Embedded archives

Some of you may have noticed that my Hacking a research project post featured a file from the National Archives of Australia embedded as a Cooliris widget. Huh? To jog your memory, here it is again:

These certificates allowed non-white Australians travelling overseas to re-enter the country. NAA: ST84/1, 1906/21-30

No, it’s not just an image, it’s a little 3D wall. You can pan and zoom to your heart’s content. You can enlarge an image, view fullscreen — you can even share an image via Twitter. Fun for all the family!

Regular viewers will recall my previous encounters with CoolIris — Archives in 3D and CoolIris enabled scrapbook — but these relied on having the CoolIris plugin installed. The embeddable Flash version wouldn’t work when the images were coming from the NAA because it upset Flash’s cross-domain settings.

So how did I get it to work? For various other projects I’ve been playing with simple image proxies using Python and Django, so I just applied the same principles. The image proxy makes it seem as if the images are coming from a local source, thus keeping Flash happy. Hurrah!

I’ve added a few little tweaks, so you can now view any digitised file in the National Archives of Australia in a CoolIris wall. Just go the the file browser page and enter a barcode. Even better you can install a bookmarklet. Just drag this link to your bookmarks bar (or save as a favourite) — View on wall. Then go to an item page in RecordSearch and click on the bookmarklet for 3D magic.

If you want to share a link to a file displayed in the 3D file browser, just use a url of the form:


— where [barcode] is fairly obviously the barcode of the file you want to view. For example:

If you want to embed one of the mini-walls in your blog post it’s easy. Just go to the CoolIris Express site and create your own wall. When it asks you for content source, click on ‘Media RSS’ and then in the ‘Feed URL’ box put:


— where [barcode] is… well, you know…

I think this a pretty interesting way to view, browse and navigate digitised files. Using Flash, rather than a browser plugin makes it more accessible, but I’d still rather have something based on open software and standards. I think it won’t be too long before we see something similar using Canvas and Javascript. That’ll be really exciting.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Tim Sherratt Written by:

I'm a historian and hacker who researches the possibilities and politics of digital cultural collections.

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