I'm teaching an advanced humanities seminar called "Doing Humanities Digitally" this coming term. New course, new materials, and an open field in which to run. I've been working on some connections to pull in some TEI coding, some archival interactions, and even some collaborations with the natural sciences (think HASTAC). I have mostly settled on some work with the Digital Thoreau project, am toying with a foray into the Transcribe Bentham project, critical reviews of extant DH projects, a student-developed remediation of a prior humanities project (course paper), AND a digital exhibit project.
I've been familiar with Omeka (developed by the CHNM at George Mason University) for a couple years now, and I've browsed through some of what the tool offers. I have always wondered whether it is really better/more powerful/more suitable/etc. than something like WordPress, a CMS/blog tool I use regularly and that is pretty easy to manipulate for a range of purposes. This DH course, particularly the idea for a project that brings environmental science research together with some archival work, forced my hand and left me no choice but to get serious about evaluating Omeka for our purposes.
- First idea: Grab a free Omeka.net account and try out the tool. This couldn't work because the free account doesn't include the Geolocation plugin that enables users to locate items on a Google Map. (There are some workarounds, I now know, but that's a different story.)
- Second idea: Grab the open source Omeka CMS and install a test version within my domain. Complete control, full front and back end control. Not wanting to spend money on a sandbox arrangement, I went with this second idea.
A Preliminary Review/Evaluation
Installation was not as easy as I had hoped. This isn't Omeka's fault, really. It had more to do with some php settings that I didn't know how to tweak/adjust. But I would estimate it took about 12 hours over several days to actually get the CMS to behave in a way that enabled me to test the tool. WordPress, in contrast, is included in many webhost packages, making it a truly one-click installation. (The WordPress Network install is another matter.)
FWIW, here are the settings I needed to tweak on a Lunarpages-hosted installation:
- php.ini - needed to comment out some "disable_functions" code in the file located in my public_html folder to get ImageMagick and Omeka communicating.
- Path to ImageMagick isn't so easy to locate on Lunarpages, but it's here: /usr/local/bin/
- I'm still sorting through a fileinfo module "warning" that Omeka spits out at the first install screen, but the CMS itself seems to work even with that problem/warning.
I have to thank my colleague Pam Morgan for a series of conversations that yielded the idea that would draw together some of the data she (along with her colleagues and students) has collected on the Saco River estuary, research on the uses of the Saco River, and historical photographs and documents at the McArthur Library in Biddeford, Maine. I must also thank Renee DesRoberts, the archivist at the library, for her willingness to really open up their collection of glass plate negatives for our project. I'm really looking forward to this project!
I also want to thank the tech support at Lunarpages and patrickmj from the Omeka Dev Team for offering me some help on the features and limits of the Geolocation plugin.