CritSpace: An Interactive Visual Interface to Digital Collections of Cultural Heritage Material



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Cultural heritage digital libraries have become an important and prominent tool within humanities scholarship, offering increased expressive power for representing complex networks of relationships and the ability to use computational tools and interactive environments to help researchers ask new questions. While digital libraries offer tremendous advantages for publishing the final products of scholarship, in the words of Bradley and Vetch, "as they currently are delivered, do not intersect terribly meaningfully with the process of scholarly research." In this work I investigate how scholars use visually complex source documents-materials where access to a visual representation of the original object is required and present a prototype system, CritSpace designed to facilitate scholarly engagement with digital resources. Rather than creating a one-size-fits-all application, CritSpace is a web-based framework for building interactive visual interfaces that support scholarly use of digital libraries. The theory and design behind CritSpace is based on a formative study of the work practices of scholars from different disciplines and prior research in field of spatial hypertext. To illustrate a concrete example of using CritSpace and to evaluate its usefulness, I conclude with a case study that walks through the process of deploying CritSpace to support work in a specific scholarly domain, textual criticism and presents a summative usability study of the tool. The results of this study show that CritSpace is effective at supporting textual criticism. More significantly, they also indicate that the innovations added in CritSpace promote the intensive analysis of visual material in addition to knowledge organization and structuring.