Visual Haggard

A digital archive

Strategy & Goals

Visual Haggard is a digital archive created to support academic research and class room instruction. This archive preserves, centralizes, and improves access to the illustrations of popular Victorian novelist H. Rider Haggard. Visual Haggard aims to revalue and reintegrate the illustrations of Haggard's novels as unique artworks and texts for contemporary audiences.


A number of digital archives focused on 19th C. arts and culture have appeared in recent years, but scholars noted that there remained a real need to collect the complex and lush visual history of H. Rider Haggard.

Image credit: Abbey Horton's "The Faces of Amnesty"

Our team used a double diamond approach to determine the most appropriate form and content for this archive. To prepare for this project, I interviewed stakeholders, studied other successful academic digital archives, and researched the histories of illustration Haggard’s bibliography, and disciplinary conventions in design and digital humanities.

Prototyping & Design

In collaboration with co-founder and lead developer Joe Essey, we created an information architecture flowchart on paper. Because the relationship between books, edition, and serials is complex, we designed a sophisticated data structure to manage this hierarchy. After settling on an appropriate wireframe design, Joe built the web application using Ruby on Rails. I populated the database with images I obtained, scanned, and cleaned up using image manipulation software. I also wrote metadata on the site including the date of publication, artist, place, as well as encyclopedic summaries of all illustrators, novels, and editions.

Usability Testing

Since the archive's deployment in 2013, this project has gone through several stages of iterative design. In addition to gathering feedback at professional conferences, the team submitted the archive for review with NINES, the Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship. Reviewers asked for several revisions in the content and structure. For instance, the alphabetical labeling needed to ignore prepositions like “a” and “the.” Reviewers also requested br /eadcrumbs to navigate the After collecting feedback from peer review stakeholders, Joe and I revised the archive for NINES federation.

Handoff & Continued Iteration

VH won 1st runner up in the 2017 DH Awards for Best Use of DH for Fun. The archive continues to grow, and is used in classrooms internationally, including the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, the University of Western Ontario, the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, and the Georgia Institute of Technology. To read about how I have used this project in the undergraduate classroom, see my post for the Chronicle of Higher Education's ProfHacher blog: "Using Digital Archives to Teach Data Set Creation and Visualization Design."

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