Digital Approach and Vision
As mentioned in the introduction to the project, HEALD is based on the book Keywords in American Landscape Design (Yale University Press, 2010). In its digital extension, the reach, scope, and potential of the project are greatly expanded, providing several advantages. These include the interconnectivity of keywords, images, people, and places that constitute the core of the project; the possibility to browse an unprecedented collection of historic images and texts; the opportunity to access an extended bibliography, which can be browsed and imported in its entirety from Zotero; and finally, the advantage given by informational modes of collecting, mining, and parsing data.
At its outset, the goals for the HEALD digital project were:
- To provide unlimited, customizable cross-referencing of images and texts;
- To utilize the archiving and storage capacity of digital media to expand content significantly, adding previously unknown images and primary texts to the repository as they come to light;
- To facilitate interdisciplinary research through extensive hyperlinking of landscape and garden design keywords, images, sites, and people.
The HEALD project is built on MediaWiki, an open access platform that allows for the management of a large amount of visual and textual content. It is available as a ready-to-use software that integrates a clean interface with a widely used database language, SQL. In addition, MediaWiki was chosen for the ability to archive and migrate its database; the opportunity to work with high resolution image files; and its large community of developers who continue to update the software on a regular basis. Accordingly, the platform allows for:
- Frequent and real-time production: changes are implemented in real time and projects are scalable; they do not have to reach a fixed point prior to publication but can continue to change as the project progresses.
- Image management and resizing: once an image has been uploaded on the site, the author selects the appropriate sizing in the editing mode and thumbnails are created automatically. Each image has its own page which retains editing history and it allows one to visualize the file at full scale and to zoom in for closer study.
- Automatic creation and maintenance of unique URLs: Interlinks among HEALD pages are easy to create, execute, and maintain.
In its current form, HEALD represents a model for a digital repository whose main characteristics are accessibility, usability, and longevity. In line with current developments in informational technology, HEALD is supported by the Semantic Web, an active area of research in the field of Digital Humanities. The site allows for its information to be extracted in a standardized format, RDF, in order to be used for data analysis and visualization. This functionality was upgraded in Spring-Summer 2021. Read more about the upgrade on the Recent Upgrade page and on the Semantic HEALD page.
HEALD’s digital approach uses the potential of the digital medium to augment access and foster investigation. Data should not be used as facts and/or as evidence divested of its context. Data sets are always a result of extraction, selection, and standardization, which at times leads to a reductive scenario of the material made available. Through its digital approach, HEALD invites users to explore the network of keywords, places, and people by enhancing the navigation and exploration of its content in context. By drawing a distinction between information and data, and by encouraging a contextualized data analysis, HEALD offers the opportunity to search, sort, and parse the data in connection with the historical condition from which it emerges.
By offering a platform based on digital sustainability, the HEALD site and its contributors aim to ensure the longevity of the project. At the same time, thanks to the potential of the digital format, it remains open to new paths and new approaches to analyze durable sets of data in context, which can help to generate new questions about cultural landscape.
The HEALD team invites students, researchers, and general users to consider this repository as a large and complex collection as well as a limited set of data that, while neither comprehensive nor final, offers an authoritative and nuanced perspective of the history of early American landscape and garden design.
A guide to using HEALD is available on the User's Guide page.