Technical Summary

From David Wojnarowicz Knowledge Base
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Our technical decisions have been guided by the following goals:

  1. To develop a web-based tool to promote and support scholarly research in contemporary art.
  2. To build a powerful and stable technology infrastructure at minimal cost.
  3. To integrate our goal for long-term preservation of the site into all phases of planning and development.
  4. To develop a model that is flexible enough to be used by the scholarly community at large for studies in contemporary art.
  5. To build a system which supports current and future pedagogical goals for training the next generation in this field.

Note: The David Wojanrowicz Knowledge Base was originally developed on the MediaWiki platform and rendered in the current static format in June 2020.

Scholarly Goals

Early in the project, our research on the artist’s work revealed that it is the relationships among the compositional elements and aspects of the artist’s works that determine the nature of the underlying conceptual database for this project. After some experimentation by the computer science team, it became clear that a traditional Collections Management System such as The Museum System [1] or Omeka [2] would not suffice to meet the challenges in this field of contemporary art (see the “Wojnarowicz Challenge” page). We considered customizing an open source content management system (CMS) using an open source framework such as Drupal [3] but that would have required considerable custom programming leading to both higher development costs and higher future maintenance costs. We selected a wiki for our Knowledge Base to insure a stable and high-performance web environment . In addition, we selected MediaWiki software [4] in order to leverage both the category/subcategory functionality provided natively by the wiki software to group web pages in meaningful ways; as well as the powerful page/section structure to create meaningful URLs for linking within and across pages.

Our Commitment to Open-Source Software

We are committed to open source software for this project for many reasons. As scholars, we believe that our contribution to the study of contemporary art and artists should be completely transparent, including the software that we have built. We are mindful of the budget constraints for many arts and archival institutions . We have designed and built our project using readily available open source and free software so that others may learn from our experience and emulate any and all aspects of our work as they wish.

Technical Infrastructure and Components of this Project

The Artist Archives - David Wojnarowicz project uses two wikis and one WordPress site to meet the needs of our scholars, researchers, students, and users. The project portal is based on a WordPress site initially developed in WordPress [5] version 4.5 using a child theme based on Editor [6]. The purpose of the WordPress site is to provide a visually enticing and clean opening to serve as a Project Website to all of our current and future artist sites. We selected WordPress for the Project Website as it is open source; it can be developed by graduate students in the Humanities and the Arts as it does not require extensive technical training; it has a strong user base; and we anticipate minimal systems maintenance needs going forward, thus ensuring that our preservation goals are met.

We have also installed two wiki’s as part of this project: the Knowledge Base and the Archivist Administration wiki. We initially installed MediaWiki software [7] version 1.26.2 for several reasons from a technical standpoint. MediaWiki is the software used for the popular Wikipedia [8] and related sites so we anticipate a shallow learning curve for our users. This platform has a large and growing user-base so we anticipate minimal systems maintenance needs and we believe this platform meets our preservation goals for this site. We strive to configure the wikis as needed rather than using custom programming in order to further support our preservation goals and to minimize both our development and our long-term system maintenance costs and needs. Both wiki's use the Metrolook skin[9] which is derivative (fork) of the Vector skin and uses responsive design.

The two wiki’s are as follows.

The Knowledge Base wiki contains the reports and information about our artist, in this case, David Wojnarowicz. Note that we are using the Knowledge Base wiki to present research and findings; we do not provide the typical wiki options for users to sign in and add their own information. All non-members to the Knowledge Base have read-only access. Contributions to the site are welcome; instructions are posted here [hyperlink] and users are requested to send their scholarly contributions by email [email address] to our archivists and scholars who review the material before posting it to the Knowledge Base.

The Archivists’ wiki contains training pages for our scholars, students and staff; sample pages for each member of the team to use as they learn wiki markup; and notes on administration and management such as workflow, media file specifications, and other information required for the scholars, students and staff. We plan to continue to engage graduate students from a variety of fields (art history, museum studies and other related areas of study) in this project alongside the archivists at Fales Special Collections [10] and therefore we anticipate training additional students and scholars each year. We plan to encourage this “turn over” so that our project will meet our pedagogical goals along with our scholarly goals. Scholars and students who are new to wiki markup thus have a “sandbox” in which to experiment and learn without concern about disrupting the production environment. This is a self-documenting project as we encourage scholars, students and staff to update and add to the training manuals and user documentation on an ongoing basis in order to share what they learn with others.

Media Specifications

The audio files (e.g. interviews with friends and colleagues of the artist) are recorded in archival format files and posted to the Knowledge Base as .mp3 files. The software uses the MediaWiki extension Html5Mediator [11] for streaming the .mp3 files. Still images are posted as low-resolution .jpegs. Videos are hosted by Fales and accessed through the Knowledge Base as external URLs for streaming directly from the Fales Wojnarowicz Finding Aid[12].

Our Commitment to Pedagogy: Training the Next Generation of Art History Scholars, Curators, Archivists and Systems Staff

This project meets many pedagogical goals. A current list of student participants is posted here. Students have participated in this project through a variety of courses; internships; and independent study projects. To date we have worked with graduate students from Museum Studies [13], the Institute of Fine Arts[14], Media Culture and Communications [15], Moving Image Archiving and Preservation (MIAP) [16] and Learning From Artists' Archives at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill [17]; and undergraduate students in Computer Science [18] . The graduate students have been given access to add and edit scholarly content in the WordPress and wiki sites. The Computer Science students have been given access to work directly on the web and database servers to participate in the installation, implementation, and configuration as the project has progressed; as well as to provide assistance by building software tools to assist with data migration and other tasks.

Glossary of Terms

A wiki webpage on a unified topic.
Content Management System (CMS)
A CMS provides a user interface for adding and updating data in a database without the direct intervention of a webmaster. MediaWiki[19] is configured using PHP along with either MySQL, PostgreSQL or SQLite as the underlying database.
CSS (Cascading Stylesheets)
CSS[20] is a stylesheet language widely used on the web to format the presentation of the page contents.
Directed Graph
A directed graph[21] is an abstract concept to help one visualize the relationships among entities; in the case of MediaWiki, one could visualize the relationships among the categories as a directed graph (as opposed to a strictly hierarchical design).
Extensions[22] are software programs that allow one to customize MediaWiki and add functionality. They are analogous to "plug-ins" in Wordpress.
The database[23] software used with this implementation of MediaWiki.
A server-side programming language for scripting webpages; PHP[24] is used on our server for this site.
Responsive Design
A shifting layout along with re-sizing elements on a webpage to optimize for phone, tablet or desktop monitor display.
Skins allow MediaWiki developers to develop a consistent visual "look and feel". Skins[25] are analogous to "themes" in Wordpress and other CMS.