Harvard IIIF

DARTH has just released its newest project in collaboration with the Harvard Library, the Harvard Art Museums, HarvardX, Harvard University Information Technology (Arts & Humanities Research Computing, the FAS Academic Technology Group, Library Technology Services), and various academic departments: Harvard IIIF. The Harvard University International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) website is a centralized resource for documentation, development, and use case scenarios regarding the display and sharing of cultural heritage materials stored within the various Harvard University collections.

Harvard University has adopted the International Image Interoperability Framework standards as developed by the IIIF Consortium for describing and sharing digital assets, and has co-developed the IIIF image viewing software Mirador.

Visitors can explore the site to learn more about Harvard’s work with IIIF, the Mirador viewer, and exciting innovations happening around campus that are made possible by these new standards and technologies.

Dr. Michael Puett and the Power of Imagination

Harvard Professor Michael Puett, inspired by the ancient Chinese text “Zhuangzi,” invites us to view the world from multiple perspectives and unleash the power of our imagination.

Focus: Vassiliki Rapti

Dr. Vassiliki Rapti, Preceptor in Modern Greek, pushes the boundaries of digital media instruction in her classroom by engaging her students in new ways and challenging traditional language teaching methods. DARTH Crimson spotlights her work as an example of the successful integration of technology into course design. Dr. Rapti’s approach allows for greater creativity in the classroom, and this experimentation has resulted in a direct positive response in student enthusiasm and performance.

In one assignment, Rapti instructs her students to set up Facebook profiles for the class. They use the Greek language user interface setting and correspond entirely in Greek. The student responses she has collected have emphasized their enthusiasm for utilizing the language in an immersive, everyday manner, giving them routine practice in a practical space. Some students have chosen to keep their accounts set to the Greek interface indefinitely to hone their skills further.There are also more artistic assignments that provide the opportunity to use technology for self-expression. This approach has earned her recognition, including an Elson Family Award for the integration of the arts into the curriculum. “I realized that allowing the students to be creative is a great motivation for them to improve their language skills,” Rapti said, going on to describe the most ambitious project she tackles with her language students: film inspired by the chorus in Greek tragedy.

All of Rapti’s Modern Greek classes produce a film as a final project. Students participate from every step along the way through research, scripting, acting, filming, and post-production. There is a job for everyone, and English subtitles make the all-Greek performances easily accessible to all audiences. She devised this project while seeking “a more creative and lasting way to teach Modern Greek, and one which could be assessed beyond the final exam.” Although students were receptive to replacing a final exam with an ongoing project, Rapti knew it would be a challenge. “I wondered how I could assess my students in all four language skills (writing, reading, listening, speaking) both in their individual and collective contribution. I was looking, in particular, for a collective experience that would naturally engage each student separately and encourage all students to give their best.”

Rapti found help in the Media Production Center, who continually offer their expertise in film production at Harvard, as well as the Language Resource Center in Lamont Library. Rapti stresses the importance of finding resources within the community to support ambitious ideas such as the film project and also recognizes her other collaborators: Rhea Karabelas-Lesage, Head Bibliographer of the Modern Greek Special Collection; the Woodberry Poetry Room, which has rare materials in Modern Greek; the Sackler Museum; the Arts @29 Garden; the Greek Film Society at Harvard; the Harvard College Hellenic Society; and the Greek Institute.

It does not stop at film either. Students have produced other creative projects as well. One student painted a plate in imitation of an Ancient Greek relic, incorporating a well-researched Greek text. Another developed a playable board game around the Odyssey. Others have designed video projects and slideshows that blend Greek poetry with self-made imagery.

Digital media technologies are more accessible than ever before, and Rapti has shown them to be effective tools for cultivating creativity and self-expression in pedagogy. Her courses engage and enthuse, raising the bar where traditional methods fall flat, because when given the opportunity students will surprise you with their ingenuity.


“Omeropolis” by Yannis Koulias, Advanced Modern Greek 100

Intellectual Property Resources

On April 1st, 2014, DARTH Crimson hosted a discussion panel called Copyright and Copyleft on intellectual property issues in the digital age. As part of the event, we compiled the following list of resources for anyone who wishes to learn more or troubleshoot their own questions and concerns.

DARTH Resources

Harvard Resources

Lynda @ Harvard

Harvard University has partnered with Lynda.com to provide software tutorials to our community free of charge. To learn more about this affiliation and how you can get an account, check out the official Harvard-Lynda portal at lynda.harvard.edu.

Focus: Afsaneh Najmabadi

Serendipity and artistry have guided Afsaneh Najmabadi in her quest to make the material culture of women in Qajar Iran (c. 1796-1925) available to anyone with an internet browser. Soon after her decision to build the archive Women’s Worlds in Qajar Iran, her mother passed away. As Najmabadi organized her parents’ personal effects, she found letters exchanged between her father’s father and his aunt over an inheritance. This led her to dig further into her own family’s history during Qajar Iran and the discovery of a veritable treasure trove of documentation in the neighborhood where she grew up:

There are twenty-five volumes of registry books…On my father’s side of the family, male members going back several generations were the local, religious notables with whom local people would register births, deaths, marriage, divorce but also all kinds of social interactions such as water disputes, deeds of sale. This was in the late 19th, early 20th century in a period when there were no formal governmental structures that did this kind of registry. All these aspects of life, whether in big cities, small towns or rural areas were entrusted to the local, trusted elderly, especially those with religious training.

These volumes are not in my holding. Basically the grandfather of my [paternal] grandmother is a very well known figure in the neighborhood where I was born and grew up. And he is buried in a mausoleum there and within it is a library where these volumes are kept. Ten years ago, several institutions in Iran started digitizing documents like these, and they went to my grandfather’s mausoleum and asked permission to digitize all twenty-five volumes. That was a huge bonus for us. I went, kind of sheepishly, with my laptop to see the family member who oversees the mausoleum to see if he would give me a table of contents of all the materials there. Instead, he gave me 8 DVDS with all the digitized material. This was shortly before I started WWQI and so it is one of the first collections to make it to the website. You can actually write the social history of this neighborhood—which bears his name—by reading the twenty five volumes of the registry.

Will Najmabadi be the one writing that history? She demurs. Though she plans on immersing herself in the WWQI website during an upcoming sabbatical, Najmabadi’s ambition is that her graduate students will make the most use of the site.  Najmabadi encourages her students to do multi-genre history and not to depend solely on one form of record–documents, works of art, photographs, etc.—rather to juxtapose these multimedia in their approaches to reconstructing social history.

The Women Behind Women’s Worlds in Qajar Iran

Roya Amigh and I shared cake wrapped in tin foil and held mugs of tea to warm our hands on a cold, rainy day in Cambridge while we stared at the object in question on the screen of my laptop: Record no. 1138A36. Embroidered Shelf Cover. Belonged to Munir al-Muluk Jahandari.  Amigh and I were meeting to discuss her involvement in Women’s Worlds in Qajar Iran, a digital archive on the web directed by Afsaneh Najmabadi, Francis Lee Higginson Professor of History and of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality.


Detail of Embroidered Shelf-cover. Record no. 1138A36.WWQI

“There is enough line, enough texture, enough color.”  Amigh, who is a painter and has an MFA in Studio Art from Boston University, paused to consider her choice. I had asked her to promote her favorite image of the more than thirty thousand items “held” in the digital archive of Women’s Worlds of Qajar Iran (WWQI). Amigh has been editing digital images for WWQI for almost a year now. Speaking of her experience with editing these images on Photoshop, Amigh explains, “When I looked at the images to edit, I thought to myself, oh my gosh, these are beautiful…It just satisfied me visually. And not only the image, but also the calligraphy in the letters. The phrases in the love letters.  After a while though, as I was working through a collection it became about getting to know the people in the pictures, or the owners of the objects.” Soon, this process of discovery led her to question her preconceived ideas about the lives of women in Iran, during the time period bracketed by the Qajar dynasty.  “I took history classes in Iran, many, and working with this material destroyed my ideas about women during this time period in Iran.”

Coincidentally, Azadeh Tajpour, also a painter with a MFA in studio art and an MA in Art History from Claremont University and California State University, respectively, had also chosen the same item, the embroidered shelf cover, when I asked her to describe her favorite item. Tajpour focused on another detail, of the man swinging a brazier of rue to ward off the evil eye.


Detail of Embroidered Shelf-cover. Record no. 1138A36.WWQI

Tajpour has been cataloging and translating for WWQI since August 2011. She described some of the detective work involved in creating the records and editing the digital images for the web. The embroidered shelf cover, she notes, belonged to Ashrafi, the Lady of Ashraf, as she was known (picture below). Disentangling family ties and inheritance claims gave her some insight into the life and times of a powerful widow and her immediate family members. Tajpour glosses the family picture for me:

She was a widow after her husband was murdered and was left with sizable property. We have the images of her accounting books which she kept. She, her mother and her mother-in-law, we can follow the transfer and inheritance of property among women. When we saw that the mother had married her daughter’s father in law, at first we thought it was a mistake, but then we were able to piece together how the marriage came about. After the daughter was left a widow, her mother came to live with her. So, there is a picture of the three women, the widowed daughter, and her two mothers in law (co-wives), one of which is also her biological mother.


From left to right: Muhammad Ashrafi (son of Banu-yi Ashraf), Fatimah Khanum (mother of Musa Khan Ashraf al-Mulk), Musa Ashrafi (son of Banu-yi Ashraf), Banu-yi Ashraf, Zibandah Khanum Shahzadah Banu (mother of Banu-yi Ashraf), Maryam Ashrafi (daughter of Banu-yi Ashraf), Ahmad Ashrafi (son of Banu-yi Ashraf)

Tajpour was also surprised that she had owned a backgammon table, a game often associated with men. Soon our conversation shifted to speculation, as we imagined how playing might have allowed Ashrafi to hone her business skills. By measuring the strategies of her opponents at the table she might gain insight into their qualities as partner or competitors. Najmabadi notes that these images have inspired the short stories and vignettes of Shermin Naderi, a writer of historical fiction, who references the WWQI archive in her work.

Undermining stereotypes about women during the Qajar period was one of the main goals of Afsaneh Najmabadi when she started to conceive of the WWQI project ten years ago. Yet even she has marveled at the amount and quality of the material they have been able to scan and photograph for the site.

When we started in 2003, we thought it would be a shot in the dark, that we would collect at most 1000 images. And it just took on a life of its own. The amount of material that we have come across and the quality of the materials surprised me. Bundles of letters exchanged between husband and wife, love letters. In my wildest dreams I did not think we would come across such things. Right now we are close to 30,000 images and I don’t know how many are being processed right now or waiting to be processed. It is truly mind boggling. Our only limitations are budget.

Najmabadi and her team have been overwhelmed by the generosity of families in Iran, Australia, Switzerland, the United States, England, etc., who have given permission for their beloved objects to be scanned and made available to the world on the digital archive. Since WWQI is not only interested in the women of the Qajar dynasty but of all women living in the domain ruled by the dynasty, it is not difficult to imagine the possibility that every household in Iran and among Iranian diasporas might have an object in their homes that belongs to a family member or an ancestor who hails back to the Qajar period. Right now the project has a waiting list of families, within Iran and around the world, that wish to contribute family heirlooms to the digital archive.

What people have to say about their family heirlooms may also form part of the archive. What emerged as an ad hoc process for cataloging purposes, has become another resource for WWQI users, present and future. Najmabadi explains,

We would record family members talking about the objects in order to facilitate record making. But one of my graduate students, Ramyar Rossoukh, a doctoral student in anthropology and the real mind behind WWQI design, said, we should be using the clips themselves. Now, if we have the person’s permission, we provide these audio clips along with the images of the object in question. That is one of the benefits of the digital archive, that you can connect voice to object to picture to memory. That was another thing that “happened” which we now do very consciously.

I confess to Najmabadi the compulsive aspect of searches on her site. From experience, the tags and categories offer endless ramifications and connections for the user. The result is that the site can engross its users for hours. Najmabadi credits Rossoukh for the sites’ “searchability and user friendly absorption.” Najmabadi adds, “He was set on producing something that was visually attractive and grabs people…Something else that we wanted: An archive to be visually stunning, worthy of the material that it showcases. Clocks, backgammon tables, handwriting, we wanted that to be reflected in the design of the site.”


Screenshot of the “Browse” page for the WWQI site.


Each image with its recorded voice and tags on the WWQI site is not only a world unto itself but also a key to an ever expanding universe of connections, the “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” of women’s lives in Iran, present, past and future. Roya Amigh closes our interview with a lead to her own family: “My dad has found some materials that we are thinking to contribute, from his grandmother. She was very powerful. I’ve seen a picture of her. She could touch your soul. She had the power to agree or disagree, to say I don’t want this or that.”

Here’s to the women behind Women’s Worlds in Qajar Iran.

WWQI would like to thank Tara Murphy without whom the project would never have materialized and Cory Paulsen for her sustained supportive work.

Spotlight: Jean Ryoo (’02)

For her senior thesis, Jean Ryoo created multimedia and “experiential” installation pieces that incorporated video and sculpture into spaces through which her public had to crawl, almost childlike. On their hands and knees, they made their progress into a small, cushioned room and were confronted with mystical creatures that were juxtaposed to video and projected stills of urban decay. Speaking of her artistic intent at the time, Ryoo laughs, adding, “I wanted my pieces to be interactive. For groups to physically touch, engage with the material” and bring to the proverbial table their own knowledge and experience of myth and chaos. Jean Ryoo (´02) may have been engaging in a form of “participatory sensing” well before teams of high school students were setting forth with their mobile devices in the streets of Los Angeles to collect data and make sense of urban life in their communities. Now a PhD Candidate in Urban Schooling at the Graduate School of Education at UCLA, Ryoo works with a team of educators to overcome the vacuum of computer science education in underserved, urban schools by expanding access to a comprehensive and introductory program in computer science while addressing the biases of a social imaginary that have upheld certain White or Asian Males as archetypal Computer Scientists.

According to Mobilize CS, a collaboration between Exploring Computer Science, the UCLA’s Center for Embedded Networked Sensing, UCLA Center X, and LA Unified, “participatory sensing is an approach to data collection and interpretation in which individuals, acting alone or in groups, use their personal mobile devices and web services to systematically explore interesting aspects of their worlds ranging from health to culture.” In retrospect, Ryoo muses, her undergraduate thesis would have benefited from the kind of technology that her students are now using within and without the classroom on a daily basis.

Soon after graduating from Harvard College in 2003, Ryoo moved to La Réunion, a French Island in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar, to teach English at public schools there. Her official title may have been “Assistante de langue” but, as there was no English teacher to assist, Ryoo was able to develop her own curriculum and teaching materials. “The French government was very kind and supportive, but it was a situation in which the job description did not fit the actual responsibilities. But I had a wonderful time!” The experience allowed Ryoo to answer her true vocation, teaching. Before La Réunion, Ryoo had volunteered her time as a tutor through the Phillips Brooks House Association, though at the time it had never crossed her mind that teaching would be her future career path. It had always been “the fun thing you do in your free time.”

Upon her return to the U.S., Ryoo applied and was accepted to the University of Hawaii at Manoa´s teacher education program. She was attracted to their program because of its overarching philosophy that teaching is an act of social change. (She also admits to an enduring affection for island life.) Effecting social justice through teaching became an overriding concern for Ryoo during the year in which she applied to graduate school. She taught at a Charter School in Roxbury for one semester and returned to her hometown, Los Angeles, in the spring to work for the Champions Afterschool program where she taught Art at elementary and middle schools and took kids hiking on the Santa Monica trails on the weekends through the Adventure program. There she witnessed some of the disparity in access to physical education among communities of color in Los Angeles. Ryoo notes that one of her advisers, Jane Margolis (Harvard Ed.D., Class of 1990), forcefully compares the current and historical inequities of swimming education in communities of color to the lack of access to computer science education in Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race and Computing (MIT Press, 2010).

In Hawaii, Ryoo earned her certification in secondary English and Social Studies teaching and taught at a local high school. The experience confirmed her belief “that teachers have an incredible power and privilege to effect change from within the classroom, but I became frustrated with the limitations of what I could do […]” She also read extensively from Paolo Freire´s work in critical pedagogy which inspired her to return home to pursue a PhD in Urban Schooling at UCLA. There she joined the Exploring Computer Science (ECS) team (led by Jane Margolis), which does advocacy work and curricular development to promote computer science as one of the core cognitive skills. Ryoo is passionate about promoting computer science critical computational thinking through computer science, observing that “if we don´t understand how digital media and algorithmic thinking work, we will continue to be uneducated consumers of other people´s inventions. We teach people to read, why don´t we teach a deeper understanding of CS and its workings? Obviously, I don´t feel that everybody should become a computer scientist, but everyone should have a working knowledge of it and an understanding of the problem-solving skills.” Ideally, computer science education could start in middle school or even elementary school but for now the program is focused on high schools because it is the more immediate stepping stone for college and pursuing a career in CS, if students so choose.


In addition to developing a CS curriculum for all, the ECS program includes a professional learning community for ECS teachers. Currently, all CS instructors are teaching out of subject in addition to their core subjects (chemistry, history, English, etc.) for which they are certified. This can make teaching CS classes a solitary and daunting experience. Exploring Computer Science brings teachers together once a month and during the summer to build community through professional development. When Ryoo started working for ECS in 2008, six teachers were involved and now twenty-nine schools from the Los Angeles Unified School District (L.A.U.S.D.) work with the program; Chicago public schools are currently teaching ECS and a recently funded project is supporting the development of ECS in Washington DC schools as well.


Before Exploring Computer Science developed its core class, computer science offerings in LAUSD public schools offered typing classes and a privileged few had the option of Advanced Placement Computer Science. The ECS curriculum introduces students to several different topics over the course of a year: human-computer interaction, problem solving and algorithmic thinking, web design (html and CSS), robotics, animation and game design with Scratch (a visual programming for beginners invented at MIT), and data analysis. Ryoo´s dissertation research focused on the use of mobile phones in the context of the data analysis unit in schools around the city. Students use mobile phone apps and web servers to conduct community research. Learning to use and analyze the data they collect, they then create their own narratives of this experience. For Ryoo, one of the most memorable projects was that of a student who used mobile phone apps to analyze billboard advertising in his community and snacking habits at his high school. In an effort to understand whether or not neighborhood advertising might be affecting health-related behaviors at his school, he created a website that explored all data collected by his class. Through this work, he learned to have a critical eye for data analysis, recognizing how a causal relationship between advertising and snacking could not be made with the limited amount of data collected. However, this student completed the project with the empowering conclusion that he didn’t have to ‘wait for CNN’ to learn about the world, but now understood how to be a researcher himself. It is a clear example of the inquiry-based approach that is the basis for the curriculum developed by Gail Chapman and Joanna Goode. As Ryoo elaborates, “collaborative group work and hands on projects draw from students’ questions so that a much deeper learning happens through that process, rather than through rote memorization. Students will come across CS ideas and methods in the process of trying to tackle other problems. It´s about listening and giving value to the knowledge and experiences that students already have, before entering the classroom, instead of treating them like a clean slate.”


As a participant observer in the CS classroom, Ryoo notes the difficulties for teachers using an inquiry-based approach for the first time. “In many respects, it´s about letting go…allowing your classroom to get noisy, realizing you won´t have all the answers to students’ questions. Having a good sense of humor is definitely important!” She also has to strike a balance between observing and promoting good practices, such as reminding teachers to call on girls as much as boys. One unexpected result from the program: teachers are also using the skills and practices learned from their professional development for CS teaching in their core subject classrooms.

Check it out:


Bringing the Giza Pyramids to Life

3D or not 3D? That is the question. Egyptologists and digital artists discuss the advantages of navigating on screen through archaeological sites in 2D, versus donning 3D glasses for an even more immersive experience. Using 3D computer animation and digital artistry to reconstruct the ancient Egyptian site of Giza, arguably the most famous archaeological site in the world, the Giza Project at Harvard is bringing the site back to life on screen. This is happening at Harvard’s Visualization Center, located in the Geological Museum. Project staff, along with partners at Dassault Systèmes in Paris, are making it possible for students and researchers alike to become “participant observers” in the burial rites carried out by avatars of ancient Egyptians, and to experience the ancient landscape and monuments in real-time as never before. Both amateurs and experts enjoy the benefits of travel in time and space, the results of a collective and ongoing effort of the team, under the direction of Peter Der Manuelian, Philip J. King Professor of Egyptology and Founding Director of the Giza Archives Project at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. From 2000 to 2011, the Project at the MFA was benefited from more than $3 million in support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Part of the beauty (both artistic and scholarly) of the team’s forays into ancient Egypt is the excitement the 3D Giza site can encourage among its viewers, from amateurs to visiting Egyptologists of international renown. Beyond visitors’ initial (overwhelmingly positive) reactions, the Giza team members are gathering detailed feedback from scholars to improve the interface and experience. The Giza model also allows us to pose new research questions and new ways of viewing the site, both from above and below ground that were previously impossible.


Egyptologists Nicholas Picardo and Rachel Aronin, Giza Project Research Associates, work closely with the team´s technical artists, Rus Gant and David Hopkins, to ensure that all the structures and objects from the Giza Pyramids, temples and tombs are represented as accurately as possible on the Giza 3D model. They are updating and cross-referencing data from more than a century’s worth of maps, photos, expedition diaries, objects and other materials of the groundbreaking excavations led by George A. Reisner (class of 1889) for the joint Harvard University–Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition (1905–1947). Current excavation data are also being incorporated, as are Giza materials from a consortium of international collaborative partners from institutions in Berkeley, Berlin, Cairo, Philadelphia, Hildesheim, Leipzig, Turin, and Vienna.


Avatar of George A. Reisner (1867–1942), Harvard’s first Professor of Egyptology, standing in a Giza tomb chapel. Still image from 3D animation. Image courtesy of Dassault Systèmes, Paris.

But what is an accurate digital representation for a tomb that is more than four thousand years old? Hopkins and Gant note that where a damaged column of hieroglyphs appears on the tomb chapel wall of Queen Meresankh, colleagues Aronin and Picardo could theoretically reconstruct the missing signs based on Egyptological research. What, then, should be the conventions for displaying reconstructions of hieroglyphs? Manuelian dreams out loud, raising the possibility of introducing a timeline mode that would allow users to scroll from four thousand years ago to the present and back again, displaying the site in its original and current states, with many phases in between. Moreover, Manuelian raises the possibility of “crowdsourcing” selected monuments so that Egyptologists and digital artists from around the globe could get involved in populating the site with additional data at a faster pace. Gant notes that crowdsourcing was unimaginable ten years ago when the Giza work began. Today, powerful bandwidth and widespread access to the same digital tools and formats have leveled the playing field among research centers around the globe.


Digital reconstruction of the subterranean tomb chapel of Queen Meresankh (G 7530-7540), discovered by the Harvard University–Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition in 1927. Image courtesy of the Giza Project.

The research possibilities for the Giza 3D model have also increased dramatically. “We have now come to the point where we are no longer just using research in order to build a visual model,” adds Picardo, “but we are also reversing the process, taking the model and using it for research.” This is the “future of digital archaeology,” he contends, noting that it is “a pioneering effort in the field of Egyptology.” Already, images from the reconstructed models of selected Giza tombs grace Manuelian’s scholarly publications, including, most recently, Mastabas of Nucleus Cemetery G 2100. Manuelian and Gant also envision expanding accessibility to an even larger public, making the work available to visitors on the Giza Plateau itself, and in the forthcoming Grand Egyptian Museum, scheduled for completion a few years from now, as well as in museums at Harvard and elsewhere.


A museum visitor experiences the immersive environment of the Giza Plateau. Photo courtesy of the Giza Project.

The Giza Archives and Giza3D visualizations are at an exciting juncture in research, development and dissemination, with possibilities applicable to HarvardX and EdX as well. Aronin smiles as she acknowledges the Sisyphean task at hand; though the current crop of team members may not be able to render the entire repertoire of the Giza Plateau’s temples, tombs and artifacts in 3D, they will nevertheless set the stage for the next generation of scholars to come.

Check it out: