Historical Background

As a cultural and social practice, annotations have a rich history stretching back for millennia. The term marginalia, coined by Coleridge – a notable annotator – refers to writing in the margins of a book. Writing in books leaves traces of a reader’s progress, a reader’s interpretation, a reader’s response. Marginalia can record the collaborative efforts of many readers, as in this image of a page from Venetus A, a tenth-century manuscript of the Iliad that preserves layers of glosses, scholia, and critical marks. This annotated manuscript immortalizes the critical discourse around a text, and makes it possible to study it, a thousand years later. Readers also interact with their books in ways other than writing in the margins. Today, post-its or folded pages, for example, mark passages of interest. A common practice is to color-code these passages of interest. Personal organization is an alternative way of accessing the text, a more personal organization than the pre-defined taxonomy of the table of contents.

Annotation Studio in the Digital Humanities

The most significant difference between Annotation Studio and other digital annotation projects is its emphasis on student-centered design and pedagogy. Most other annotation tools assume user familiarity with TEI, and a well-developed understanding of the relationships between literary sources, manuscripts, editions, and adaptations. Annotation Studio makes sophisticated yet easy-to-use commenting tools immediately accessible to students with no prior experience with close textual analysis or TEI.

However, while we believe Annotation Studio provides many unique affordances, we also see it as part of a larger conversation concerning annotation in the digital humanities. Accordingly, we have listed what we think are some of the most exciting projects occupying the annotation space, which bear both similarities and differences to the aims and formal qualities of our tool.

Visualizing the Reading Process

HyperStudio has worked closely with humanities faculty in order to develop tools in an environment that allows intensive user testing and the development of features through experience. The reactions of these students and novice scholars to the material presented by AnnotationStudio are also at the center of a set of interactive visualizations.[1]  A wealth of information can be derived from these interactions within the classroom, which aids both our understanding of the teaching of texts themselves, and at the same time how readers approach them in the context of annotating on the screen. One of the most crucial concepts in the making of visualizations for reader interaction is the flexibility of scale. The allowance of viewing the text on different scales allows the viewer to connect close readings with larger narratives. In early experiments, the presentation of entire texts can make apparent trends in annotations, concentrations of narrative elements, as well as zero in on points of interest for particular reader groups. Overview visualizations also present an opportunity to make meaningful navigational elements that is intuitive to the structure of the text. Visualizations on another scale show the evolution of interactions with particular passages, and stimulate discussion by creating visual layers on the text itself during closer reading. Finally, these visualizations provide practical feedback for teachers by making apparent useful patterns in the learning process of a text. They also provide valuable insight for the further development of features in AnnotationStudio, supporting the iterative process through which this platform has been developed.

Reading Heatmaps

This visualization allows instructors to see hotspots of interaction with the text. It allows instructors to see what passages generated the most attention so that she can adjust her lesson plan accordingly.

Heatmaps visualization

Reader trajectories 1

This visualization represents a user’s unique trajectory through a text. In this example, you can see that the reader had a rather typical reading style, going through from beginning to end.

Trajectories image

Reader trajectories 2

In contrast to the first reader, you can see that this next reader followed a more atypical reading path. They started at the conclusion before moving back to the beginning and working their way through the text linearly.

Trajectories image

Reader trajectories 3

By visualizing all the reader interactions for an entire class, we can see that every reader engages with a text differently.

Trajectories image
1. Visualizations by Filip Goc