Teaching with Omeka: Help Documents to Scaffold the Process

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*UPDATE May 12, 2016: This updated and condensed Generic Omeka Lab covers setting up an account, selecting a theme, activating plug-ins, adding an item, starting a collection, etc.  I’ve come to use this document as a general introduction to Omeka.net for students and faculty.

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Omeka.net is a free online platform that allows users to build digital exhibits.  Omeka has fabulous applications in the humanities classroom (a topic for another post!), so I’ve developed a suite of help documents to support students here at Southwestern to build writing-intensive Omeka projects.

Omeka itself offers great resources on the teaching front, including these user guides for students and educators.  There’s certainly some overlap with these guides in the documents below, but I tailored my help documents to forefront and pre-empt sticking points and questions that I’ve found students commonly have, at least in my particular experience teaching with Omeka.

First, a fine example of a student-built Omeka site:

Native Books, Images, & Objects, created by Dr. Patrick Hajovsky‘s Spring 2015 Art History course at Southwestern University.

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I consulted with Dr. Hajovsky’s class over the course of this Omeka project, and the help documents I created subsequently were inspired in part by that experience.  Since Omeka’s many functions and features can be daunting at first, these documents are meant to guide students through the process of building an Omeka project in a fluid, intuitive, integrative progression, where one step–starting an account, adding an item, building a collection–leads to another.

Without further ado, here are the help documents!  Your comments and additions are most welcome.  Don’t hesitate to get in touch (nunesc@southwestern.edu) if you have feedback or ideas for documents to add to this series.

Omeka Help Doc 1_Starting Your Omeka Site

Omeka Help Doc 2_Contributing To Your Class or Group Omeka Site

Omeka Help Doc 3_Adding an Item to Your Omeka Site

Omeka Help Doc 4_Creating a Writing Intensive Omeka Project

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“Taking History Out of the Box”: Fun with Archives at the Latina History Project

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It’s been a busy few weeks at the Latina History Project! Having processed, selected, and digitized primary source materials pertaining to a 1992 Southwestern University photography exhibition titled “Rostros y Almas/Faces and Souls” including the work of photographer Mary Jesse Garza and featuring influential Central Texas Latinas, student workers Tori and Nani have been hard at work building a Latina History Project online exhibit.  Since the photography exhibit represents an important intersection between Latina history and SU’s institutional history, the students are using Omeka, a web-publishing platform to build digital collections and exhibits, to highlight primary source materials pertaining to the planning and execution of the 1992 photography exhibition.  We still have work to do before the site goes public, but here’s a sneak peek at the landing page:

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And here’s a shot of us collaborating on the site:

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Left to right: Nani Romero, Charlotte Nunes, and Tori Vasquez making important decisions about aesthetics, organization, and metadata for the Latina History Project online exhibition!

In order to get the site up and running, we had to decide on an Omeka “theme” to determine the aesthetic identity of the site.  We also had to decide what metadata fields would be most relevant and useful to identify and describe the assortment of digitized primary source items we want to include in the exhibit.  Establishing the basics of the site turned out to be a great opportunity to talk about the identity of our project at large, and relatedly, what descriptive categories we want to prioritize in order to convey the significance of the selected primary sources to Latina and SU history.  We hope to launch the public site in Fall 2015.

In addition to establishing the Omeka site, the students also recorded their own oral histories, which we will include as primary sources on the site.  We took advantage of SU’s newly acquired sound booth in the Smith Library Center (acknowledgements to the Mellon Foundation for the grant funds that enabled us to get the sound booth!).

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Sound check! Left to right: Charlotte and Nani

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Tori (left) and Dr. Brenda Sendejo (right) have a laugh before getting down to oral history business.

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Dr. Sendejo facilitates an oral history interview with Tori (left) and Nani (right).

Dr. Sendejo brought her extensive experience conducting oral histories to bear facilitating the session with Tori and Nani.  She invited the students to share their experiences and thoughts including:

-impressions of Southwestern University upon arrival, and current perceptions of SU from their perspectives as Latinas.

-experiences with the Latina History Project.

-connections between the Latina History Project and their lived experiences at SU.

-reflections on the 175th Anniversary of SU, including representations (or lack thereof) of the Latina/o experience in campus anniversary celebrations.

Tori and Nani shared their dynamic perspectives on experiences of both inclusion and exclusion at SU.  Nani shared that for her, one of the most valuable aspects of the Latina History Project is the opportunity to literally “take history out of the box.”  In the process of selecting, digitizing, and exhibiting Latina history primary source materials that were delivered to us in a mid-sized paper storage box, we’re thinking “outside the box” about SU’s institutional history: highlighting the history of the 1992 “Rostros y Almas/Faces and Souls” photography exhibit is a way to insert a Latina historical perspective into our university’s institutional narrative.  Hear Tori and Nani’s oral history below.

For our LHP semester finale, Tori, Nani, Dr. Sendejo and I enjoyed a day trip to UT-Austin’s Benson Latin American Collection.  Dr. Sendejo arranged a fantastic introductory session with Benson archivist Christian Kelleher.  Christian provided some useful tips and strategies for approaching archival research, then showcased a selection of fascinating materials from the Gloria Anzaldúa Papers housed at the Benson.

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Christian Kelleher provides a tour of the Benson Latin American Collection finding aids.

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Tori (left) and Nani (right) view an archival photo while Christian Kelleher (center) discusses its context.

After our session with Christian, we decamped to the Reading Room to conduct independent archival research.  Tori and Nani submitted folder request forms and got busy exploring the Anzaldúa Papers.

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Arriving in the Benson Reading Room. Left to right: Dr. Sendejo, Tori, and Nani.

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Tori (left) and Nani (right) explore their selected folders of archival materials in the Benson Reading Room.

Archival research makes you hungry!  We concluded our session with a well-deserved PIZZA FEAST.

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YUM

Congratulations to Tori and Nani on a semester of hard work and great development on the Latina History Project.  Thanks also to faculty co-Directors Dr. Sendejo and Dr. Alison Kafer.  Wishing a great summer to all and looking forward to continuing our adventure in Fall 2015!