Technical Resources: Announcing Prism!

Posted on May 7, 2012

Sarah Storti & Brooke Lestock, Announcing Prism!, Originally published May 1, 2012

We are pleased to announce the official beta release of Prism, a tool for collecting and visualizing crowd-sourced interpretations of texts.

In case you are new to this blog, you should know that Prism is the practicum project of the first cohort of Praxis Program Fellows at the University of Virginia Scholars’ Lab. Six of us have been interning with Scholars’ Lab faculty and staff for the 2011-2012 academic year, as part of a pilot project in team-based graduate methodological training. Praxis aims to produce humanities scholars with practical experience in the work that will underlie theoretical advances in the digital age: the formal representation of knowledge, the design of software and user interfaces, and the management of collaborative teams and complex projects. Over the course of the year, we have been meeting weekly to learn what it takes to theorize and to build a DH project, with the ultimate goal of releasing our own–Prism.

Prism is an experiment in visualizing many readings of a common set of texts, using concepts shared by its users–“the crowd.”  While the Praxis Program itself makes an intervention in graduate training, Prism is an intervention in the concept of crowd-sourcing, which until now has mostly made fact-checkers and copy editors of the crowd.  One of the fundamental questions behind Prism is: what happens when the crowd is asked to imagine and interpret, rather than merely transcribe? The goal of Prism is not to replace individual interpretations, but to produce aesthetic provocations, that is, collective visualizations that incite and encourage conversation.

David McClure, Future Possibilities for Prism, Originally published May 6, 2012

It’s been incredibly exciting to watch Annie, Alex, Lindsay, Brooke, Sarah, and Ed work together over the course of the last two semesters to take Prism from idea to working software. Considering the fact that most of them hadn’t ever written a line of Ruby, Javascript, or CSS when they started last semester, the end result is pretty remarkable.

One of the reasons that programming is so invigorating is that software is constantly leaning forward into further elaboration and complexity. Every feature is the precursor of a hundred possible new ones. Code is always the double-delight of what it is and what it could become.