An Integrated Development Environment for the Humanities


WorkTop was designed to enhance the ability of students (and scholars at all levels) to more efficiently perform fundamental scholarly tasks while at the same time providing new opportunities for collaborative learning.

Driven by the success of Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) for supporting recurring and complex code development tasks, we have been researching a similar platform for small workgroup, document and multimedia-oriented workflows.

Research-driven tasks, whether performed by students or seasoned scholars, involve frequent transitions across a broad spectrum of document-centric activities, ranging from searching and viewing to writing and publishing. Despite technological advances, unnecessarily inefficient and complicated transitions plague humanities workflows, such as converting between document formats, using small windows to view large document collections, and coercing free-form spatial mental models and visual data into rigid, generally lexical structures.

WorkTop addresses these and similar issues by reducing the technological barriers to capturing, displaying and linking heterogeneous documents or document fragments within a unified workspace. Keywords can be easily applied to entire documents or specific regions. Fine-grained, typed, and bi-directional hyperlinks can be created between images, videos, notes, PDFs, and web pages. Rich-text annotations can be added as easily as placing a post-it note.

Additionally, WorkTop provides a variety of structured workflow assistants, such as templates for publishing collected materials as stylized multimedia web pages, search operations which can be persisted as smart folders, and snapshots that capture the workspace state so that tasks can be seamlessly resumed at a later time.

Finally, WorkTop supports small-team collaboration by capturing all work in a replicated, shared database. We are also in the process of extending WorkTop to support multi-touch and stylus input so that it can serve better as a live presentation tool on electronic whiteboards and tablets.