The best source for design ideas for your humanities portal is to look at other scholarly portals, lots of them. Find a straightforward, conventional, rich design (lots of information always in view), and follow that design. The general idea is: don't get it original, get it right.
Devote all your screen space to what will directly help the user, not to logos, not for big type for the name of the Director, not for other administrative debris. Celebrate your information, not your institution.
Try to put at least 200 links on the opening screen, as do many news portals. Arts & Letters Daily, the "intellectual's portal," has about 600 links on their single screen.
Probably the single best thing that can be done to have a good portal is to get your users working on high-resolution screens.
In general, avoid 3-D metaphors for material that is not physically or inherently 3 dimensional. Often the metaphor will come to dominate the screen; instead the information should fill the screen. Also a metaphor may create a navigational puzzle.
In Visual Explantions, read pages 146-150, which deal directly with interface design. Envisioning Information is the most interface-oriented book: maybe start with an index search of the word "interface".
-- Edward Tufte