Spotlight: PastPin

The PastPin logo.

Who? What? Where? When? and Why? While these make up a catchy song from Spy Kids, they’re also questions that can get lost when looking at digital images, especially when metadata is missing. PastPin wants to help answer these questions, by tagging the location and time of vintage images on Flickr Commons, with the hope that one day they will be searchable through the Where? and When? of the images themselves. By doing this, PastPin wants to create new ways to do research using public domain images online.

Created by Geopast — a genealogy service — PastPin uses 6,806,043 images from 115 cultural institutions hosted on Flickr. When a user brings up the PastPin website, they’ll be prompted with images that PastPin believes come from your geographic area. When you click on an image, you can then search a map for its specific location and enter in a date, which is then saved. The image then becomes searchable by PastPin users through the entered information. The hope is that all of these images will be identified, so that all users can search through location or date.

Some images are easier to geolocate and date than others. PastPin pulls in metadata and written descriptions from Flickr, so images that are published by an institution — such as the University Laboratory High School, like several images I encountered — may already have this information readily available, making it easy to type that into the map and save it. Other images become more difficult to locate or date because they lack that information, and take more outside knowledge to suss out. PastPin also lacks adequate guidelines for locations, in particular. As many of the images that come from the University of Illinois are from digitized books, are they looking for the location of where the book was printed? Or of the library it resides in? It’s unclear.

PastPin faces what would seem like a Herculean feat. As I’m writing this, only 1.79% of the nearly seven million images have been located so far, and 2.13% have been dated. Today, there have been 18 updates, including two that I made, so the work moves slowly.

Still, PastPin is an awesome example of the power of crowd-sourced projects, and the potential of new thinking to change the way that we do research. The Internet creates so many new opportunities for kinds of research, and the ability to search through public domain images in new ways is just one of them.

Do you know of other websites that are trying to crowd source data? How about websites that are trying to push research into new directions? Let us know in the comments!

Annotating Images with Thinglink

Thinglink is a web-based interface that allows users to annotate photos with words, links, and other media in order to create interactive experiences. It can be used in a variety of ways, but here we’ll showcase how you can use Thinglink to make static images come alive. These techniques can be used for classes or assignments, and can help students and participants contextualize images with links and information provided by their teacher. Including everything from fun facts to links to academic articles can make an image come alive, and brighten up your lesson plans.

For Thinglink’s basic package, you don’t have to pay, but you do have to create an account. Once you do, you can either go through their tutorials, or get started with your own image. I’ve chosen Diego Velázquez‘s 1656 painting Las Meninas to use as my example. Adding content is simple — just click on the area you’d like to tag and adding your content in the left side bar.


The initial set-up with no tags.


Adding my caption for the Infant Margaret Theresa of Spain.

Unfortunately, the free package doesn’t allow you much customization as far as styling goes, so you will have the big white dots as tags. That being said, in the final image, the dots will not appear unless the user has their cursor on the actual image. However, you still want to be careful not to entirely cover up the important part of your image that you’re talking about, because you won’t be able to see them when the tag appears.

These tags can include links, text — even videos and videos! In my photo, I’m including the link to an influential article about Las Meninas, and explaining why a certain part of the picture corresponds to that article.

Including links to articles with ideas from their authors allows the user to showcase a number of different views in one image.

Including links to articles with ideas from their authors allows the user to showcase a number of different views in one image.

In this section, I’m adding a YouTube video that can be played through the annotation, simply by adding the URL to the video. If you’re having trouble finding multimedia that you’d like to share, you can search in the upper right search box and Thinglink will provide you with suggestions ranging from YouTube Videos to Amazon books and everything in between.

Adding multimedia can add depth to your analysis.

Adding multimedia can add depth to your analysis.

My search for Las Meninas content.

My search for Las Meninas content.

When you’re done, simply press ‘Save Image’ and it will direct you to a permalink for your new, tagged image!

Have questions about images and how you can incorporate them into your work? Email Visual Resources and Outreach Specialist Sarah Christensen or visit the Scholarly Commons, open Monday through Friday, 9am-6pm.

How Photoshop Can Help Your Digital Project

Adobe Photoshop CC is a pervasive software that only grows in power and popularity. While learning Photoshop can be daunting, the benefits of learning Photoshop are far-reaching, and not always what you expect. If you are a scholar looking to share your research online, here are a few reasons why learning the basics of Photoshop will set you up for success.

  1. Leaning Photoshop saves time and money. If you’re in academia, your budget is probably pretty tight. Knowing basic Photoshop skills will not only save you time and stress when it comes to graphics, but will also insure that you won’t have to go to an outside source to create graphics for your project.
  2. Helps you attract people. According to various studies, adding a color visual to a piece of content increases people’s willingness to read by 80%. A simple Photoshopped image to go along with your Tweets about your project can really increase your user traffic.
  3. Website mockups. Photoshop has hundreds of tools and plug-ins that you can use to plan and shape your website. Drawing out what exactly you want before creating your website will help you understand what it is that you want, and how to create it.
  4. Great community. If you have a question about Photoshop, someone out there has probably already answered it! Because Photoshop is so pervasive, there is a large network of people you can get in touch with if you need help with an aspect of your project.  Look at Adobe’s Photoshop Forum and its subforums for an example of the Photoshop community.
I created this graphic in ten minutes. Imagine what you can do with your research!

I created this graphic in ten minutes. Imagine what you can do with your research!

Learning Photoshop can be a powerful tool in your arsenal, as well as a great line on your resume. Here at the Scholarly Commons, we have Photoshop on every PC and Mac, as well as resources to help you start on your Photoshop journey. Stop on by and get editing today!