New Tools for Political Scholars

Google Earth: Platform for Academic Scholarship?

This report was included in today’s Wired News from the Chronicle of Higher Education. The University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab, home of William and Mary’s own Rob Nelson, has produced a powerful tool to provide new insights into historical voting data.

Earlier this year scholars at the University of Richmond unveiled an innovative Web site that displays county-by-county election data from U.S. presidential elections since 1840. Now their project’s been Googled. In an effort to get more exposure for their data just in time for election day, the university’s Digital Scholarship Lab spent the past few months working with Google engineers to embed the data into Google Maps and Google Earth. The results are now part of Google’s election Web site. In a statement released today, Rick Klau, a manager on Google’s Elections team said, the company hoped other universities would use the Google Earth platform “to share information and make a complex collection of data structures more easily accessible.” The Richmond scholars had already developed maps with features similar to those of Google Earth, which lets users scroll around maps of the U.S., zooming in on any address to see relevant data about the locations. In fact, the Google version has less information for now, since researchers only had time to load in election data going back to 1980. But Andrew Torget, director of the Digital Scholarship Lab, said in an interview this week that the goal of the partnership was to get the information in front of a wider audience. “It was an opportunity to put out this digital scholarship on the biggest digital platform there is, Google.” As more scholars try similar map-based data projects, should they use Google as a platform? Or are there benefits to building home-grown interfaces instead? –Jeffrey R. Young

Expanding Research Through Open Notebook Science

IT Conversations | Jon Udell’s Interviews with Innovators | Jean-Claude Bradley

He believes that scientific research happens better and faster when the entire process is transparently narrated online.

New social tools can have a tremendous impact on teaching, learning and research. The emergence of Open Notebook Science has the potential of speeding up the diffusion of scientific discoveries and of helping students and others look into the nature of “real research with all it’s glitches.” In this interview, Jon Udell and chemist Jean-Claude Bradley talk about the real-world potential of blogs, wikis and other social software tools to encourage communication and speed up collaboration among scientists and students..

Tying Up the Loose Ends of Your Digital Identity

re.web – The William & Mary Web Redesign

Andy DeSoto, a junior psychology major at William and Mary, has written a guide for students (and faculty) on how to use the new Tribe Voices tool to manage their presence on the web. He argues that a small investment of time can yield big benefits in 1) bringing an element of control about what readers see when they Google you, 2) increasing the reach of your community and 3) “tying up the loose ends” by pulling your digital footprints into one container.

Folks who want more features than those available with Tribe Voices can take a look at wmblogs, William and Mary’s wordpress multiuser solution.

Disclaimer: Both Tribe Voices and wmblogs require a William and Mary userid. Folks from outside the William and Mary community can easily get the same benefits by starting their personal space at or a similar service.

Andy provides a series of suggestions of ways to establish your web presence:

  • Pick the right name (yours) for your site.
  • Update regularly.
  • Link freely.

He also suggests that folks do a little light reading on “search engine optimization”–which might be beyond what most folks are willing to invest in this process.

Read up on search engine optimization (SEO). Search engine optimization, a multi-million dollar industry, is the science of improving the volume and quality of traffic your website receives. It’s a pretty technical topic, but worth a little bit of further reading. Take a look at Wayne Smallman’s Blah, Blah! Technology blog for some beginner articles.

Software to Watch: Sophie

if:book: Sophie Released.

For some time I’ve been watching the development of Sophie, software developed by the Institute for the Future of the Book “for writing and reading rich media documents in a networked environment.’ According to the developers, Sophie’s goal is “to encourage multimedia authoring and, in the process, to redefine the notion of a book or academic paper to include both rich media and mechanisms for reader feedback and conversation in dynamic margins.”

Version 1.0.2 has been released, and based on the little I’ve played, it’s an intriguing piece of software. There are a series of tutorials on the if:book BlipTV channel that I found very helpful in figuring out what the capabilities are. A good tutorial start with is Making a Sophie Book that give a conceptual overview of what the software can do.

Sophie is designed to have some specific strengths for humanists. Text flow is designed to allow complex arguments to develop over multiple pages without having to be reduced to bullet points as PowerPoint or Keynote One of the more complex features is the use of multiple timelines to support various types of presentations. Embedding media from a variety of sources, including the internet archive is supported, in addition to pretty sophisticated methods of collecting reader comments.

The project page has demo books, documentation and tutorials.

Harvard Research to Be Free Online

Harvard Research to Be Free Online – New York Times

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard has voted to create a free digital repository that would include articles and monographs that previously would have been restricted to scholarly journals that charge extraordinarily high prices to very small readerships. The move was described as the first step in freeing knowledge from the “stranglehold of commercial publishers:

In place of a closed, privileged and costly system, it will help open up the world of learning to everyone who wants to learn,” said Robert Darnton, director of the university library. “It will be a first step toward freeing scholarship from the stranglehold of commercial publishers by making it freely available on our own university repository.

The repository which was created as part of a set of recommendations from a provost’s committee on Scholarly publishing, would include all articles unless the author opts out of having the included. Opponents of the measure argue that the digital repository system may diminish the quality of research by bypassing rigorous peer reviews provided by the journals or by eliminating the subsidy of less popular journals by income from more popular ones.

Physics, among other disciplines, has been freely distributing research papers for more than a decade without any detrimental effects to the field’s major journals.