What do you get when you cross archives and artifacts with timelines, modern and historical maps, and an appreciation for the interpretive aims of humanities scholarship? Neatline!
What is Neatline?
Neatline is a geotemporal exhibit-builder that allows you to create beautiful, complex maps, image annotations, and narrative sequences from Omeka collections of archives and artifacts, and to connect your maps and narratives with timelines that are more-than-usually sensitive to ambiguity and nuance. Neatline lets you make hand-crafted, interactive stories as interpretive expressions of a single document or a whole archival or cultural heritage collection. You can import these documents (georeferenced historical maps, manuscripts, high-res photographs, etc.) from an existing collection, or create a new digital archive, yourself. Every Neatline exhibit is your contribution to humanities scholarship, in the visual vernacular.
The Scholars’ Lab designed Neatline as a suite of plugins for the open-source Omeka framework, which provides a powerful platform for management and publication of the collection on which your exhibit is built. Through Neatline, you can create create rich representations of places, objects, events, narratives, and documents — like these demo exhibits.
What isn’t Neatline?
It’s not Google Maps or Google Earth. If you just need to drop some labelled pins on a map, Neatline is overkill.
Neatline works best when you’re using it to tell a story or create an interpretive lens through which a collection of artifacts, documents, or richly-described concepts could be understood. Do you have a collection to build on, or do you want to create a searchable Omeka collection while you’re mapping and annotating? Is the aesthetic dimension of your visualization important? Do you want to show that contested, conflicting readings of the same dataset are possible? Neatline is for you.
Tell me more!
Well, how about some thought experiments? You could use Neatline to create:
- A geographic and institutional map of 20th century literary theory. We tend to identify clusters of literary critics with universities, cities, and countries – the Yale school, Russian formalism, Marxism and the Frankfurt School, etc. You want to plot the institutional affiliations and career arcs of ~100 prominent 20th century literary theorists, grouped by critical school, to explore to what extent the real-world locations and temporal overlaps of various critics do or do not correspond with the conceptual connections that emerge in their work. Use Neatline’s map and timeline features, and import relevant pieces of evidence into Omeka.
- An in-depth look at the signatories of the Declaration of Independence. You want to create an interactive exhibit that “attaches” biographic information about the signatories on the Declaration of Independence to a high-resolution image of the actual document. Neatline’s annotation tools make it possible to draw precise, translucent outlines around the signatures on the document, and to interactively display long-format biographies and pictures, stored in Omeka, as your users interact with your annotations.
- An interactive narrative of the early British Mount Everest expeditions. Did George Mallory and Andrew Irvine make it to the summit on June 8th, 1924? Use contemporary satellite imagery, built into Neatline. as you create a map showing the climbing lines that the parties followed on their summit attempts, the conjectured routes that Mallory may have taken, and the location of his body when it was discovered in 1999. The phases of the climb can be plotted as spans on the timeline, and minute-by-minute accounts from the Odell diaries, brought into Omeka as discrete objects, can be captured as points on the map and timeline.
- A visualization of the movements of characters and concepts in The Tempest. Shakespeare’s play takes place in a indeterminate aesthetic space, an island outside the moving world — and yet the literal, spatial movements of its characters are described in significant detail. You can draw and scan your own map, or import a Renaissance-era map of an island in the Mediterranean (or the West Indies, or the Carribean) to create a speculative, playful plotting of the spatial dimension of the text — Prospero’s lair, the shipwreck, the carousing of Caliban and Trinculo, Ariel’s errands, and the journey back to Italy.