Omeka is a free Content Management System (CMS) and a web publishing system built by and for scholars that is used by hundreds of archives, historical societies, libraries, museums, and individual researchers and teachers to create searchable online databases and scholarly online interpretations of their digital collections. If you have a digital collection of primary sources that you want to publish online in a scholarly way, you’ll want to consider Omeka. Omeka allows to describe the items according to archival standards, import and export that descriptive information from other systems, and to create as many interpretive online exhibits as you like from those items.
Through this workshop, we are going to create and populate a database with artifacts from B. Altman’s & Co., the department store that until January 1990 resided in the building that now houses CUNY's Graduate Center. We are then going to create a sample exhibition that uses the items in our collections to tell the story of the store in the first two decades of the 1900s.
In this workshop, you will learn the following skills:
- Understand some of the conceptual challenges faced when developing digital archives
- Create an online database of digital archival items
- Create a public facing exhibition featuring items from your collections
- Consider using Omeka as a teaching tool in undergraduate and graduate classes
Projects that use these skills
The City of Boston archives is an excellent example of an Okema website in which a selected set of data from a larger database, most likely managed by a different CMS, was imported. The City of Boston archives relies on the basic functions of Omeka that we are going to explore today to catalogue and display a set of items, sort them into collections, and use them to tell stories in the form of digital exhibitions.
Colored Conventions is a website that uses Omeka a stand-alone CMS and fully takes advantage of the platform's potential. This collaborative project aims to collect rare proceedings, newspaper coverage, and petitions from state and national political meetings of once captive Black people between 1830 and 1890. Colored Conventions is also a great example of how Omeka and digital archiving can work as pedagogical tools. It received awards from the MLA, ASA, and PCA/ACA along with grants from the NEH, Mellon Foundation, and CLI.
- East Bay Punk Digital Archive The East Bay Punk Digital Archive (EBP-DA) is a project spearheaded by Stefano Morello and funded by the Digital Initiatives, Lost & Found, and the New Media Lab at The Graduate Center, CUNY. It aims to preserve and make available – to researchers, subcultural participants from around the world, and a general public unfamiliar with the topic – the subjugated knowledge produced by participants in the punk-rock commons that loomed in and around the San Francisco Bay Area between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s.
When working on a digital archive, you want to keep in mind issues concerning intellectual property and privacy. As far as the former, careful consideration of copyright interests is an important part of digital archives. Be sure you have thought through questions such as "Is the content of my archive under copyright?" "If so, who owns the rights to the material?" "If not, am I attaching a Creative Commons license to the content of my archive?" "Who needs to be acknowledged/credited?" "Does the way I'm using this material fall under 'fair use'?" On the other hand, when it comes to privacy, remember how the expectations of privacy of the creators of the items in your archive (think, for example, of artifacts origianlly intended for private or limited public consumption, such as a letter, or a zine, respectively) might differ from what online publishing entails. It might be a good idea to have a take down notice on your website, especially if you didn't receive explicit consent to publish all of your material directly from its creators (rathr than just those who own the rights to it).
Don't forget that, as Digital Humanists, we are not trying to REPLACE archivists or librarians, but rather, conceiving with them new and better ways to preserve, make accessible, and legible archival content. In other words, rather than re-invent the wheel, it is often a good idea to be in conversation with archivists and exchange prespectives on the kind of work that you are doing. Here are some reflections that might help you shape the conversation.
- Other things you want to keep in mind and will be discussed in the workshop are discoverability, accessibility, and sustainabiltiy.
- Next Steps/Resources
- Digital Archive Research Collective (DARC) Wiki
- Omeka Documentation
- Omeka S Documentation
- Current Author: Stefano Morello
- Contributing Authors: This workshop was developed by Stefano Morello, based on Amanda French's Introduction to Omeka Lesson Plan.