Digital Literacy through Omeka

One of the major problems confronting digital history is the lack of understanding and knowledge among historians on how to create digital products. Cohen and Rosenzweig write in our first week’s reading, “We think that it is a mistake for historians to confine themselves purely to history (narrowly defined) and then turn their digital projects over to “experts.” In this new medium, new and creative work will only come out of equal collaborations among partners with different perspectives and skills.” In watching the tutorials and seeing the different ways that Omeka can be used, it seems to me that this is a great way to get historians more involved in the creation of digital works. Because it is free and open sourced, Omeka seems as though it would be fairly simple to use. Also, in looking at the different ways in which archives, libraries, museums, universities, and non-profits have applied it, it appears to be incredibly versatile.

This versatility is partially because of the various plug-ins and themes that they provide. In fact, the DIYHistory webpage I use for transcribing historic cookbooks uses Omeka as a platform using Scripto, CSV Import, Dropbox, Dublin Core Extended as plug-ins. It is the Scripto plug-in that is used in the transcribing of the documents from the Iowa Digital Library. This website was extremely helpful in explaining how to use Scripto with Omeka, and provides examples of documents and audio that one can practice transcribing. Some of the websites created on Omeka are more complicated and use more plug-ins, while some are simply used as parts of other websites.

Omeka not only provides links to the plug-ins but also extended information on how each can be used. In seeing the “Exhibit Builder” one listed in several of the Omeka websites, I decided to read up on it further. This plug-in claims that “users can build complex pages without any programming knowledge.” It appears to me that by using Omeka, historians can take control of their digitized archives and exhibits without having to pass them over in their entirety to experts who are better versed in digital language. Another plug-in that I found that relates to the mapping section of our course is Neatline, which you can find here.  In the demos on this website, neatline shows how visual mapping can use a combination of the written word and physical space to create a story. In this case, mapping Civil War battles using letters written by soldiers. All of these tools are available to historians in their creation of digital exhibits, and all come with instructions that are fairly easy to understand.

While there are plenty of problems with historians and the academy becoming more digitally literate, Omeka offers an opportunity to experiment with a web archive or exhibit. Also, I could see where there is a learning curve that would help historians and others not directly involved in the computer programming field would be able to create more sophisticated webpages using the tutorials and other informative videos. There is  a forum as well as a twitter account that are useful in getting more information and help troubleshooting websites. By becoming more digitally literate, we can hope that there would be more general acceptance among those in the academy to accept these works as scholarship for tenure and other purposes.

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