Archive for the ‘Omeka Powered’ Category

Omeka Powered: The Great Society Congress

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

This post is part of an ongoing series where the people behind Omeka-powered sites talk about their content, process, and working with Omeka.
In this post, Wyatt and Danielle Emerling share their thoughts on building the website The Great Society Congress.

Danielle Emerling headshot Jay Wyatt headshot

Jay Wyatt is Director of Programs and Research at the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History & Education, and Danielle Emerling is Assistant Curator, Congressional and Political Papers Archivist, at the West Virginia University Libraries. They co-curate The Great Society Congress exhibit, a project of the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress. The exhibit team includes Debbie Davendonis-Todd, Baylor Collections of Political Materials; Sarah D’Antonio, Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics; and Hope Grebner, Drake University.

1. Would you briefly explain how you came to the project

Jay: Developing some sort of collaborative project that drew on materials based in ACSC member collections had been an unrealized organizational goal for a few years before we actually started on The Great Society Congress project. The subject was broached during a panel session at the ACSC’s 2014 annual meeting that Danielle and I attended, and afterward we began talking informally about how we could move forward with such a project. That was early summer 2014.

Going the way of a digital exhibit quickly emerged as the best option, as doing so allowed us to keep costs down and easily overcome obstacles like geographic distance by using readily accessible digital tools to work on documents and manage submissions.

We initially considered focusing specifically on the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But after doing some research on the Great Society, we decided to expand the project to cover the full 89th Congress (1965-1966). Taking on the larger project allowed us to highlight the pivotal role that Congress played in creating the Great Society on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.

2. What made you decide to use Omeka?

Danielle: We used Omeka at the University of Delaware Library, where I worked at the time, to create the 22 Months: Ted Kaufman in the U.S. Senate exhibit, and we liked a lot of its features. We could use an array of item types and easily add descriptive metadata to those items. We could control the content and layout for the exhibit without having extensive web design skills, and we did not need to rely on IT staff to support the site beyond installing Omeka on a server. For these reasons, and because it’s easy for multiple users to contribute to a project, ACSC decided to use Omeka. The UD Library agreed to host our digital exhibit, and the Web Services and Digital Humanities Librarian, Audrey Hamelers, worked with us to create the “widescreen” template for the site.

3. Has using Omeka changed the way you think about content? If so, how?

Jay: Definitely. As a historian, managing materials the way an archivist or curator normally does wasn’t something I had much experience with before working on The Great Society Congress. As a result, I wasn’t thinking so much about how incorporating each document’s metadata and making it available to visitors would enhance the exhibit early on. I was more focused on the design layout and what the user experience would be like. But because Omeka allows for the inclusion of metadata for each document, we’ve been able to create an exhibit that is visually engaging and informative and also a fantastic tool for conducting primary source research on the 89th U.S. Congress, the legislation of the Great Society, and the broader political environment of the mid-1960s. The Great Society Congress now contains more than 400 primary source documents, each with full metadata. Including this component has added a unique utility to the exhibit and prompted me to think a bit more broadly about the content we include in the exhibit.

Danielle: Curating this exhibit has been a unique opportunity to engage with archival materials from multiple institutions and collections and to sew them together into a narrative. The flexibility of Omeka allowed us to represent the multiple threads that emerged from ACSC members’ contributions. While our initial focus was the legislation passed in 1965-1966, we were able to broaden the exhibit to explore the Congress and that time period. We included content about the members of the 89th Congress and the rules and procedures that shaped the process of policy making. We wove in the perspectives of the American people and the larger social movements and international events that influenced action in Congress. In Omeka, we were able to create three exhibits that are brought together with simple pages to accommodate these three distinct areas – The 89th Congress, The Legislation, and The Political Environment.

4. What piece of advice would you give someone who wants to build a project like yours?

Jay: Plan, plan, plan well in advance. We started working on this project almost a year before we went live with the exhibit in April 2015. As a team, we did a great deal of research on various content management systems like Omeka, surveyed other popular digital history websites and exhibits in an attempt to define how we wanted the exhibit to look and function, and ultimately developed a framework for managing submissions. This was all in addition to the research we conducted on the Great Society and the 89th Congress itself. We met all of our goals and deadlines, but only because of the planning and organizing that we did early on.

Danielle: I second Jay’s advice! One of the most important things we developed was a content standard that provides guidance to contributors for interpreting and completing the Dublin Core fields for their materials. This made submissions much more consistent overall and saved our team a lot of time.

5. What is one of your favorite items from the site to share

Jay & Danielle: We both really like the constituent correspondence that is included throughout the exhibit, and especially in the Civil Rights and Vietnam features. The Civil Rights section alone contains more than thirty constituent letters, from individuals to their representatives and senators in Congress. They show in vivid detail Americans grappling with tough, complicated issues relating to social justice and, in regard to Vietnam, when, where, and how American military power should be used.

Jay: That said, my favorite document in the exhibit is a full color pamphlet produced by the Tobacco Institute, Inc. titled “Tobacco — A Vital U.S. Industry.” The pamphlet was submitted by NARA’s Center for Legislative Archives and is included in the exhibit feature profiling the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act. The pamphlet includes several fantastic illustrations and images and was part of prolonged pushback by the tobacco industry against efforts to warn Americans of the dangers of smoking via warning labels on cigarette packaging and in advertising. Ultimately, the efforts failed, but the pamphlet provides interesting insight into how the tobacco lobby tried to position itself as a central part of the American economy in an effort to stave off new federal regulations, regardless of the larger public health implications.

Danielle: I really like a series of video clips captured during a 1966 congressional delegation trip to India, led by Representatives Robert Dole (R-KS) and W.R. Poage (D-TX), in which they surveyed the drought and food shortage in that country. The video has excellent content, but it didn’t exist in its current form before this exhibit. When we called for contributions from ACSC members, the Archives at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics and the W.R. Poage Legislative Library decided to work together on this issue of Food for Peace. The Poage Library found a silent film in their collections, and the Dole Archives realized they had recently digitized audio from the India trip. The video and audio matched! This resource is a great example of the benefits of a collaborative project like The Great Society Congress.

Omeka Powered: Preserve the Baltimore Uprising

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

This post is part of an ongoing series where the people behind Omeka-powered sites talk about their content, process, and working with Omeka.

Denise Meringolo headshot

Denise Meringolo (@DDMeringolo), Associate Professor of History and Director of Public History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is a scholar-practitioner in the field of public history. She teaches courses in community-based public history practice, material culture, and visual culture. Her research explores the significance and value of American cultural institutions. In this interview, she talks about the origins and development of the community-collecting site Preserve the Baltimore Uprising: Your Stories. Your Pictures. Your Stuff. Your History. which uses the Contribution plugins.

1. Can you (briefly) explain why you decided to build this site?

I am the Director of Public History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and I am a practitioner of community-based public history. In general, that has meant that I partner with a variety of public history organizations in and around Baltimore to plan and implement history projects that can advance their educational and political goals. I train my students to be both responsible and responsive –to build relationships and trust first in order to develop projects based on a keen understanding and empathy for a given community’s goals and interests.

However, when Freddie Gray died in police custody in Baltimore, my students and I were confronted by something I already knew to be true: sometimes it is crucial to be responsive even if you do not have the luxury to be cautious. My students and I knew we wanted to support the political goals of the activists leading the Baltimore Uprising. We were concerned about the ways in which the national media was depicting the protests. We knew we could not simply insert ourselves into the situation, so we decided to build as a space that activists, protesters, and other concerned Baltimoreans could use to collect, protect, and represent their own perspectives on Mr. Gray’s death, on the protests that followed, and on the necessity for serious political and social change.

2. Why did you use Omeka?

We chose Omeka because it is free and relatively easy to use. Over the course of a single weekend, I set up the site and built in the necessary plug-ins that allow direct contributions from individuals.

3. Can you tell us about a technical obstacle you encountered and overcame?

We are still in the middle of overcoming obstacles! I established the site FIRST, and then I entered into a working partnership with the Maryland Historical Society. That partnership is crucial because the Maryland Historical Society is a preservation organization, dedicated to the permanent protection of the gathered materials. But entering into that partnership after establishing Preserve the Baltimore Uprising has opened up a variety of questions about when and how best to migrate the Omeka site from my own Reclaim Hosting account to the Historical Society and what digital mechanism to use for permanent storage of donated material. We are also interested in improving the design to make it inviting and attractive to the very people we hope to serve. The Maryland Historical Society recently won a grant to support a web designer and interns who will ensure the project continues to move forward.

4. What do you feel are some of the challenges of a collaboratively-run community-collecting project? Is there particular advice you would give someone starting a similar project?

Because we started this project out of a sense of urgency and a sense of responsibility, we are now working backwards to build the relationships that will ensure the project is meaningful and useful. We have developed an advisory board constituted of faculty members from Baltimore area institutions of higher learning. The members of this advisory board have relationships with a variety of community based institutions and organizations. Over time, we expect to include activists and others on this board.

5. What is one item you like to highlight when talking about the site?

The most important thing I highlight when I speak about this site is this: This is NOT my project. I created a space, and I am working with a team of professors, archivists, students and others to make sure that it serves the interests of the activist community.

Omeka Powered: Human Computers at NASA

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

Part of an ongoing series where the people behind Omeka-powered sites talk about their content, process, and working with Omeka.

Professor Duchess Harris is a Professor and Chair of the Department American Studies Department at Macalester College in St. Paul Minnesota, where she is also the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Faculty Coordinator.

In this post, she discusses the site Human Computers at NASA, which was a collaboration between Professor Harris and Margot Lee Shetterly, and their research assistants Lucy Short and Ayaan Natala. Using Omeka and Neatline, the site illimunates the history of the African-American women mathematicians who worked for NASA at Hampton Roads from the 1940s through the 1960s in segregated facilities, whose work contributed to the success of the United States’ space program.

1. Can you (briefly) tell us what led you to this project? Was there a preexisting collection of material related to the African American women who worked as mathematicians for NACA?

I have always wanted to write about the Black women who worked at NASA during World War II. I was born in 1969, which was the year that John Glenn went to the moon. I was always told that I was named after my grandmother, who passed away in 1967. She had worked at NASA from 1943–1966 on the calculations that made the flight possible.

2. Why did you decide to use Omeka to present this project?

I was advised by Dr. Rebecca Wingo, who is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities to use Omeka. She said that it would be the best program for the kinds of materials that I wanted to showcase.

3. Has using Omeka and Neatline changed the way you think about the content? If so, how?

Using these programs has helped me bring “legitimacy” to my narrative because people can see the legal documents that prove that NASA was a plantation until 1950.

4. What is one of your favorite items to talk about when introducing people to the site?

I love directing people to the blueprint of the cafeteria that shows that there was a “Colored” section.

5. What piece of advice would you give someone who wants to build a project like yours?

I would tell anyone that a digital archive is one of the best teaching tools I have used in my career, which spans more than 20 years.

Omeka Powered: Eric Nolan Gonzaba and Wearing Gay History

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

This marks the first in a series of posts where the creators of Omeka projects talk about their content and process, and why they chose Omeka.

headshot of Mr. Gonzaba

Eric Nolan Gonzaba (@EGonzaba) is a doctoral student in American history at George Mason University, and the creator of the site Wearing Gay History. His research interests revolve around the cultural politics of race and gender in late 20th century America, particularly 1970s African American and queer nightlife. Below, he answers our questions about that site, which has grown from a single collection to featuring many including clothing from all over the United States.

1. How did you first encounter the collection of t-shirts at the Chris Gonzalez Library and Archives (the original collection on the site)?

As Outreach Coordinator for the GLBT Student Support Services Office at Indiana University during my undergraduate days, I spearheaded a project to build a small exhibit on the history of LGBT Hoosiers. There was just a few problems with this task; was I the only queer person to ever live in Indiana? If so, this exhibit isn’t going to be all that long. Ok, obviously gay people lived in Indiana before me, but where was I going to find the materials that made up their history?

I first visited the Chris Gonzalez Library and Archives in Indianapolis in 2011 to hunt for this lost account. Under the management of archivist Michael Bohr, the location is an impressive library and depository of LGBT books, films, papers, and ephemera documenting primarily the history of queer people of the greater Indianapolis area. While browsing the archival holdings, I came across a number of cardboard boxes on the floor filled with t-shirts and ball caps. With a lack of care that would scare most preservationists, I dove into those boxes finding all sorts of clothing tied to Pride parades, gay bars, lesbian bookstores, and political rallies.

What drew me to these items was their vividly intimate connection to queer Hoosier experiences. So much discussion of LGBT culture is obsessed with “the closet” — the hiding of sexual orientation from the public and what that fear of coming out has done to notions of agency. Certainly, the pressures of mainstream society to hide queer identities should not be overlooked, but these diverse LGBT-themed t-shirts serve as a perfect metaphor of a closet not ever fully closed. In fact, sometimes it was fully ransacked.

2. Why did you decide to use Omeka for this project?

As part of the doctoral program at George Mason University’s Department of History and Art History, PhD students are required to become digitally competent. Since the word “novice” doesn’t fully describe my lack of IT skills in my first semester in the program, I began Dr. Stephen Robertson’s History and New Media course with excitement. Each week, the class was introduced to different tools that define the field of digital history. During our Omeka week, I was drawn to the platform’s ease of use and its ability to combine different aspects of archiving, exhibit making, and mapping. It didn’t hurt that Omeka was created at Mason, but more than that, I was impressed about how easy it was to actually use software that I never before encountered.

3. Has using Omeka changed the way you thought about the project, especially early on?

Absolutely! While it was fun to track down a whole bunch of related historical items, in this case t-shirts related to LGBT experiences (some with enormously clever slogans like “Lesbiana Jones and the U-Haul of Doom”), it’s another thing entirely to actually get those items processed into a coherent digital archive. Omeka’s use of the Dublin Core Metadata standard helped me standardize information related to collection.

Additionally, the tag feature allowed me to think about the t-shirts in the collection not as individual items but as part of different select themes. This became especially helpful later on when I introduced other collections to the site. Wearing Gay History, which began with one collection and 300 t-shirts, now includes 10 collections with more than 2,500 items! The tag feature permitted me to link t-shirts together across the boundaries of individual collections, placing t-shirts relating to African Americans in San Francisco, for example, with t-shirts found in Harlem’s Schomburg Center of Research in Black Culture.

4. Since you first launched Wearing Gay History, the collections have grown tremendously and it has received positive publicity. How has this influenced your scholarship and your graduate work?

The response to Wearing Gay History has been tremendous, with the site featured in places like Slate, OutHistory, Quist, and Lawyers, Guns, and Money. I couldn’t imagine that would ever happen, especially as the site started as a simple student project from a graduate student who had just learned how to take a screenshot on his Macbook only weeks earlier. It’s a testament to what can come from a love of history and a newfound obsession with digital archiving.

The project has opened more doors for me than perhaps anything I’ve done in my academic career. I’ve gotten to visit numerous LGBT archives across the United States to witness the extraordinary work being done to preserve our queer past. Places like the Minneapolis’s Tretter Collection and Philadelphia’s Wilcox Archives diligently document the incredible diversity of LGBT experiences. It’s been a huge honor to partner with them to aid in their archiving work.

Along the way, conversations with queer historians I’ve admired for years like Claire Potter and John D’Emilo have brought me into a whole new community of scholars looking for new ways to conduct the study of sexuality. Even if my dissertation won’t solely be focused on LGBT textiles, the stories held within these pieces of fabric certainly have made a profound impact on how I think of past LGBT communities.

5. What is one of your favorite items to highlight when you talk about the project?

the front of a grey t-shirt with handwritten text

That’s sort of like asking me to name my favorite child, so easy — it’s Honey Boo Boo.

Okay, but in all seriousness, so many t-shirts in the collection mean a great deal to me because they relate to such important events and themes in our often overlooked histories. But in an effort not to evade the question, one textile I always come back to is entitled Remembering Our Dead. While the t-shirt is only fourteen years old, it’s completely handwritten by an activist who protested the violent abuse and murder of transgender bodies in the early part of the new millennium. The creator of the t-shirt, whose name is (so far) lost to history, took the time to spell out and list the more than 27 trans people murdered between 2001-2002.

Remembering Our Dead stands out for so many reasons. First, it’s one of just 14 t-shirts found on the digital archive that deal solely with transgender communities (bisexuals, unfortunately, fare even worse in the Wearing Gay History collections, a matter I hope to address with the increased visibility of the site in the coming months). More importantly, however, it’s distressing how little has changed since the t-shirt’s construction. Today, the vast majority of anti-LGBT violence is directed toward trans people, specifically trans women of color. The t-shirt teaches how important clothing can be in promoting social justice. At the same time, it serves as a stark reminder that the past isn’t really over.