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Annotating Digital Collections

This module explores ways to annotate research and sources found on the web and facilitate close reading exercises that can be particularly useful in the classroom.


  1. Improved understanding of how annotating online resources using digital tools can help students better understand the disciplinary practices and threshold concepts of your field.
  2. Ability to annotate images or text found on the web using different online services.
  3. Ability to engage with others on your own website by installing plugins (available through WordPress) to encourage users to annotate your work.


Questions to Consider

  • Monte-Sano, Dean, and Schulten discuss annotation as a way to teach students to better interrogate sources. How might you use this type of exercise to engage your students in close readings of documents, images, visualizations, or other sources that are accessed online?
  • Visconti’s piece addresses how a professional community used annotation tools to collaborate. How might you use an annotation tool to collaborate with your peers on a scholarly project? Are there drawbacks to this method? What are the advantages?


Activity 1. Web page annotation with Hypothesis or Genius web annotator:

If you are interested in using an online annotation tool in your class, which is best for text, try Hypothesis (the tool used by Visconti, as mentioned in the readings). Genius, mentioned by Dean and Schulten, can also allow you as the annotator to publish an annotated version of something online.

  1. Hypothesis: Read this guide developed by the Hypothes.is team, on how to use Hypothesis in the classroom: Jeremy Dean, “Back to School with Annotation: 10 Ways to Annotate with Students,” https://hypothes.is/blog/back-to-school-with-annotation-10-ways-to-annotate-with-student. To start annotating or playing around on your own, sign up for an account: https://hypothes.is/.
  2. Genius: This tool not only lets you annotate any type of web page, or objects embedded in a web page, but you can also share your annotated pages with others. You’ll need to sign up for an account and then read the simple directions for using Genius, as seen here: http://genius.com/web-annotator.

Activity 2. Image annotation with ThingLink:

ThingLink is a good tool for teaching students to closely examine images of any kind (maps, visual culture, photos of objects, photos of documents, etc.). They can annotate on their own and then email a link to their project or embed it into a webpage. You may also find this useful for a presentation of your own work.

Activity 3. Annotating your WordPress site:

Hypothesis, Genius, and ThingLink each have WordPress plugins that make it easy to annotate and to invite others to annotate your WordPress site.

Install and try one of these plugins on your site:

Working on a project? See the Project Planning section for guidance on thinking about audiences.

Project Lens

Take a look at this annotation project on Genius for annotating lyrics to the songs of Hamilton, the musical: http://genius.com/albums/Lin-manuel-miranda/Hamilton-original-broadway-cast-recording.

  • Each phrase is highlighted with annotations that appear in the right column. In this example, https://genius.com/7856095, the annotations contextualize one lyrical phrase and connect the reader to a map or other web sources (i.e., Google Books and Wikipedia), as well as linking to lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda’s other work.
  • Next, look at how the application tracks the contributors to each annotation, as well as the number and types of edits (see the “View All Edits” section). Notice that Lin-Manuel Miranda is also involved in this annotation project and approves or “cosigns” certain interpretations in annotations. Authors can be verified and participate in conversations about their work. Another example is Junot Díaz commenting on his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, https://genius.com/2002589.
  • While Hamilton has attracted a wide audience, Genius can be used for lesser-known texts of any kind. And this platform might be familiar to students, particularly devoted music fans, and an intuitive venue for them to work in for an assignment.
Updated on August 1, 2018

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