Content Management & Exhibits

Session 5 Recap

This week, we focused on Omeka and other ways to digitally archive (and present) research items. Two focus questions dominated our discussions.

  • Why create digital exhibits? 
  • Who benefits and has access through traditional vs. digital exhibits? (And what does that say about these exhibits?)

Group discussions mostly centered on diagramming/talking about potential architecture of individual Omeka sites, which included research topics such as: economic and food history; Myra Bradwell (or about Bradwell vs. Illinois court case); moonshine; popular music in politics; especially with presidential campaigns; American nurses in World War II; Letters from Union and Confederate veterans; History of the Appalachian Historical Association; and others.

As we progressed in our understanding of digitizing collections, one questions soon took over: What is the real purpose of an Omeka site? (Archival? Exhibition? Biography?) Other questions included:

  • What is the logic and organization of it?
  • Which way do you want to lean?
  • What story do you want to tell? 
  • Pendulum between narrative and archives?
    • Will you include an argument?

We also discussed what an Omeka Rubric would look like. More questions came to the fore:

  • Who is the audience?
    • Can the site be closed or open?
    • How do the decisions you make speak to a particular audience?
    • What is the impact of language and tone used, as well as depth of information and layout?
    • How do you communicate things visually in and effective way? (Links, videos, sounds, etc.)
    • Research and Evidence: How compelling are they?

One of the best ways to make sense of how historians are using tools like Omeka (and the more basic tool) is to look at published and in-progress works, such as: Baltimore Uprising.

  • What was the intended audience?
    • Local community of Baltimore
    • People who lived through it
    • People who need to learn about it more/weren’t there to see and understand it
    • Repository for researchers
    • Multiple audiences?
    • Crowd source memory project

We also examined the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank and the September 11 Digital Project. Although both sites may have too much information, collections, and items, in some some they also have too little — it all depends on the user experience and what visitors may be looking for. If too much is archived, some of it will never be seen, and there will be a lot of redundancy that becomes hard to organize and maintain. More questions came to mind …

  • Who manages large collections online and how do they deal with its size and relevance? 
  • Do we want people to still contribute to these collections today? Why or why not?
  • Also the issue of immediacy: Do you get good quality? Are people not reacting with emotion? Is it better to have distance and get perspective?


Be picky about what makes final cut in terms of items/collections because you want the photo or item to speak for itself in a powerful way. But also make sure text is provided as a complement and to provide meaning.

Think about audiences and the relevance of each item: you never know what people are looking for and they might latch on to something you didn’t mean for them to latch on to.

Find exemplars as guidelines, especially when you have public input/contributions, so that you get items that are relevant and respectful.

We ended our session by exploring the Jane Addams Omeka site and several others to see what’s possible for graduate student research projects.

–Taylor, Elizabeth, Jarrod, Chamberlain, and Emily

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