Matthew Lincoln, PhD Art History and Digital Research


If you do any kind of work with written texts, you should most definitely take a look at Scholars’ Lab latest creation, Prism. This is a remarkable accomplishment by their graduate fellows, all of whom come out of humanities departments (although no art historians, I’ll note!)

Prism is a collaborative interpretation sandbox that allows a user to upload a text, define up to three “facets” of interpretation, and then open the text to contributors. Contributors may highlight words in the text, assigning them to a particular facet. Prism aggregates these contributions and then visualizes them, so you can see something like a heat map of interpretation of a given passage. The result is what the Prism team likens to Johanna Drucker’s and Bethany Nowviskie’s “aesthetic provocations”, a visualization that prompts entirely new paths of inquiry. This concept is something I’ll be exploring in greater depth in a later post, but it should sound familiar.

This is very much a sandbox, a playground, rather than a detailed and robust tool. However I see so much potential to link their easy-to-use interface with more complex analysis or harvesting of contributor data. They are also exploring collaborative image interpretation/annotation as a next step, which would be quite exciting for art historians to use in the classroom, like a Telestrator on crowdsourced steroids.

See it in action, and go give it a try yourself:

Cite this post:

Lincoln, Matthew D. "Prism." Matthew Lincoln, PhD (blog), 13 May 2013,

Tagged in: VisualizationDigital HumanitiesTeaching