For you, with all best wishes…

Yep, there’s a new version of QueryPic.

About 18 months ago I created a little Python script to visualise search results in Trove’s collection of digitised newspapers. After a bit more tweaking. I christened it QueryPic. People started to use it. It was even reviewed in the Journal of Digital Humanities. With the release of the Trove API earlier this year I rewrote the whole thing in Javascript and let it loose on the web. People could make graphs without having to download any code or fire up the command line. Anyone could play.

And now?

The latest version lets you save your QueryPics. As new features go it’s not very revolutionary. But it meant another significant shift. From Python script, to web page, to web app. The Javascript-enabled interface now connects to a Django-powered backend. Save a graph and you can access it via a lovely, short, persistent url (like this). It’s as much a platform as a tool. But to be persistent, the urls need to work for ummm… a long time. Is this even possible for a project that has no funding and a support team of one?

I don’t know.

My enthusiasm for making tools is punctuated by regular bouts of doubt and disillusionment. With millions of dollars being spent on industrial-strength digital research infrastructure why should I devote my evenings to hand-crafting pretty little widgets like QueryPic?

My grandfather made this brass dish. He owned an engineering workshop and forge. My dad was a draftsman, engineer and builder. My mum made fine dresses in the fashion houses of Melbourne. I make things too. It’s what I do. It took me quite a few years to work this out. Years spent wondering why I felt out of place in academia. I’m also a historian, so I research and I write, but without some time to tinker, well… I’m just not happy. Making things is not separate — for me it’s all part of being a historian. I make things that let people connect to the past in different ways. And along the way I learn.

And by people I mean people. Just last week I took part in an online question and answer session organised by Inside History Magazine. It was a lot of fun. Amidst the questioning I unveiled the latest version of QueryPic. Considerable excitement ensued. QueryPic graphs are starting to be included in research publications, but anyone can make and understand them. Local and family historians are enthusiastic users of digital technologies and I’m excited to see them playing around with tools that I’ve made. I want to create things that other people use. Things that help them, and sometimes surprise them.

QueryPic has graduated from WraggeLabs to dhistory — my platform for digital history research. There it joins The Front Page and Archives Viewer. As usual, I have big plans. Are they practical? Probably not. Are they sustainable? I doubt it. Will I keeping making things anyway? Of course.

So please accept this gift. I made it for you. I hope you find it useful.

QueryPic — explore digitised newspapers from Australia & New Zealand.

Features include:

  • Save and date-stamp your graphs with persistent urls — perfect for citing and sharing
  • Copy and paste query urls from Trove or Digital NZ, or connect automatically with a handy bookmarklet
  • Easily regenerate saved graphs to draw in updated data
  • Explore QueryPics created by others — use them as the starting point for your own visualisations
  • Combine any number of queries, either from Australia or New Zealand
  • Click on the graphs to preview matching articles

All this and more documented on QueryPic’s extensive help page. Code on Github.

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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