Omeka in the Wild: Practicing What We Preach

omekaWidescreenOver the past few years, in consultations with a wide variety of projects I have increasingly identified opportunities where Omeka would make an excellent platform for digital curation. However, aside from a few tentative ventures with it, and a few instances where myself of DHO colleagues were consulted about some knotty problems, I have not had the ‘pleasure’ of living with it as a tool. That has changed as of late in collaboration to deliver some superb exhibitions using the basic Omeka platform and starting to plug through some NeatLine implementations well.

I tweeted two weeks ago when doing a soft launch of the Sir Robert Hart exhibition for the Library st Queen’s University Belfast. Hart was a unique Irishman who found himself posted to China running the customs service during turbulent times and captured much of the times in diaries, sketches and in photographs. Our official description defines the collection of his papers:

“This is a substantial collection of personal and official papers, comprising a range of interesting and insightful material relating to Hart’s official duties and experiences in Peking during his long career in charge of the Chinese Customs Service. Significant in this regard is the long series of 77 personal journals which Hart kept during this time. Running from 1854 when he first entered the Chinese administration, the diaries record many personal anecdotes and reminiscences about his life and work in China. The collection also contains a significant series of correspondence amounting to some 7000 letters dating from 1899 to 1911. Although the majority relate to personal matters, corresponding with family members, other relatives and friends, many have a bearing on customs affairs. Other items of interest include a set of notes and papers detailing Hart’s experiences and analysis of the Boxer disturbances in Peking, 1900; numerous photographs and glass-slides.”
In 2003 the Library produced a vibrant brochure demonstrating the richness of this collection and we felt this might be a great candidate for digital exhibition through Omeka. It proved quite suitable and considering its staging not simply as an onine exhibition but also as an in-house tool presented on a 42 inch kiosk was a learning exercise. Developing exhibitions lately has meant ensuring cross-browser compatibility on the desktop and also increasingly taking mobile browsers into account and appreciating the nature of user experience on the smaller screen. Having to account for a third type of entirely gesture-based browsing on a massive screen was a new consideration. Limitations for having no access to a keyboard and yet opportunity to see the digital artefacts spread out in vivid and engaging scale.

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 08.57.58This week we will be launching a second exhibition in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s. In collaboration with the centre and four hard-working post-grads we will be presenting a look at Heaney’s time and relationship with Queen’s University. Stay tuned for launch details.

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