Creating an Online Exhibit with Scalar

Scalar can be used to create an online exhibit, either through a free, hosted account at, or through an installation of Scalar on your own hosted domain. Scalar can work well in undergraduate survey classes not focused on public history, because it allows students to create public websites using artifacts vetted for the public domain, and makes importing the metadata seamless and accurate. Students benefit by learning the fundamentals and importance of metadata without being bogged down in the details more suited to a different course.

Setting up a Scalar Site

  1. Create an account.
  2. Create a “book” (exhibit).

Adding Media from Online Sources

Here are the directions to import media from online archives. There are two main categories of online archives (affiliate and other), as well as local media files to consider.

Affiliate Archives

These are specially designated collections that have a relationship established with Scalar. These relationships allow you to import the metadata along with the artifacts. This means you will not need to type in the basic factual information identifying the item, because it will be imported automatically. Directions for this process are here, and key sites are listed below.

  • Critical Commons. Through CC, you can search Wikimedia, Flickr, Youtube, and other sources for materials in the public domain.
  • Internet Archive. Through the Internet Archive, you can find print, audio, video, and photograph sources. Be sure to check each source individually to verify that it is in the public domain.

Other Archives

These collections also have been set up to import metadata automatically. Of special interest here is the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met has put 400,000 digital images online. For use in the public domain, look for images tagged OASC at the bottom of the image. Directions for importing media from these “other archives” are here.

Local Media Files

You may find other public domain materials that you want to import into a Scalar site. Download those to your own device and then upload them directly into Scalar. For these items, you will have to add your own metadata information. Be sure to add the following information: Artist, Title, Date, Source of Image. You may choose to add additional information as well. Directions for importing media from local media files are found here.

  • Library of Congress. You will need to use this Local Media File process to incorporate media from the Library of Congress. Be sure to check each item individually to verify that it is cleared for use on public websites.

Adding Imported Media to Your Site

Once you have added your media, you can then incorporate it into your website. To do this use the blue media buttons inside the page editor. See details here.

Site Structure

Your site will have multiple pages. It is up to you to decide how users should navigate your site. You may choose to limit their navigation path to one using the menu on the left side of the screen. Alternately, you may also choose to use Scalar’s “paths” feature, which is described here.

Add-on Features

Once you have designed your basic Scalar site, you can create additional materials to make it more engaging for site visitors.


This is a tool that can create interactive timelines very quickly. To use it you will download and fill in a spreadsheet with dates, titles, visual files and other information. Once the file is processed, the TimelineJS site will generate an interactive timeline and give you the embed code to use to add the timeline to your site. Here is a video about how the process works. Here is the place to start using Timeline JS. Scalar also just announced an updated process to integrate Timeline JS into your Scalar sites. Those directions are here.


This is a tool that allows users to navigate a map image as a means of moving through a collection of information. It is created using the same basic process used for TimelineJS. You download a spreadsheet, fill it out with the required data, and then submit the file for processing. The result comes back with an embed code for your site. Here is where to find it.


If you wish to tag an image so that site visitors can hover over pins and see popup information about various aspects or locations, you can easily use Thinglink. This can be a great way to make images interactive, or to create low-tech but high-impact and informative maps. Thinglink is available here.

Social Explorer

If you wish to create a map of U.S. population demographics based on historic U.S. Census data, you may wish to try Social Explorer. To use it, create a free account and then select the data you wish to map. You can then export those maps and use them on your website. You can also generate data tables if you wish to analyze data in a tabular format. Social Explorer is available here.