I use Omeka as a major component of Creating Digital History, a graduate course for NYU’s Archives and Public History Program. Students in the course locate, digitize and contribute digital items to the Greenwich Village History Digital Archive, learning how to create metadata, mapping their items, and creating an exhibit on some aspect of Greenwich Village History. Some of the issues that have come up in using Omeka are:
- Tech skills versus History skills – The range of technical skills that students bring to the class varies greatly. Omeka works well out of the box, but to create customized exhibits, students should know HTML, CSS or PHP. Should we be attempting to teach that in addition to the digital history skills and practices? How much emphasis should we put on learning technical skills in a history course?
- Enhancing Exhibits – As students are participating in a group-created digital archive, they do not have a lot of flexibility in how they enter metadata or how the digital archive will appear. Where they do have creative license is in their exhibits, which they create on their own, or in a self-selected team. Without having programming skills, changing the look of exhibits is not that easy. I am working with a programmer to develop a theme that can be more easily customized, enabling user-defined fonts, colors, backgrounds and navigation. I am interested in talking about the options students should have in exhibits lay out, and whether anyone has new ideas on how to structure exhibits within the section and page format that Omeka imposes.
- Structured versus Unstructured Tagging – The first two years that I taught the course, students tagged their items as they thought best, and the results were a mish mash of tags with little rhyme. While working on a new theme, I decided that controlling tag vocabulary was more useful as a tool for searching the items and exhibits. This will be the first year we use these newer tags and I’d be interested in talking to those who have built larger collections (ours has about 900 items after 2 years) about how they use tags.