Scalar is a free, open-source authoring and publishing platform designed from the ground up for scholarly use. Developed by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture at the University of Southern California and inspired by the work of Vectors Journal, also at USC, Scalar stands out as a digital publishing platform specifically oriented toward the writing of media-rich, long-form, born-digital scholarship. One sees this academic orientation in the tools available within Scalar but also in the basic ways in which a project is created in Scalar.
Scalar encourages authors to collect and assemble multimedia materials from a variety of sources, write text, and then to construct narratives using a wide variety of layouts and designs. As with other platforms, multimedia materials in Scalar can be uploaded directly, or embedded from YouTube, Vimeo and Soundcloud. But Scalar also includes interfaces for searching and pulling resources from popular online archives, including Critical Commons, the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Omeka websites.
Once those materials have been collected, they can be juxtaposed with writing to form complex, layered, possibly non-linear texts. Materials can be tagged or added to ‘Paths’ to assemble displays of material either in more conventional layouts that replicate familiar print structures or in ways that take advantage of the unique capabilities of digital writing, including nested, networked, and non-linear formats. Interestingly, Scalar includes tools for visualizing the structure of the website itself, thereby encouraging a critical consideration of digital scholarly publishing.
Another area in which Scalar incorporates the scholarly process, and really excels, is in its facilitation of and emphasis on annotation. Pages in Scalar, the basic structural unit in the system, can be designated as annotations that comment upon other pages. Authors can annotate video, audio, images, source code, and text. Annotations of audio and video can have start and end times associated with them so that when the media is played, the corresponding annotations are highlighted. Images can be annotated by drawing a box around a portion of an image and entering a comment.
Scalar has many potential uses in teaching and learning, particularly in disciplines related to visual culture, the visual arts, media studies, or public history. Several examples of Scalar websites can be found in the Showcase page of the Scalar website, including some involving Princeton faculty members. If you are interested in using Scalar, you have several options. Scalar can be used either through a free, hosted account at scalar.usc.edu. Princeton departments or projects with cPanel web hosting can install Scalar with the click of a button. If you are considering using Scalar as a platform for teaching and learning, reach out to us at the McGraw Center (firstname.lastname@example.org) to discuss these options. We can also host your site and provide in-class training and support.