Reflection on my first DH project

main exhibit page from ecotimberline.omeka.net

Holy crap this is a lot of work.

But I love it.

I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what I want to do with the information and ideas I’ve gathered and developed for this project.  I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish in only a few short weeks, but I already see changes I want to make to this project.  I also have some ideas on how I approach and plan future projects.

As an art historian my future project will all be image heavy, just part of the field, but also makes for visually appealing digital projects.  One thing I will differently in my next project before I even touch a computer is to make a preliminary plan of what I think the site might look like.  I know this will change, but as I put together this project  I realized several things about the materials I gathered.  For example, many of my photos were not zoomed in enough, or included too much of the surrounding environment and thus made poor thumbnails.  I also realized that while I had a good understanding of the space and how everything fit together, I was missing contextualizing photos of the broader space.

From a technical perspective, Omeka was an easy and great way to start.  As a platform designed for online exhibits with images and text, a lot of the work was simple uploading and formatting.  There was a bit of a learning curve as the tabs are not super intuitive and the method for images feels a little backwards.  For example, the system presents you with fields to fill out before you come to the upload tab. I also realized I had to decide how I wanted to upload images.  Was each image its own item? No.  Multiple images for the same work of art or craft went into the same item.  But what about works in a series, should I group all of those together under one series or have an item for each component of a series? For this I asked myself, if one could reasonably only look at one component, then that should form the basis for an item.  But what about images from books?  I had a series of images from a unique book, but was unsure if I should upload each page separately and then combine in a collection, or combine them all under one item.  I ended up combine them under one item, but probably should have uploaded each page as its own item. Time consuming, but potentially easier to work with than it is now.

I also found that there was a lot of prep I needed to do before I felt I could even upload my images.  I needed to organize them in to relevant folders and then rename each file because a string of numbers and times are not as easy to keep track of as descriptive file names.  Once I uploaded the images, then I needed to begin to full out the metadata information (Dublin Core).  There was a lot I realized I simply did not have or did not know how I should fill out.  This is something I can plan for in the future by creating a guideline or work stream that includes gathering this information when I take a picture or gather materials in an archive .

As I began working with Omeka, I realized there were some serious limitations.  Storage space and lack of plugins providing versatility in the free version, and the inability to change simple things such as the font and font-size in the web version.  I solved the first hurdle by upgrading to a paid subscription.  I tried editing the html code to fix the second problem, but to no avail.  I finally just made myself stop trying because it was more important to get the project somewhat done rather than visually perfect but lacking content.

Overall, however, I would absolutely recommend Omeka as a beginners DH tool.  It is a tool that assumes the user does not have programming or design skills and because of this someone can simple plug in the relevant information in the various space and create a professional looking website as an end result.

You can check out my Omeka project here: ecotimberline.omeka.net

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