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Peter D. A. Boyd

Multi-disciplinary Content Management in Darwin Country - a case study

Peter D. A. Boyd

Collections Manager and Darwin Country Project Coordinator Shrewsbury Museums Service

Notes from a presentation with the above title given to Joint LITC/LAMIT Conference on Content Management for Information Professionals at the South Bank University, London on 11th April 2002


"Darwin Country" is a website project that was initiated in February 2000. The first stage was called "Cradle of Science, Technology and the Better Life!" It was created to provide an inter-disciplinary introduction to scientific, technological and social development in part of the West Midlands during the 18th and 19th centuries.

It was intended that it would enable life-long learners to explore the history of the period through the archives, paintings, decorative arts, archaeology and scientific collections of the partner museums. The project was grant-aided by the Resource IT Challenge Fund and the West Midlands Regional Museum Council until March 2001 and the WMRMC supported the project with further grant-aid during 2001-2002.

The initial partners were Shrewsbury Museums Service (the lead partner), Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust and the Wedgwood Museum.

The scope of Darwin Country was extended after March 2001 and by April 2002 the website had over 5000 pages and images. The initiation and development of the first stage of the Darwin Country project is described elsewhere (Boyd 2002 Web version available).

The Darwin Country website consists of dynamically generated pages. The website structure was the result of the wish to provide access to images of museum objects in a multi-disciplinary way and create what I have called a 'knowledge-net'. Orangeleaf Systems provided a Content Management System for this. The content of the site is stored in a mySQL database running on a LINUX machine with Apache as the web server. The pages are created using queries on the database server using the open source server side language PHP, using just under 20,000 lines of code. Some graphical interface work was performed using Perl 5.

The following notes provide the text of 'text slides' and the url for screen-views used to prepare 'screen-shot slides' in the presentation.

Slide 1

Website Content Management in the context of Darwin Country

Content Management is not just about a software system for running a website

Content Management is part of the process that:-

Slide 2

The Vision

Slide 3

Screen-shot of database-driven Home Page of Darwin Country website

Slide 4

How do you navigate the site?

Slide 5

Time Page

Slide 6

Conceptual model of 'hierarchical' database-driven website

Conceptual diagram showing 'hierarchical' structure of most websites whether 'hand-crafted' or database-driven. Each circle represents a page or link so that navigating a website from a link on the Home Page (at the top), the routes are pre-defined by the designer of the website. The visitor can only reach a particular page (at the bottom) via one particular route.

Slide 7

What does a hierarchical structure mean in terms of navigation on a site?

Examples: People>Names>Charles Darwin Topics>Ceramics>Porcelain>Coalport Porcelain Places>Staffordshire>Barlaston>Wedgwood Pottery

Slide 8

Conceptual model of 'knowledge-net' database-driven website

Conceptual diagram showing 'knowledge-net' structure of the Darwin Country database-driven website. Each circle represents a page or link and navigating the website from a number of links on the Home Page (around the edge), the visitor can follow a wide range of different routes, exploring the site but 'theoretically' still arrive at the same particular page (in the centre). In practice, the website provides thousands of pages and possible routes which increase as the website grows.

Slide 9

What does a knowledge-net structure mean in terms of navigation on a site?

Example - all of the following and many others:-

People>Names>Charles Darwin

People>Occupations>Naturalists>Charles Darwin

Topics>Evolution>Fossils>Charles Darwin

Places>Shrewsbury>The Mount>Charles Darwin

Slide 10

Places Page

Slide 11

Screen-shot of part of database-driven page of Darwin Country showing example of an interactive map that provides another means of accessing pages about particular 'places'.

Slide 12

Screen-shot of part of database-driven page of Darwin Country showing a 'topic' (Pteridomania) linking to other related 'topics', 'plants' and timeline. Lower down on such a page, thumbnail images of related museum objects link to pages about those objects (e.g. ferny Coalbrookdale cast-iron seats).

Slide 13

Result of clicking on thumbnail to open medium image and object details

Slide 14

Result of clicking on medium image to open large image

Slide 15

Plants page

Slide 16

People page

Slide 17

Screen-shot of part of a database-driven page of Darwin Country showing text with images about Charles Darwin reached via an initial trail of 'places', the trail of pages followed, links to 'top' categories and 'find', links to categories related to page displayed, and timeline. The same page could have been reached from 'people' or via numerous other starting points or trails.

Slide 18

Animals page

Slide 19

Objects page

Slide 20

Screen-shot of part of database-driven 'Images' gallery where thumbnails of all the objects illustrated on Darwin Country provide access to larger images and information about the objects.

Slide 21

Topics Page

Slide 22

Search results for 'Osmunda'

Slide 23

Medium image of Osmunda sy1803

Slide 24

Some Website Project Management Processes

Processes to be managed after set-up of project include:-

1.Selection of museum objects

2.Photography/digitisation of museum objects (2D/3D)

3.Preparing primary object record on website database using Content Management System - based on individual images with at least one category link

4.Uploading images (thumbnails, medium and large)

5.Enhancing object image record with text, keywords and category links - may need to create new categories

6.Making object records live

Slide 25


Slide 26


Slide 27

The Content Management System

CMS Admin page

Slide 28

CMS Objects table view showing clubmosses

Slide 29

Medium image of clubmoss

Slide 30

CMS Objects database input form

Slide 31

Making Connections

Records are made up of:-





Each 'category', 'object' or 'event' may be linked to up to 7 categories

In this way objects may appear as 'Associated Objects' on up to 7 different pages

Slide 32

CMS Objects database input page showing Red Admiral Butterfly entry showing use of html for scientific names etc.

Slide 33

The result

Content Management -in all senses of the term - allows:-

However - more can be done - more quickly - if you have subject specialist staff and more money!

Slide 34

Home Page again

Slide 35

Screen-shot of Home Page of touch-screen version of Darwin Country for in-gallery use. This uses the same database of information as the web-based version.


Further details of IT projects in Shrewsbury Museums Service at:-

BOYD, P.D.A. (Forthcoming). 'Darwin Country - a case study in website creation and content management' In Special Content Management issue of Spectra (a publication of the Museum Computer Network). Web version available

BOYD, P.D.A. 2002. 'Darwin Country - Cradle of Science, Technology and the Better Life!' - a case study In Clicks and Mortar - building cultural spaces for the 21st century. Proceedings of Museum Documentation Association Conference, September 2000. Web version available

BOYD, P.D.A. 2000. Heritage UK plc - a portal to space and time through web GIS. In Geographic Information supporting UK plc. Association for Geographic Information Conference Proceedings 2000. Published on CD. Web version available

BOYD, P.D.A. 1999. GIS in Museums - a case study. In Access to Better Information. Association for Geographic Information Conference Proceedings 1999, 8.9.1-8.9.7. Web version available



Darwin Country website at

Shrewsbury Museums Service Website at

Orangeleaf Systems website at

Peter D. A. Boyd's website at


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Revised: April 14th 2002.