Starting from One with Web Design

Hit the ground running with Bootstrap and other web design tools.

N.B. Much of the following post is a continuation/ sequel to Starting from Zero with Web Design, so if you haven’t read that post you may want to start there, as it provides context for the information given here. On the other hand, if you haven’t read the earlier article, I have also included tips for jumping ahead, that is, over, coding all together. 

You don’t have to start from scratch.

Humanists have busy schedules. Between our dissertations, articles, teaching, grading, etc. etc….. etc… there isn’t much time left to learn code and build a website. But we still have interesting collections, data, maps, and other ideas to share. Can we still be digital humanists? This has been the debate at the center of the field for years, partially because of remarks made by Stephen Ramsay, who has far, far more clout than I do, so I’m going to avoid a lengthy discussion for now. But, in short, technology has advanced so rapidly that you no longer have to know how to code, let alone program, in order to build, which is, at least according to Ramsay, the crucial element of digital humanities.

Some of the sources below are absolutely free, while some require a monthly fee. Many platforms require no coding experience at all, while others, like Bootstrap, require some working knowledge.

WordPress is a simple, free platform for sharing research, bibliographies, and archives. Most people think of WordPress as simply a blogging tool, but you can also set up “Pages.” What’s the difference? Blogs are displayed and read in “rolls,” so that each new post appears above the previous posts on your homepage. A “Page” is a single post, like an “About” page or “Links” page that is static, but easy to update. You simply edit your page to add new information, rather than adding a new post. Tawnya Ravy’s SalmanRushdieArchive is a great example of a DH project that runs off WordPress. There’s a small, yearly fee of around $18 for adding your own domain name, but it’s free if you keep as your URL.

If you decide to get server space (either free or paid hosting), you can run WordPress on your site for free by downloading from, and many host providers like GoDaddy include a WordPress plugin to run your entire site or even just a blogging component of your site. I use the WordPress plugin to power the blog page of my own website.

Blogger is powered by Google, but is very similar to WordPress. It’s a free blogging service with a lot of templates to choose from. You can also add static pages to organize information or archives. One benefit of Blogger is that you do have access to your source code to change colors or fonts. This allows for increased customization over WordPress, which makes you pay extra for many customization options.

Drupal is another powerful Content Management System (CMS) for websites that you can use if you already have server space. Like, Drupal is free and open source; however, it is not designed specifically as a blogging platform. Drupal is for designing more dynamic websites. You can use one of Drupal’s templates “out of the box,” or if you are code-savvy, you can customize the design to make it uniquely yours. Drupal is often used by web developers for high-profile, massive hits pages; for instance, is a Drupal site. Drupal is also available as a free plug in from many server providers.

Squarespace is a great all-in-one option that probably costs less than your Netflix subscription. You get server space, a domain, and a ready-made theme/template. A simple tutorial program leads you through the steps to customize your page. No coding is required. Squarespace is $8 per month if billed annually, or $10 for a month-to-month plan. For a few dollars more you can get buy a sleek template that will make your website look like you paid a developer thousands of dollars.

Bootstrap: So let’s say you do know a little bit about coding, or at least enough to poke around and figure things out, but you don’t want to start your HTML or CSS from scratch. Bootstrap is a free, open source framework for web design and development. If you’ve worked your way through Codecademy‘s “Build Your Own Professional Website” course, then you already know a little about Bootstrap. It’s the coding framework you use at the end of the tutorial to recreate the Airbnb website, which is built with Bootstrap.

Bootstrap was designed by people at Twitter, but because it’s open source, a lot of variations are available via GitHub (a website for sharing open source code of all kinds) and other sites. My own website was built using a version of Bootstrap called “Modern Business,” which includes a javascript image carousel, similar to what you find on Hulu or Netflix, along with over a dozen templates for webpage. If you download the Bootstrap package, it comes with HTML, CSS, Javascript, fonts, and a lot of other extras. I didn’t know a lot about CSS and nothing about Javascript when I started using Bootstrap, but you learn a lot more by doing. Here’s an entire gallery of really great websites built with Bootstrap. Because it’s so versatile and easy to use, a lot of web developers are now getting paid a lot of money to build customized Bootstrap sites.

We want to hear from you!

Do you have any tools, platforms, or plugins that you recommend to people who want to get their DH project up and running? Do you have more excuses for why you still haven’t started that DH project you’ve been rolling around in your head for months? Let our team of marginally trained grad students help you out! Tell us what to write about next time!


Lori Brister is a doctoral candidate in the English Department at The George Washington University, where she is completing her dissertation on the history, literature, and ephemera of nineteenth century tourism. She is currently building an interactive GIS program that maps texts and images related to tourism. To learn more about Lori’s work, visit


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s