Some Tools to Add to Your Digital Toolbox

I have recently been on the hunt for good, practical digital tools that can used by all types of historians and humanists. Throughout this semester I’ve had the chance to learn about a wide range of digital technology being used in the field, but I’ve struggled to find tools that are practical for my scholarly needs. For instance, I think topic modeling is really interesting, but none of my projects in the near future would require me to use it.

Here is a collection of digital tools that I believe can be used in scholarly research, museums, universities, and the k-12 classroom. In the interest of finances, I limited my search to tools that are available for free download. I found many of these tools through Bamboo DiRT, an online repository of digital tools funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Credit should also be given to some of my classmates in Digital History, who found several of these tools and shared their knowledge of these tools with the rest of the class.

Creating Interactive Works

PressBooks allows users of WordPress to convert their blog posts into a wide range of formats, including PDF, Kindle Book, and eBook. Teachers who have their students blogging could possibly use this program to compile their students’ work into book format at the end of the semester, or something similar to that.

– When I was teaching, we encouraged some our students to try out Prezi rather than PowerPoint to make their presentations. Generally speaking, their work was more interactive and visual than PowerPoint. There is a bit of a learning curve with this software.

Historypin allows users to search for cities on Google Maps and then pin their own pictures to sites that they select. Users can then create their own “tours” by linking multiple sites together and mapping sites over a wide range of land. The program is a bit wonky, but could be a really great learning tool for students.

Drupal Gardens and Wix are great programs for building your own website. Omeka is also a solid program that seems geared more towards profession institutions and big data collections. I’m still learning about it and am considering the possibility of using it on some future projects. Users of Omeka can also take advantage of Neatline to create interactive narratives, maps, and timelines.

Sophie is a neat program for creating interactive books.

– Those who have a large, digitized collection of documents can create interactive graphs, maps, and charts with Viewshare.

Brainstorming is a simple mind mapping software that allows users to map out their ideas visually. Coggle and Cmap do much of the same.

Text 2 Mind Map takes a text and translates it into a mind map. I didn’t have much success with it, but it’s worth checking out.

Keeping Track of Information

– If you have a Mac, BibDesk lets you edit and manage your bibliography/works cited.

DocumentCloud uses Cloud technology to let users interact with their sources by allowing them to find specific dates, conduct concordance searches, highlight notable text, and publish work.

Zotero is a great tool for keeping track of resources and annotating work. I use it myself, although I am still learning how to use the program to its full potential.

Edit Flow lets individuals and teams of people keep track of their information on WordPress.

Dropbox is a well-known tool that uses cloud technology to let people store and share information online.

Visualization Tools

– Both and allow users the ability to convert excel spreadsheets into interactive visualizations, among other things. For my thesis, I am looking at possibly using these programs to create visualizations to document the rate of immigration in Indiana from 1870-1920 using census records, many of which can be found through the University of Virginia.

– There is an abundance of tools for creating timelines. You can check out a small list of 8 effective programs here.

3D Printing

– Another Student in class told us about 3D printing, which is very, very cool. While not as practical as the other digital tools I’ve listed, I think there is great potential for this technology in the future. Imagine going to a museum’s website and printing out their exhibits for personal or classroom use! To see some examples of items that can be printed in 3D, check out Thingiverse.

Trimble SketchUp allows users to create 3D visualizations, and I think they may be able to print their creations in 3D as well, but don’t quote me on that. The program reminds me a lot of AutoCad, although I’ve been told that some CAD designers say the program is too rigid and doesn’t allow for more precise measuring in its design software. I’m linking readers to the free version of SketchUp, but you can upgrade to the Pro version if you have $495 lying around.

Here’s a video showing off some items from a 3D Print Show in London last year. This stuff is just nuts…