Pages tools and getting more out of your images

Page tools – CSS3 to the rescue
The page tools split screen was developed to take advantage of CSS3 image manipulation tools. The reason was that while we allow access to 4000+ manuscripts the vast majority of our traffic is private uploads. And those uploads are invariably the poor quality of microfilm scans or photocopies of such scans or even photos taking in poor lighting with handheld cameras and phones. While is wonderful to be able to use the high quality images of  repository we all know that such images are not an option because of availability cost or the resources of the intuition.

While there are a wide variety of image manipulation tools available through CSS3 (although not all browsers support it – we’re looking at you Safari) we quickly narrowed it down to four tools – invert, gray scale, brightness and contrast. We had originally used these tools in our brokenbooks .org project in the a custom Mirador IIIF viewer. (we were very excited that the mirador group has taken that work into the mirador viewer and even expanded it).

To select from the image manipulation options in T-PEN established a number of very simple criteria. Which tools would be the easiest to understand for the user and which of those had the potential to most often give useful results. most tools failed one of these two but passed the other. Taking curves and channel mixing for instance which can give great results in photoshop but a familiarity with those kinds of approaches to image manipulation is required and can be quite a learning curve to master. We could assume that users would come in with an understanding of such things nor should they have to.

These two simple principles did give a short list very fast. –  invert, gray scale, brightness and  contrast. All four pass the first principle easily but the second one is a little more challenging. That is because by themselves they have limited utility. However these four tools work extremely well together. So much so that brightness and contract have almost always been presented together as a combined tool in image manipulation apps for instance. Invert is a surprise for many users. We forget the degree to which we are conditioned the codex. White page with black script. Some of us who are old enough to remember green screens do so so with fondness. White type on a black screen can be easier to read than black type on white. One must remember the human eye deals with projected light a little differently than reflected light. This is especially true if invert is used in conjunction with grayscale and a little brightness/contrast.

Giving it everything you got

If you are on a mac go look at the accessibility options for your display in accessibility on your System Preferences panel because you’ll find invert, grayscale and contrast looking back at you. These represent the simplest way to improve readability. they are not always the best but not everyone has a photoshop guru to help them out.

In the manuscript world where text can often be faded brown on a tan background this combination of tools may surprise you.



NEXT TIME : Page Tools – Editing and manipulating columns.

T-Pen Updating the transcription interface. Part 2.

The last blog covered a little bit about what challenge we laid out for ourselves in reworking the T-Pen Transcription interface. We set out to see if we could arrange and reorder the interface to be cleaner, easier to use, improve the access to the hidden tools, privilege the most used tools be more consistent in the tool functioning but not abandon any tool. In the last blog we talked about what we did to support transcription directly. In this blog we will talk a little about how we arranged our tools around transcription and we set the various tools at different distances from the transcription fiction but as a matter of physical layout and through different modes of interaction.

In the last blog we identified a variety of modes of interaction such as split screens, pop overs, redirects into management tools or simple buttons for tool selections. While the list of modes of interaction gave us the greatest opportunity to simply and refine the UX of the transcription tool it was not in the immediate way of reducing the number of ways the user could interact with the interface but rather what was being done with each approach and why. By doing this we were able bring tools together as a matter of their form and function but more importantly we were able to identify the distance the interaction put the user at from transcription and use that as way to give a hierarchy and order to the interface.

(un)Wrapping the Onion.
To organize our hierarchy we identified a series of layers (like an Onion), established the level of focus required for the scholar vis a vie the performance of Transcription and assigned the modes of interaction to support that. The closer to the center a function lies then the less distraction and easier it should be to use. We ended up with transcription, Close Focus/Keyboard, Near Focus/Split Screen and the outer layer of Distant focus/Option tab. 


Transcription we didn’t change much. But we did add auto detect character set so with RTL characters the text box will adjust the presentation of those to show them correctly. This is part of our efforts to broaden the functionality of T-Pen in the coming years in response to requests for such support. We also developed a beta RTL variant that can be activated via the Option Tab but more on that in a later blog.

Close Focus/Keyboard
This is the layer closest to transcription and we placed those tools and features that would be most used during the act of transcription. Ease of view the image for instance. For an example we will use one of the tools mentioned in the last blog on this topic; Peek Zoom (CTRL Shift). This function makes the line being transcribed fit the width of the window. In many cases this means the line is enlarged and presented above the transcription tool. In some cases the line in reduced in size (if the window is narrower than the line for instance) but this means the whole line is visible so that it may help with context for the transcription of an abbreviation. By making this a key command it becomes something the user can do without breaking their focus on the translation. Thus we identified this function as needing to be close to the core function and enabled that through its vitiation via key command. Similarly, ‘special characters'(the first 9 characters at least) and ‘hide workspace’ have key commands to keep the users focus where it should be; on the transcription. We also have option ↑ and option ↓ to help savage lines quickly so as not break the transcribers flow. Although the special characters is not a perfect fit for key command as we will talk about later.

Near Focus/Split Screen
When transcribing in the traditional way the user would occasionally have to break that focus on transcription to check Cappelli or a dictionary, or picked up a magnifying glass to look at something more easily. The user begins to engage withe the manuscript at the more at the page level and less at the single line. In such cases the user disengages from the act of transcription but still remain engaged with parts or th whole of the presented page. The tools and features that fall in this layer can also reduce that tight focus on the act of transcription. We achieved this by using the split screen functionality for this layer. Resources such as dictionaries and Cappelli were already here. Split screen as a mode of interaction allowed us to clean up the interface too as there were a number of existing resources and tools that were split screen. To activate this mode required a mouse action but it didn’t matter either that happened by a button or a pull down. In moving to a pull down we were ablate clean up the interface as well as put related resources and tools together in the same place as well as reduce their visibility a little for that cleaner workspace. But we didn’t find that worked for some tools that made sense to be together but each was too small in themselves to be a single split screen and were in function a little closer to the core function of transcription than the resources in the split screen pull down. These we put together as Page Tools and set this out as a button rather than as part of the split screen drop down to bring the tools in contains a little closer to the user.

Distant focus/Option tab.
This layer is the one closest to the existing version of T-Pen in its form. This is for tow reasons the mode of interaction was very suitable for the the features and tools that fall in that layer but also because we were looking to update the transcription interface not the whole site and this represents the point at which the user is stepped away from the transcription completely and looking to administer the project as a whole rather than perform the act of transcription.

The exception(s) that prove the rule
There are a couple of tools that have not been mention in this blog post that don’t quite fit into these layers. Inspect, Characters and XML tags.
In terms of focus Inspect and XML tags fit into the Near focus zone of our onion.  Characters fits better in the close focus range. Characters, as we have already talked about has key commands mode of interaction for character insertion but there are two major demands that insist we do more than key command. Firstly in the classic version of T-Pen all the buttons could be viewable and secondly any character could be inserted by using the characters as buttons. This was case where if it not broken it is not in need of fixing. The same argument holds for the XML tags. Also the XML tags are more distant from the act of transcription. XML adds to and helps to erode the text but it is not transcription in itself. While many of our users use XML tags, the way in which they use them and the degree to which they use them varies greatly. The XML tags can be used as insertion of opening tag with a closing tag reminder in the bottom left of the text input box or as text highlighted and opening and closing tags inserted at the same time. In either case the user takes a hand off the keyboard to engage withe transcription in a different way that straight input.  This means to bring key commands to the XML tags would be complex, and reduce the ways in which the XML tags cam be inserted for what is a little gain for some users and a loss for a lot of others seems not to be worth the rope. the final rule breaker is inspect. Again the focus is near as the function is to allow the user to look more closely at a detail that the peek zoom or hide workspace options don’t help with so the user must again lift their hand, mentally and physically, away from the transcription to metaphorically and lift a magnifying glass. Putting this in the split screen doesn’t make sense as it burns the function amid resources when it it is not and it stands a little closer to the transcription than the split screen tools do.

All in all the new T-Pen interface is a mixture of changes, continuations and, we hope, clarity for our users.

Next time: Pages tools and getting more out of your images


LDN Inbox is live

With thanks for the demonstrations and work done by Jeffrey Witt (Loyola University Maryland), Rafael Schwemmer (text & bytes), Régis Robineau (Biblissima), and Chip Goines (Harvard University), the Walter J. Ong, S.J. Center for Digital Humanities would like to announce an exciting new LDN Inbox.

In support of better discovery, an open feedback loop, and the constant enhancement of scholarly resources, the Rerum Inbox is committed to providing a free and public location for important announcements about scholarly resources. This offers a service to individuals and institutions without the financial or technical means to host their own inbox and creates a path for interaction with the vast holdings on the Internet that are otherwise inaccessible. By generating new inboxes dynamically, Rerum Inbox immediately and universally opens the resources used by the scholarly community to the contributions of the scholars it comprises.

LDN Inboxes are a developing W3C standard; this implementation includes further constraints designed to best serve the IIIF community. The Rerum Inbox is public right now with documentation. At the moment, there are less than 20 messages in the Inbox, so your resource isn’t listed, but you can still check, if you like. If you publish resources and would like to include the Rerum Inbox as your “official” notification channel, add the service block with our blessing. If you are developing software and would like to interact with the Inbox, check the specs or see it in action in the Mirador LDN Plugin. You can get your own copy (Java/Firebase) on Github if you don’t want to use ours. There you can also submit issues for suggestions, questions, or contributions!

Special thanks to Saint Louis University for supporting this project. We were able to get it turned around quickly because we did not apply for funding, believing it was an important enough advancement to release to the wild as soon as possible. Without this support, we could not host the endpoints or data with confidence and sustainability.

We hope to have some more instructional and marketing materials out over the next quarter to make it easier to incorporate an LDN inbox into your projects and repositories, but if you have any questions in the meantime, please ask.

With appreciation,

Patrick Cuba, Lead Developer
Walter J. Ong S.J. Center for Digital Humanities
Saint Louis University

T-Pen Updating the transcription interface. Part 1.

The Center had the good fortune last year to work on an custom imbedded version of T-Pen for the New French Paleography website from Newberry Library. University of Toronto did a great job of building out the site while we turn the backend of T-Pen into web services to allow for more flexible versions of the front end transcription interface to accommodate Newberry’s needs and to better suit early modern French Paleography. This year we are able to bring those changes into

This constitutes the first major update to the interface since its launch and while long past due we were able to use feed back from the last five years to enable us to focus on the needs of our users. So building on that and the work we did for NewBerry we set to work.

Too Many Options. But you need them.
You can do a lot in the original T-Pen transcription interface but for many the first time was a confusing one with so many tools. Newberry wanted some of those tools and some new ones. So while we developed T-Pen(NL) we found ourselves thinking about those tools and their priority in the interface. We though about what we needed to change, add or even delete.  One thing we have come to understand over the lifetime of T-Pen is obvious: some tools are used a lot but some not so much. But that is only half of the equation for making changes, deletions or additions. The second part was why.

In the old interface all the tools are available (with the opportunity to add or edit a few in the project management interface). They are grouped in relatively arbitrary ways and with character and xml tags the transcription tool bar could expand quite a bit. There are also quite a few key command operated tools that many users never knew where there and we wanted to bring them forward enough to be noticed given the positive response we got when we demonstrated them. Another issue was that there were several ways the tools were interacted with: as split screens, pop overs, redirects into management tools or simple buttons for tool selections. These modes of interaction were not necessarily always implemented consistently. So we set out to see if we could arrange and reorder the interface to be cleaner, easier to use, improve the access to the hidden tools, privilege the most used tools be more consistent in the tool functioning but not abandon any tool. The first thing we did for this approach was to clearly mark out what we needed to privilege about all: transcription.

Transcription. Transcription. Transcription.
Transcription is the primary function of T-Pen. When is ceases to be of value for transcription it has no value. There are several strengths to T-Pen as a transcription tool. This covers a wide range of things but for the purpose of reworking the T-Pen transcription interface it is the facilitating of the act of transcription of a text. Everything else that T-Pen allows a user to do must be presented to the user as it relates to that act of transcription.

At its heart there are two things T-Pen does to aid in transcription; its presentation of the content to be transcribed and aiding the typing of the text. Transcription in T-Pen means typing on a keyboard (mostly). So to support that we needed to do what we could to keep the users hands on the keyboard. To help with this T-Pen has key commands like navigating lines by option ↑ and option ↓. We also reduced the space between the top of the Transcription tool and the text box. the first 9 special characters can be typed via CTRL with 1 through 9 to insert the character into the text. It was suggested us that we should have a preset collection based on common usage but given the unexpectedly wide variety of characters used as well as languages and character sets this proved unviable. The introduction of  basic Right to Left character support complicates that even more but does make an argument for dedicated or custom interfaces for different formats and languages. This kind of custom interface is something you will be hearing more of from us over the coming months but is something we have been thinking and planning for for many years and the conversion of our back end into web services is part of that long term objective. more on that in the coming months but for now this blog must return to its purpose. So back to transcription and presentation of the content to be transcribed.

One of the most influential elements on the quality of a transcription is the distance between the text to be transcribed and that is reflected in our placement of the Transcription Bar and its text box immediately below the line being transcribed. But we don’t stop there. We wanted to help the user take advance of the fact the image is a digital image and so we made Peek Zoom (CTRL Shift). This makes the line being transcribed enlarge to fill the width of the window so if your window is wide the line can get substantially bigger. While we have the Inspect button (allows you to magnify parts of the image) on the Transcription Tool Bar this quick key command doesn’t break the flow of transcription by taking the users hands off the keyboard. Similarly the Hide Workspace (ALT CMND) key command hides the Transcription Tool Bar for as long as the user holds ALT CMND which allows the user to look at other details of the image such as the next line to help with context to decode abbreviations or hard to read words on the line being transcribed.

But there are times when the User needs to take their hands from the keys and reach for the mouse and the next bog entry will go into details about how we figured out what should be where and why.


Tradamus – Structuring – Outlines



Outline is the term we use to describe a gathering of Segments as a structural annotation. An Outline is the group containing one or more Segments. By grouping Segments into Outlines you will be able to more easily manage you content for collation and it is required for any content to be available for drafting for a publication. For example to collate all chapter one Segments from your witness Materials you would put them together in a single Outline. Thus by collecting Segments into an Outline you will be creating a well-structured set of Segments to facilitate collation. It also means that if you have other content you wish to use you do not have to break it up externally but could bring it into Tradamus, segment it into the desired parts, put those parts in the appropriate Outline so that they can be collated or added to sections with collations for arraignment for publication via drafting.

You cannot collate any material until you have put the desired material in a segment and gathered the desired segments together to make an Outline.

The Outline is where you will be doing the vast majority of your scholarly work. you can collate outlines, as well as annotate them as much as you want or need. you can tag them for more detailed indexing or apparatuses or to help with formatting during publication.




For more information and to create an account go to 

We will be publishing a series of entries on this blog in the coming weeks on how to use tradamus.

The next blog entry will be on Sections.



Tradamus – Structuring – Segmenting


Segmenting allows for much greater control on your Material. For example you could create segments for each chapter from a multi-chapter witness or your commentaries for each chapter from a single Material that contains all the chapter commentaries. This means you can segment you materials for easier use with Tradamus without having to restructure you materials as multiple documents. You can create this structure within Tradamus with out having to rework your content to be structurally consistent before bring it into Tradamus. it also allows you to segment the same Material in as many ways as you like without having to alter or rework the original source. This makes collation much more flexible and makes experimentation and multiple approaches to the content viable from the same set of original Material without having to rework that original Material.

Tradamus allows your Edition/Publication to be built of multiple, well-structured and well-annotated segments made from your Material. In order to support this we have built a tool Create Segments. The Create Segments button allows you to break your content into manageable pieces to allow you to have greater control in collating different elements of you witnesses as well as reordering them to facilitate this without the need to physically reorder the contents of the witness so your content remains true to its source while being usable especially when you need to reorder the content or need granularity in the collation of you witnesses. When you do this you are creating structural annotations of the Material.




For more information and to create an account go to


We will be publishing a series of entries on this blog in the coming weeks on how to use Tradamus.

The next blog entry will be on Outlines.

Tradamus – Structuring


Creating Structures is simple way to select and order the parts of your witness texts or other content as you want. The advantage to doing this is it allows you to deal with one piece of your content at a time in a manageable way while creating a useable structure for that content as you go. This has a number of immediate benefits. If you are bringing your content in from T-Pen and you have the first chapter transcribed for all your witnesses this will allow to start collation without needing your entire text transcribed. It also facilitates feeling with transposed or absent parts in the witnesses easily.

There are three steps to structuring

  • Create Segments. The Segments are the basic building blocks of your edition. They can be any number of things from individual chapters of your witnesses to single pages to the introduction or commentary you want to add to your edition. There are several benefits to doing this which will be explained in tomorrow post called Segmenting.
  • Once you have your Segments made you will collect them in Outlines which you can then collate. Attempting Collation of entire texts without creating manageable Outlines first is possible but it can take several days or more for CollateX to complete. We allow for this longer collation with an option to receive notification when the collation has been run.
  • Once your witnesses and other materials are collated, annotated and tagged you can put them in Sections to allow you to order them in the desired fashion for publication. You can generated indexes and other apparatus’s from these sections as you orange the sections for publication.






for more info and to sign up for an account go to

Tomorrow: More Details on Segmenting.


Tradamus – Materials


This information is not specifically about how to use this web application, but more about understanding the data model and the technical decisions made in its creation. Comprehending all this will help you work more effectively but is not required for basic use.

Broad Principles

Each critical edition is an arrangement of editorial materials and the assertions made about them. The most common materials are those that represent various witnesses to the edited text, but there may be supporting texts, images, digital or real objects, and original material generated by the editor without which the edition could not be considered complete.


Types of Material


These are copies of a given text from different sources that may or may not vary from other witnesses of the same text. These can be imported From T-PEN, XML or JSON documents, or be manually created.


Tradamus supports images and while preferably sc:Canvas,any resolvable image is made annotatable. Images connected to an Project via a T-Pen project allows the relevant area of an image to be viewable with the text.

Editorial Content

Chapter headings, introductions, commentaries, analyses or any additional material you wish to add to your Project so as to be able to introduce them into the publication in the order or manner of your choosing.


Encoded data to generate charts, tables, or publication aids


any digital pointer to a non-digital or unavailable resource that needs a hook provided to allow for annotation. If for instance you have access to collation tables for a witness but not the witness and you only wish to capture the variants we generate a placeholder sc:canvas for that so as to allow you to annotate that specific material if you desire to.



Anatomy of a Material

The creation of a new material relies on a link/import/upload or a manual process. All a material requires to exist is a title. Tradamus will immediately create a full digital document representing this material and update it with any additional data. This document is available at its URI. When a material is imported from a location that provides a URI which resolves to a SharedCanvas Manifest, that URI will be retained. Otherwise, Tradamus will mint and maintain a new URI.

The interface is designed to facilitate adding, annotating or editing the following elements to the material:


A label that provides only a human-readable string. For a manuscript witness, this is often similar to the shelfmark or identifier, though significantly distinct. This is defined by the user and can be edited at any time.


This is a letter (especially an initial) or other symbol used to to refer to a particular witness of a text. It acts as human readable abbreviated label to aid identification of a witness. This is defined by the user and can be edited at any time.


annotations that specifically target the base material for the purpose of description. This is defined by the user and can be edited at any time.


Annotations that attach textual data to the material.


Sequence of sc:Canvas objects that represent the annotated images and other data of a material.


List of all other annotations that target the material, but which may not be otherwise classifiable, including those imported from XML or JSON files.






For more information and to create an account go to


We will be publishing a series of entries on this blog in the coming weeks on how to use tradamus.

The next blog entry will be on Structuring.


TRAD_FullogoTradamus is a free digital Critical Digital Edition creation web application. Whether you have straight transcriptions of your text or full TEI encoded documents you can bring them together in Tradamus to build a Critical Edition using the methodology that you want. From the Apparatus Criticus to the final publication you decide!

Annotate witnesses, Collate your witnesses by leveraging our sectioning approach to allow you to clearly and easily manage and work with the specific elements of your text, witness images, add commentary and editorial materials, tag, style and publish. Use the application in a way that works for you; import XML, TXT, and JSONs formats. Bring your Export your content in JSON, and JSON-LD at multiple points. Use our templates for your publication or take your publication content to deploy in whatever way you want.

Tradamus allows for collaboration as well as multiple levels of users to contribute to your Critical Edition in a way that works for you. We have built in a blind review option to facilitate peer review.


The Tradamus Approach


There are four core elements to building a critical edition in Tradamus.

  1. Create an Project – The Project will hold all your transcriptions, images, annotations. Think of it as a container for all of your work.
  2. Import your Materials. Everything that you bring into your Project are your materials. This could be your transcriptions, manuscript images, commentaries, bibliographies and anything else you want to include in you publications.
  3. Organize you Materials. there are two steps to organizing your materials. Firstly break your materials into manageable and logical segments. This is your opportunity to bring your Materials together and organize them to allow you to work with them. It also brings together the transcriptions in manageable and coherent divisions to collate them. For example you could create an segment for each of the ‘chapter ones’ in your witnesses. You bring those segments together into an outline which you then collate. Other content you have imported like an commentary which you can bring in as a single document also be divided into sensible and logical segments. This kinds of segments are put into outlines which are then ready to be arranged in its appropriate section when you are ready to prepare to publish. Thus you can deal with your materials in a content focused way.
  4. Prepare your Outlines for publication. Once you have collated The witness Outlines, you arrange the Outlines in Sections which are then put in the desired order for publication. Thus you put your commentary outline for chapter one with the collated text of chapter one and add any desired indexes, bibliographies or other relevant content. These Sections can then be ordered as needed. This ordered set of Sections can then be published.


This approach allows you to publish your critical edition, not only in a variety of formats but you can also return to your materials and re-imagine your work in a different way. Your first publication may take a diplomatic approach, your next might be mouvaunce in its approach. In each case you would leverage all the materials you have already done in Tradamus so you would not be starting from scratch but at the point of scholarly divergence. You can edit and rework any existing publication to enhance or enrich the work and all changes are saved so that the reader can reference those changes as well as the presented publication.


Project flow with collation

Project flow without collation



For more information and to create an account go to


We will be publishing a series of entries on this blog in the coming weeks on how to use Tradamus.

The next blog entry will be on Materials, followed by a series on Structuring.


8th Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age

We are very excited in the CDH@SLU that Debra Cashion will presenting the Broken Books application at the Schoenberg Symposium this week. As a last minute treat, Lisa Fagin Davis, Executive Director of the Medieval Academy of America, jumped on board and has put her work into Broken Books giving us another excellent use case and demonstration of Broken Books. Continue reading 8th Annual Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age