How did they make that?

(Cross-posted on UCLA’s DH Bootcamp blog)

Edit: Dot Porter made a Zotero collection for this post! Thanks, Dot!

Many  students tell me that in order to get started with digital humanities, they’d like to have some idea of what they might do and what technical skills they might need in order to do it. Here’s a set of digital humanities projects that might help you to get a handle on the kinds of tools and technologies available for you to use.

I’ve tried to include a few different types of projects, but it’s hard to provide a really representative list. If you’d like to see more digital humanities projects, you can find directories at and DHCommons.

Here, I discuss:

A Gallery of Primary Sources: Making the History of 1989

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What it is

A collection of primary sources related to the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, accompanied by teaching materials and interpretive essays.

What you’d need to know

  • (which forms the basis of the site), or you could use if you aren’t so picky about the way the site looks and acts
  • HTML and CSS (optional; to customize the way the site looks)
  • PHP (optional; to customize certain site functions, like the way items display)

Get started

A Digital Scholarly Edition: The Willa Cather Archive

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What it is

A carefully edited digital archive of the writings of Willa Cather, along with extensive scholarly essays, analysis, and multimedia galleries.

What you’d need to know

Get started

A Mapping Project: The Negro Travelers’ Green Book

Screen Shot 2014-01-04 at 8.42.35 PMWhat it is

A searchable map of the addresses contained in the 1956 Negro Travelers’ Green Book, which the user can filter by state or establishment type.

What you’d need to know


There are almost too many mapping technologies to list, but some popular tools include Neatline (which you’d use together with Omeka), GeoCommons (a relatively simple mapping application), and ArcGIS (used for complex or large-scale mapping projects). If you’re serious about learning to build dynamic web-based maps, you’d be wise to learn the client-side language JavaScript (to control the way things show up on browsers), a server-side language like PHP (to interact with data), and the database language SQL (to manage your geospatial data). More mapping tools.

Get started

  • Learn how to clean and map data using Google Maps and Google Fusion Tables

A Network Visualization: A Co-Citation Network for Philosophy


What it is

A visualization of the authors referenced together in a corpus of philosophy journals.

What you’d need to know

  • D3.js, a JavaScript library for producing visualizations on the web.
  • The programming language Python, for manipulating your data.
  • A dataset. This one came from the Web of Science, which allows you to download citation data for academic articles.


You can make network visualizations without (necessarily) coding by using the web-based ManyEyes or the free Gephi or Cytoscape. Other tools for data visualization.

Get started

Computer-Aided Text Analysis: Topic Modeling Martha Ballard’s Diary


What it is

An analysis of a historical document that uses a statistical method called topic modeling to group together the “topics” found in a large set of texts.

What you’d need to know

  • MALLET, a Java-based software package for text analysis (including topic modeling)
  • R, a programming language for statistical analysis and graphics


The Topic Modeling Tool provides a simpler-to-use graphical user interface for topic modeling, as does Paper Machines (which produces topic models from your Zotero library). But topic modeling is just one kind of textual analysis. Find a rundown of different kinds of text analysis here. Often, people who are new to text analysis enjoy starting with the web-based Voyant Tools. I also like the Lexos suite. More tools for text analysis.

Get started

A Historical 3D Model: Digital Magnesia



What it is

A painstakingly researched re-creation of the Hellenistic city of Magnesia.

What you’d need to know

This particular model is created using the procedural modeler CityEngine.


The easiest way to create 3D models is probably with SketchUp. Serious 3D modelers often use Maya or Rhino.

Get started

Intro to 3D modeling

A Longform, Media-Rich Narrative: The Nicest Kids in Town

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What it is

An essay, accompanied by photographs, video, and sound, that can be reconfigured by the viewer to be read in multiple ways.

What you’d have to know

  • Scalar, a multimedia authoring platform
  • CSS (optional, to add custom styling to Scalar)

Get started

August 30: Post edited to reflect that you don’t need Python to download Web of Science data. Thanks for the correction, Scott Weingart!

85 Replies to “How did they make that?”

  1. Wow — there’s amazing depth here, Miriam. I still only know how to do about a third of this; this page is going to be useful for people who aren’t necessarily newbies.

  2. What Ted said. This is one of those great ideas that leaves you scratching your head wondering why it never existed before. Thanks!

    If I can pick two nits (because, uh, what is DH if not nitpicky?), downloading the citation data from web of science happens by hand, you can’t automate that part, and the knowledge of stats required is pretty much zilch.

    I’d love to see this turned into an ADHO (or similar) supported site, with a few monthly featured projects along with this style of “here’s what you need to know and how to know it” under the heading. Again, fantastic idea.

  3. Oh, thanks, Scott! I’ve never actually used Web of Science data myself, to tell you the truth. I’ll fix the post. Love the ADHO idea! Maybe we (or someone else) should approach them with it.

  4. Hello, Miriam:

    Just another big Thanks!

    I come across these unbelievable web sites and think “I would love to use this framework, but insert my own particular data/subject” – but then get intimidated by their complexity. Your straightforward explanations and breakdowns give me a good starting place to expand my knowledge base. Thanks!

  5. Just wanted to add another voice of gratitude for a good project. I’ll agree with Scott that this is something that might make a lot of sense to see as a series at ACH or DH Answers.

    Even more, it’s making me think about an assignment that I could give my students this coming spring. Getting them to investigate not only the shape of DH projects but also the technical requirements of each strikes me as very useful.

  6. Shoot, it ate my reply, Brian. Thanks for the kind words. This could be a cool assignment — I definitely had fun doing forensics on other people’s projects. You may have to do some work in advance, though, to get them prepared. I know some basic things (like that Python is a programming language, TEI is a markup language, and Omeka is a CMS) that your students may not know. So it could be a difficult task for them to figure out what’s what!

  7. What a great resource – thank you! I wonder if you have similar recommendations for a digital history timeline, or could perhaps point me to a few good examples of projects that others have done?

    Thanks very much!

  8. Thank you Miriam for this empirical approach which is breaking down barriers between traditional historians and historians using digital tools. I will try to use it here at the European University Institute to foster the use of digital tools and answer research queries they have. Maybe looking for European History case-studies as alternative examples too. You gave us a great piece of open knowledge of yours to become familiar with DH methods ! I wish you would be next door here in Florence for hiring you for a classroom ….

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