Examining Omeka

This week in Doing Digital History, we learned about Omeka. Omeka is an open source platform that allows users to create virtual archives and exhibits by uploading items and accompanying metadata. Omeka is easy to use, but it still creates great-looking and easily navigable user-facing sites. Concordia’s own archives uses Omeka for its Concordia Memory Project. Omeka helps accomplish one of the biggest goals of the digital history field: making primary sources easily accessible to the public.

Looking further into the opportunities Omeka presents, I looked at the Humboldt Redwoods Project. My first impression of the site is that the web design looks pretty good. I especially like the sliding bar of images. It allows the site to display some of its photographic images on the home page, hopefully hooking visitors into wanting to learn more about the images themselves.


Photographic images displayed on the homepage of the Humboldt Redwoods Project Omeka site.

On the flip side, it looks like some of the Humboldt State University logo images are no longer available on the site. Our class will need to keep this in mind if we decide to use Omeka for our digital project. How can we ensure that our site will be long-lasting with minimal maintenance required?

My favorite feature of the Humboldt Redwoods Project is the interactive item map. I always love maps; they provide a clear visual interpretation of data. Linking clickable data points on the map to specific items provides an easy way for users to explore items in the collection as well. It also provides users with geographic data that is hard to visualize in other formats. Unless you’re very familiar with California geography and forestry, merely naming a place provides little information. Pinpointing a location on a map gives every user a better idea of the context of each item.

The Humboldt Redwoods Project has an interactive map feature linked to items in the collection. Users can search the collection from a tab in this menu.

The biggest drawback of the Humboldt Redwoods Project, in my opinion, is that there is not an easy way to see a list of all the items on the site. To get to an item list, you have to select Browse Items Map. From there, a menu with the options to search items by tag or browse all items appears. This is not intuitive web design. Users who are interested in searching the whole collection might have a frusturating time trying to reach an item list since it’s not an option on the home menu. I think when we’re designing our own Omeka site, we’ll need to try to think from a user’s point of view. What might they want to initially search? What categories on our menu will provide intuitive information to our users? What menus can we bury deeper for advanced users? Do we need a tutorial page for how to navigate our website?

Looking ahead to how our class might use Omeka, I have some ideas for our Clay County marriage mapping project. We’ve all talked extensively in class about we might visualize where each partner originated before their marriage. Looking at the mapping tools that Omeka provides, it looks like we’d be able to easily plot a point on a map for where each person is from and link that point to an item, perhaps a census record showing their address. The challenge of this is how to easily show which couples ended up marrying. How can we depict which people match with each other on the map? Is there a way to link two points together? These questions will require further exploration of Omeka’s capabilities. Either way, I’m optimistic that Omeka can provide a great platform for our final project.

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