General:Mandala Browser





It allows you to do fairly sophisticated visual browsing of any XML document or collection of documents. Parts of documents or entire documents appear as dots around the periphery. You create colourful magnets and assign values to them. These magnets draw the dots into the centre space. There is a text viewer off to the right, so you can see what is inside any given dot. You can also export what you find for later study.


  • An XML document, or a collection of XML documents.
  • A copy of the Mandala browser.


To set up Mandala:

  1. go to
  2. click on the highest version number
  3. a ZIP file should download to your computer
  4. unzip the file to create the mandala folder
  5. doubleclick the .jar file to run the mandala browser

To use Mandala:

  1. Figure out what tag in your xml file will be used as a dot in the mandala.
  2. Copy your xml file into the mandala directory.
  3. Copy the file name.
  4. Doubleclick the jar file to start the mandala.
  5. Paste the file name into the “Open” field top left.
  6. Type your dot tag into the “Dots Represent” field top left.
  7. Push the “Load” button. Dots should appear around the periphery. Large files may take a few minutes to load.
  8. An empty magnet is preloaded. Set up the criteria for it and watch the dots gather to it. For a free-text search on all XML fields, type the search text in the box and hit return. To narrow the search, first select an XML field from the picklist above the search box. You can also choose to see a type-ahead response while typing by clicking on the checkbox called “Search as you type.”
  9. Create the next magnet, and fill in its criteria.
  10. Iterate as necessary.
  11. Read items in the panel on the right by clicking them or lassoing them in the main circle.
  12. If you click on a given magnet, you may be unable to see information that you want. If this is the case, then click on the Display palette and on the "Fields always displayed" dropdown and select more boxes to display. If you return to the magnet, you will now be able to see the extra information in the reading pane on the right.
  13. If you would like to see the finer details of your Mandala visualization, you may zoom in / out and adjust the screen with the Display palette. Click on the Display palette and you may zoom in / out with the ‘+’ and ‘-‘ signs. Another way to zoom is with a mousewheel / two-finger scroll. You may also navigate the screen with the ←, →, ↓, ↑ arrows. If you’d like more control, you can click on the hand tool to drag the screen around.
  14. We may also export our Mandala visualization by clicking Export on the bottom-right side of the window. If you choose Text, you can save a copy of the text displayed in the reader panel. If you choose Screenshot, you can save a visual copy of the Mandala visualization.


You might be interested in occurrences of words representing emotions in the works of George Eliot. To investigate this relationship, you could load the George Eliot collection, and then create magnets representing "happy," "sad," "angry," and so on. You can examine the passages in which the various terms are mentioned, and find which works they they appear in.


A screencast explaining how to use Mandala is here:

Suggested Activities

  1. Try to find all passages in Romeo and Juliet in which Romeo and Juliet mention the word "hate."
  2. Try to find the text of all passages in Jane Austen's works in which the words "think" and "feel" are both mentioned. Click on one of the dots and then find out in which works they are mentioned by using the "Fields always displayed" function.
  3. Try zooming in and out and resetting the selection state.



A document describing Mandala is available here:

Advanced Tips

  1. You can use regular expressions to set up magnet values, allowing you to have several tags, for instance, attracted to a single magnet.
  2. You can also search on tag attributes.

Who has worked on creating it

Mandala was developed with funding from SSHRC by Stefan Sinclair, Anthony Sapp, Matt Patey (McMaster University), Stan Ruecker, Oksana Cheypesh, Constanza Pacher, Rhiannon Gainor (University of Alberta), Sandra Gabriele (York University)

Where to read about it

Brown, Susan, Patricia Clements, Isobel Grundy, Stan Ruecker, Jeffery Antoniuk, Sharon Balazs, Stéfan Sinclair and Matt Patey. “Thinking Beyond the Text: Using the Mandala Browser to Explore Orlando.” Paper presented at the Society for Digital Humanities/ Société pour l’étude des médias interactifs annual conference at the 2008 Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities, University of British Columbia. June 2-3, 2008.

Gainor, Rhiannon, Stéfan Sinclair, Stan Ruecker, Matt Patey, and Sandra Gabriele. [Forthcoming]. “A Mandala Browser User Study: Visualizing XML Versions of Shakespeare’s Plays.” Visible Language 43(1). 2009.

Ruecker, Stan. “Experimental Interfaces Involving Visual Grouping During Browsing.” Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research. 1(1). 2006.


Download from See a demo video at

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