earlier this year.

There were limitations to what we could accomplish with a wordpress site, but thankfully through reclaim hosting we were able to get access to some premium plugins. After a  crash-course refresher, I was able to manipulate the wordpress CSS (the style sheet used to style an html page) to give us the desired fonts, colours, and frames.

It was also important to have a contingency plan in our design brief in case key elements of the website did not work. For example, if we cannot create an instantiation of a Mirador viewer on our site, it was important that we have a backup plan for how to display our scans and their respective metadata.

Although we cannot anticipate all the roadblocks we face in designing both an exhibition and a website, a design brief is a great place to start. Not having the budget for a user-experience test, we stuck with tried-and-true styles and fonts in order to have as little error as possible. That being said, it won’t be perfect and feedback is always welcome.

—Kate Brasseur, Website Team Leader


Interested in watching the website go from bare-bones to exhibition companion? Follow our progress here!

An update from Emily

Hi everyone,

I hope all of your individual projects are progressing well. It has been a while since I last blogged and I figure a little bit of an update is overdue. I have been assigned to the physical exhibit team for our final project. Last week I was tasked with documenting the measurements of the exhibit space we are going to put our artefacts inside. So I created a diagram with the measurements of the spaces we are looking at in the History Department and shared it with our group.

This coming week I am going to select another manuscript to display in the exhibit, along with another one that I had previously chosen. I am then going to write out information cards for each of the manuscripts I have chosen and share those with my team for further feedback. In addition to these tasks, I am in charge of determining which objects we put inside the display case to accompany the manuscripts. These objects are going to relate to the manuscripts and our class in one way or another, and I am going to write out information cards to be paired with each one.

Talking about our tasks in class yesterday made me realize just how close the exhibit launch date is (It was exactly a month away). This also got me thinking about how much has to be done in order for everything to be ready for the launch date. This is somewhat stressful, but I think we will be able to manage it well. Things are moving at a much faster pace these days and everything is getting very exciting!

See you in class!

EJG