[Jean Bauer is an advanced graduate student in UVA’s Corcoran Department of History and a NINES Graduate Fellow for 2009-2010]
I have just released my first open source project. HUZZAH!
DAVILA is a database schema visualization/annotation tool that creates “humanist readable” technical diagrams. It is written in Processing with the toxiclibs physics library and released under GPLv3. DAVILA takes in the database’s schema and a pipe separated customization file and uses them to produce an interactive, color-coded, annotated diagram similar in format to UML. There are many applications that will create technical diagrams based on database schema, but as a digital humanist I require more than they can provide.
Technical diagrams are wonderfully compact ways of conveying information about extremely complex systems. But they only work for people who have been trained to read them. If you design a database for a historian, and then hand him or her a basic E-R or UML diagram, you will end up explaining the diagram’s nomenclature before you can talk about the database (and oftentimes you run out of time before getting back to the research question underlying the database). This removes the major advantage of technical diagrams and can also create an unnecessary divide between the technical and non-technical members of a digital humanities development team.
I have become fascinated by how documenting a project (either in development or after release) can build community. I’m not just talking about user generated documentation (ala wikis), but rather the feeling created by a diagram or README file that really takes the time to explain how the software works and why it works the way it does. There is a generosity and even warmth that comes from thoughtful, helpful documentation, just as inadequate documentation can make someone feel stupid, slighted, or unwanted as a user/developer. I will be writing on this topic more in the months to come (perhaps leading up to an article). In the meantime, check out DAVILA and let me know what you think.
Project homepage: http://www.jeanbauer.com/davila.html