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Module 2: Introduction to Digital Local History

This module will introduce students to the use of computers to present historical sources and narratives, focusing on the software platform that will be used in this course, Omeka. Remember, the goal of this course is to help you develop a project proposal which combines a digital collection with a historical narrative.

Due date for Module 2 Assignments: Friday, June 12, 2020 by 11:59 p.m.

Deadline for Module 2 Assignments: Saturday, June 13, 2020 by 11:59 p.m.

Digital history is one approach to historical research, that of using computers and the web to examine, represent, share and discuss the past. There are currently two broad strands of digital history:

  1. digital history which centers on the collection, distribution and presentation of material online, for different groups of the public, for use in classrooms, and for scholarly audiences;
  2. digital history which involves the use of computational tools to analyze language and meanings in texts, to create maps and network graphs of relationships, and to create 3D models; the results from these computational tools can be used for both discovery and interpretation.

In this course we are concerned with the first strand, the presentation of historical research online.

READ: Stephen Robertson, “Categories of Digital History”

About Omeka.net

There are a range of different freely available web publishing platforms that can be used to represent history online. Each has different strengths and weaknesses; however for this course, you will use Omeka.net.

Omeka is an appropriate platform for a project focused on collecting sources. Omeka is a web publishing platform that is focused on items (a document, work of art, a person or an idea) and describing them. It allows files to be associated with items and extensive metadata to be attached to every item. Omeka allows users to build compelling and engaging exhibits from the items they have created, and to organize those items into easily accessible digital collections. Additionally (and importantly), it has extensive user documentation and a vibrant community of users that can help you to develop your project.

Your work in Module 2 allows you to set up the installation you will use in the course, and to provide you with some sense of what can be done with Omeka before you explore examples of digital local history sites created using the platform. 

PRACTICE: Complete Miriam Posner’s “Up and Running with Omeka.net” tutorial. Remember, when naming your Omeka site you should choose a name directly related to your topic!

PRACTICE: Complete Miriam Posner and Megan R. Brett’s “Creating an Omeka Exhibit” tutorial.

Assignment 3 (15 pts): Share the url of your Omeka.net site in the #assignment3 channel on Slack.

Exploring Digital Local History with Omeka.net

Omeka provides a platform for presenting answers to historical questions. Those presentations are created using a plugin called Exhibit Builder, a name that reflects Omeka’s origins as a tool for archives and museums. The name highlights that Omeka presentations are designed to feature items. An exhibit consists of pages, each of which is made up of blocks that can take four forms: text, items and text, galleries of items, or a single large-scale display of an item’s media. 

REVIEW: Local History Sites Developed on Omeka.net

  • Reviewing examples of other projects will help you understand what your own project could look like – although the examples are generally much larger in scale than what you will be able create in a 5-week course. These sample projects also provide the opportunity to start thinking about the elements of an effective digital local history site.

Assignment 4 (15 pts): Select one of the example sites from the review document above and analyze it, using the following questions:

  1. What is the topic and purpose of this site?
  2. Can you find an about page? What does it tell you? What doesn’t it tell you?
  3. What is the content of the site – what kinds of material does it contain?
  4. How is the content organized?
  5. What kind of sources does it use?
  6. How does it use historical sources to pose and/or answer questions? How much context does it provide for the sources it presents?
  7. How are the site’s exhibits organized? Are the pages easy to read? Is each page an appropriate length – was there an overwhelming amount of text? Did you scroll all the way to the bottom of each page?
  8. How effective are the answers the site offers to the questions it poses?
  9. Based on this example, what makes for an effective Omeka digital local history site?
    Type your answers up in a document, then post a link (or attachment) to that document to the #assignment4 channel on Slack.

Assignment 5 (20 pts): Draft your research proposal (200-400 words).

  • Take the question you developed in Assignment 2 & describe how you would answer it.
  • Consider how you would use Omeka to present that answer and construct a historical narrative: you can create a visual sketch to illustrate your written proposal; just take a photo and insert that photo into your proposal document
  • Post a link (or attachment) to your proposal in the #assignment5 channel Slack.
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