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Digital Humanities Initiative

The CUNY Digital Humanities Initiative (CUNY DHI), launched in Fall 2010, aims to build connections and community among those at CUNY who are applying digital technologies to scholarship and pedagogy in the humanities. All are welcome: faculty, students, and technologists, experienced practitioners and beginning DHers, enthusiasts and skeptics.

We meet regularly on- and offline to explore key topics in the Digital Humanities, and share our work, questions, and concerns. See our blog for more information on upcoming events (it’s also where we present our group’s work to a wider audience). Help edit the CUNY Digital Humanities Resource Guide, our first group project. And, of course, join the conversation on the Forum.

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creating a database

  • Hi folks, I’m hoping someone has an open source suggestion for what I’d like to create: a database that can be populated by visitors to a website but which I could moderate somehow (like you do comments on WordPress to avoid spam)? Ideally it would allow for tagging of the information that is entered and could be sorted on the other side for visitors to the website who don’t want to add info, but rather want to look stuff up. Also, would be possible to host this on the Academic Commons, like we do WordPress blogs? Finally, if so, how involved would it be if it later had to be migrated elsewhere? Thanks for any ideas!

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  • Hi – You might consider Omeka for something like this. It has a “Contribution” plugin that allows the public to contribute items to a customizable database. You can see more info about the plugin here:

    Another thought – and Boone or Matt would know better than I do, WordPress now has custom post types which allow you to set up items (for example, “Books” – and then on the dashboard you may add a Book, just like you add a Post, and there would be custom fields that the user could fill in. But this would mean the user would need contributor rights to the blog.

    I’m sure there are many other solutions that people might have.

    Hi Cynthia,

    You might want to look into WordPress plugins that let you add a forum to your WP site. This would allow you to simply extend a WP blog already hosted on the Academic Commons and would allow for fairly easy migration to another domain: WordPress sites are generally stored in a single folder and can therefore be easily moved using an FTP client like FileZilla. I haven’t used any specific forum plugins, but a quick google search led me to Simple:Press, which looks like it could be pretty useful.

    Thanks, Scott and Jonathan!

    Not sure how well it really works for Daisy’s purposes, and not sure if it’s something we can install on the Commons, but I have to give a gigantic thumbs-up to Simple:Press. I have (and several of our Instructional Technology Fellows have) been using it for discussion forums in an online and several face-to-face classes, and I can state unequivocally that it is the best forum software around. It’s far superior even to the expensive paid versions, with a giant feature-set, terrific flexibility, and very helpful and reliable support forums. It’s under active development and there’s a large user community.

    Because it’s so full-featured, there is a bit of a learning curve for administrators in setting up and deciding on all the options, but I can’t recommend it highly enough.

    If threaded discussion is an important feature to you, there absolutely is no better choice than Simple:Press.

    I don’t know if I exactly see the use-case you’re thinking of, Daisy, but Simple:Press does allow tagging of individual posts or threads, it does have rss feeds (common and separate) and email notifications and file uploades and avatars and smileys and rating and skins and easily configured roles and moderation.

    Hi Daisy,

    I have time for only a quick post right now, but my inclination would be to follow Scott’s advice and use custom post types for this, since WordPress uses a MySQL database and content can be imported and exported pretty easily through the dashboard of a WP blog.

    If there is interest out there (and I suspect there is), we could try to put together a workshop of some kind that would explore how to use custom post types to extend the functionality of a blog on the Commons.

    More soon!



    Daisy, given your requirements, it sound like a regular WP blog is probably all you need. All you’ll need is to ensure that the users you want to contribute have the role of Contributor (Dashboard > Users). The Contributor role permits users to add new content (complete with all of WP’s built-in tagging etc), but instead of seeing a Publish button, they see Submit For Review, meaning you get to moderate. Content would then be publicly available through the WP theme of your choice.

    Custom post types are a bit of a red herring here. The only reason you’d need one is if you planned to use the site for regular blogging as well (and even then, you could use a category to separate out those posts from the rest).

    Wow — that’s some effusive praise, Joe! It *almost* makes me willing to come back to WP for my class sites instead of using Wikidot — tagging of forum posts is the one thing I keep agitating for.

    Given the lack of threads here in the group forum, is it safe to infer that Simple:Press doesn’t play well with BuddyPress (yet)?

    Thanks, guys! I’m not sure, Boone. I guess I should have explained in more detail. I am writing a paper on musical use in instruction. Currently, I’m on a list where someone will ask for music on a particular topic: social protest, for example, or ecology, and then that’ll start a thread with the musician name, title, and the use this song is given. What I want to do is create a website that’s a database where the public will be able to add this information and people can search it at any point rather than us depending on saving threads from list e-mails. So, I don’t want the free world to have access to the dashboard. I just want folks to fill out a form with the information and then for that to display in database fashion on the public side. Does that make sense? I don’t know that I want forums unless they’re very clean to look at. Ideally, it would be a database where the information is generated by typing in or choosing certain parameters. I’m trying to avoid scrolling through a lot of forum threads if possible.

    Hi Daisy – Ah, I didn’t understand that you needed members of the non-CUNY public to be able to contribute.

    WordPress could do this, but it’d take a plugin that had a few modifications to standard WP behavior:
    1) A method for posting post-type content on the front end, including templates for displaying a specified set of taxonomy items that you, as the site admin, had provided
    2) Templates that allow content to be displayed in what you are calling a “database fashion” – I assume that means tabular and sortable, with options for filtering.
    3) Some method for ensuring that only humans are able to post content via the front-end forum. Since you won’t be requiring a log-in, there’ll be zero protection against massive amounts of spam. So you need a captcha or some other method of verification that you’re not getting spammed.

    This could all be done in WordPress (and thus on the Commons) but it would require the development of a custom plugin for that purpose. Certainly, the task would be made easier if a WP plugin were located that already does some or all of what I’ve listed above.

    Putting this kind of project together would potentially require a little less custom programming if it were done in a software like Drupal, which is really built to handle and display structured data. For instance, in Drupal there is a module called Views that will allow you to accomplish my task (2) without doing any programming at all. If you know Drupal at all, you might find that the total amount of time required to get something up and running will be a bit shorter than with WP, where everything will require mucking about in code.

    I guess I’d better check out Drupal. (Feels like the question of whether you need to know coding to be a digital humanist has been answered for me…again!) Anyway,thanks again, Boone.

    Daisy – Please don’t take my word as the final word in this. I am the kind of guy who would rather build something to solve my problem than spend a bunch of time researching existing solutions. So there might well be a tool that does something close to what you describe. I just don’t know about it.

    On the other hand, there will almost always have to be some customization when you have very specific requirements. The nature of the beast 🙂

    an fyi for anyone who’s interested- OST will be offering Drupal training in nyc in May.

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