Platforms, Functionality, Usability

omekascreenshot_smWell, platforms. I guess “out of the box” is helpful & gets your project off the ground quickly. But it boxes things up, too. I experimented this afternoon with It has an impressive structure that yields some astonishingly quick results and offers simple-to-activate plug-ins. I created a collection & tried adding a few items manually and by ingesting from a csv file, then created an exhibition. It seemed as if the easiest way to pull data from Zotero in (at least according to the Zotero forum discussion that @magpie found, you can export Zotero data as a report (html), then open that file in Excel, then save as CSV. Fine, but the table needed a 90 degree rotation, and I’m Excel-phobic enough to let that deter me. So I ended up hand editing the table, but was able to save it as a CSV and pull the data into Omeka. I’m sure there’s a better way to do that, but it was worth investigating. was, however, a bit disappointing from a visual and usability standpoint. Not sure why each item needs to proclaim so loudly its metadata format. And when navigation is largely verbal, rather than visual, it affects usability. The template styles, while limited, definitely work. Apparently, solves all these issues with lots of customization options, as is clearly apparent in the stunning Peacock Room site. There is much more that can be done with, of course, and a two-hour experiment gave only time to explore it briefly—hoping for more hands-on soon!

Perhaps Drupal would provide a more flexible, tabula rasa-style platform for my project. My experience with Drupal has been from a “consumer” point of view, managing the construction of (and providing content for) a web site developed by others with time constraints, rather than from the “producer” perspective, from which all things are possible.



Source: Platforms, Functionality, Usability


Finally played with Omeka for the first time after seeing presentations at conferences and considering it as a possibility for our digital project. Pluses and minus. Thinking about how to organize the information gave me a headache, but it wasn’t Omeka’s fault! To collection or not to collection?



“If the platform fits, wear it.”

“If the platform fits, wear it,” with these words Megan Brett assured me that using Pinterest to store blog posts was not a shameful thing.   In fact “no shame” has been a constant phrase of reassurance as the participants in the Rebuilding the Portfolio Institute continue to explore Digital Art History.

There may be no shame but there is plenty of chagrin (at least on my end)… chagrin for the fact that I had no idea what platform the Illinois Women Artists Database uses.   I still don’t but at least I can now make an educated guess:  Omeka.


Source: “If the platform fits, wear it.”

Day 3 / homework


My ideal self

So, today I worked with Omeka, which seemed more attractive than the other content management systems. It is to put it in a way I can understand a platform designed to help people create collections, whatever that means. It seems the perfect tool for my project, since what I want to create is basically a collection of artists’ biographies.

With the very kind help of the instructors, I was able to create a collection and even an item type. This allowed me to have the fields in Spanish, which is clearly important for my project. I had considered the possibility of making the project bilingual, but that is clearly both difficult and useless (whoever wants to search the database I hope to create, understands Spanish).

What I am disappointed about is my inability to act freely and carelessly. I kept thinking: “I will break Omeka”. I wonder if this fear will dissolve into a more assertive attitude in the future.

After having heard the “Drupal” participants, I feel I should try to use it. It looks a little more difficult (I do not need that, to be honest). But I will try it now.

Source: Day 3 / homework

CMS for Collections of Ceramics

The greatest benefit of for my research project is its ability to organize collections and exhibitions. Because collections of ceramics that were originally commissioned or collected by a single family or patron were often later sold into numerous private and public collections,  the omeka platform offers a means of reunifying those collections either for private research purposes or more public online exhibits. Loading items into an omeka site is straightforward, but in order to create a worthwhile exhibit, the narrative and organizational structure would need to be well thought out ahead of time. Within an exhibition, it would be useful to add videos and zoom functions, but I have not learned to add these features yet.

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Pioneering a model

As museum collections increasingly become digitized on registrar databases with access to users on their websites, human interaction with material culture shifts to reflect our evolving digital capabilities. The aim of this project is to analyze how technological development can potentially redefine the mission of museums as producers, mediators, and interpreters of digital images incorporated in cultural collections.

One of the most troubling endeavors of such a project deals with simply defining what constitutes a digital art object. What is archived: the object’s hardware components? The digital software? What about considerations of user experience? Determining what is archived and why are considerations curators and stakeholders must contemplate as contemporary material culture becomes more and more digital. The interdependency between the digital interface and its supplementary hardware makes conservation and archival processes particularly complex and unique to traditional analog museum collections. As agents of collective memory and cultural materials, museums have traditionally presided over their holdings and administered user experience and access to them. The challenge going forward is how they will manage digital objects as they become incorporated into institutions and force museums to reevaluate their relationship with active users creating experiences through active contact with interactive digital spaces.


Sources thus far:


Moma 14 videogame collection

Computerspielemuseum, DE

Vigamus, IT

The Strong

Neoludica, Biennale, IT

Source: Pioneering a model

Day 3: Omeka and Scalar and Drupal, Oh My!


Today we chose one of three CMS platforms with which to play, adapting to the new environments and it quirks. I chose Scalar because I wanted to have multimedia content on my site, and it seemed this CMS was the best option. While it took me longer to adjust to the platform than I expected, once I “figured out” how to use it I was impressed and amazed out what I could do. I even audibly gasped once or twice. Not only did Scalar allow me to incorporate text and video in interesting ways, but I could annotate them as well. I became somewhat frustrated at how to annotate, finding the Help Guide not all that useful for this particular component. However, Celeste guided me in the right direction, and soon enough I was making my own. This is what I wanted to learn! Long have I annotated images in Photoshop or even Apple software, using permanent arrows and text. My previous system was a necessary evil, and it bothered me that I couldn’t make these annotations invisible. Even though Scalar’s annotation tools require me to look at the image online, I can click on a permalink and–presto! A lovely annotated image or video is projected on a screen. Time passed quickly once I became immersed in the details of Scalar. While there were certainly many quirks, some of which were odd and unnecessary, I look forward to plumbing the depths of Scalar more. I think it might be a useful platform for my project and certainly for teaching. Now I need to learn Omeka and Drupal Gardens, which I imagine will offer valuable ways to see data.

A final note: it seems useful to learn CSS and HTML for Scalar. There are few design options, none of which I really liked, but if I knew CSS and HTML I could make modifications at will. I am now determined to learn both.

Source: Day 3: Omeka and Scalar and Drupal, Oh My!

On platforms

I do not yet feel clear about whether one of the platforms introduced today—Omeka, Drupal Gardens, and Scalar—is solely appropriate for the project. Capabilities that the eventual platform will need include the following:

• The various elements for study—script, image, decorative motifs, textual sources and general manuscript catalogue information—all require separate areas of the site, as well as an area in which terms can be set to pull from across these discrete bodies of material for comparison, mapping, and possibly visualization.

• The separate areas must each offer the possibility for participants’ comments and working assessments.

• The site probably requires an inbuilt Viewer capability similar to the Courtauld Gothic Ivories or the Stanford Mirador to facilitate work of comparison.

• Some maps may be static, to illustrate fixed historical points, but others will primarily be useful for demonstrating movement across time and place, and for comparing categories derived from the primary elements of study.


At the moment, then, it looks to me as though Omeka-style collections would be suitable for the individual working areas, provided that flexible comment and comparison are possible; but I am not sure about the functions that would need to work cross-collection and generate various types of presentation and combinations.

Source: On platforms

Day 3

We delved (briefly) today into a discussion of how power structures are built into our data structures. Our guest speaker Kimon Keramidas, Assistant Professor and Director of the Digital Media Lab, Bard Graduate Center, referenced briefly a project by Aaron Glass on Franz Boas that deals with indigenous knowledge systems and databases (must look that up). Someone gave an example of a person working on a digital project to make a database of First Nations objects publicly available on the internet, consulting with a First Nations person, and discovering that the typical systems of classification (Dublin Core) often lead museum professionals and others to replicate colonial systems of knowledge/power. Granted, the very idea of making a catalog of objects from another culture publicly available is very embedded in Western European civilization! But how do we catalog objects in ways that allow us to understand their original purposes or to see them anew instead of perpetuating stereotypes of knowledge?

I thought, wow, the power of the internet: One could catalog a small group of objects in various ways, according to various cultural values, and compare them, side by side! A way to visualize how differently various cultures think/value. (Even that project smacks of the desire of the Western mind to master all areas of knowledge though, right?) Of course, that would require a complex, relational database. Omeka wouldn’t cut it for a project such as that. Which brings me to Omeka.

Today’s assignment is to blog about differences between various platforms for content management that we’ve been introduced to (Omeka, Drupal Gardens, and Scalar). Sadly, we didn’t have much time for hands-on exploration of these. I only poked around Omeka myself. It’s amazing that this resource is available to scholars for free! And it is fairly easy to use (although I did not find it to be intuitive). But extremely limited, too. Just trying to enter a few “items,” I began to hate the Dublin Core. Several other participants observed that it would be nice to have the option of using the VRA core, instead (thanks to JJ Bauer for pointing to me to the link). But standards for classification aside, Omeka is a flat database, not relational. I have been spoiled by my earlier experiences with Filemaker Pro–I expect great flexibility from my data management systems. At any rate, I think Omeka will be a great tool for pedagogy. I look forward to playing later with Drupal Gardens and Scalar to see what they can do.

Source: Day 3

Offer some feedback about the institute so far

I have learned a great deal thus far regarding the origin of the Digital Humanities, how the DH are being practiced, a range of opinions about the DH, some practical applications, and it has been especially rewarding to meet art historians who share similar interests. The workshop organizers and graduate students are founts of knowledge and assistance%u2013bravo and brava. Considering the amount of information disseminated and the learning curves of the participants, all is going well. I do have a few suggestions, though: perhaps if programs were downloaded in the mornings we could save some time for hands-on work, as some downloads have been very slooooow; the six hours of workshop time are simultaneously exhilarating and draining%u2013is there any way to (sometimes) flip the discussion and hands-on time so that the latter can be done when we are more alert in the mornings? the readings, examples, etc., are geared toward Western art and culture, and at more modern periods%u2013a bit of consideration for earlier periods and non-Western cultures would be appreciated, because these present issues and questions that sometimes are so different that they require divergent strategies (some suggestions provided upon request).

All in all, the first three days have been tremendously educational. This is like summer camp for adults%u2013the new skills, knowledge, and contacts will help to keep me charged during the next academic year.

Source: Offer some feedback about the institute so far