This spring, I have enrolled in an independent study on the Digital Humanities under Professor Helen J. Burgess of the UMBC English Department. The independent study, taken with three other students, is a sort of pilot experiment for a newly approved course for both the undergraduate and graduate curricula. The course site is named Critical Robot.
Among the course requirements, students are expected to select and learn a Digital Humanities tool and blog on their progress with and assessment of the tool throughout the semester. And, of course, eager as I am to make sense of what it means to work in the Digital Humanities—at times it has become this vague entity, this trendy tent that encompasses so much—I was equally hesitant to decide what to do, what platform, what project, is “do-able” in just fourteen weeks. What would be most beneficial to my own interests? The truth is I’ve shown up late to the party—I’ve really only begun playing in WordPress and blogging for a few months now—and there’s a lot of catching up needed. More questions were raised and decisions made while reading our course’s first required text, Paul E. Ceruzzi’s Computing: A Concise History (MIT Press, 2012).
Despite noting the technical contributions of Tim Berners-Lee and (only briefly) citing Stewart Brand and his self-published manifesto Computer Lib, the issue of Open Access is never directly cited in Ceruzzi’s Computing. Nevertheless, it is one of the critical issues facing both the Digital Humanities and our contemporary digital culture, in general. Berners-Lee’s vision for the Web was a network free and available to all; this idea was realized with the help of Robert Cailliau and CERN by making these new technologies and codes patent-free / royalty-free. In the words often attributed to Brand, “Information wants to be free.” In recent months, issues of copyright, public domain, and royalties have never seemed more relevant. The death of Aaron Swartz, programmer and Internet activist, deserves attention; his mission and models, dissemination…A recent article in U.S. News and World Report restates the academy’s core mission: to share knowledge with the public.
For my weekly technical progress report, I hope to explore the potential of Omeka and Open Journal Systems as two free, open source platforms. As competition increases for funding new projects and budgets are tightened, it is imperative that individuals, small co-operatives, and local non-profits and arts centers effectively search for and utilize such tools to communicate their work to both local and virtual communities.
In addition to sharing my own progress and problems with these tools, I hope to alternate some posts on the technical possibilities and limitations of each platform with an explanation of some of the decisions I’ve made on my own project and with analyses of existing sites and the organizations using them.
I will begin work this week with Omeka, an open source content management system developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University and typically used for online digital collections. Among the largest sites powered by Omeka include the New York Public Library and the Newberry Library.
The decision to start with Omeka arrives because of two major findings. First, I’ve noticed a lot of job postings for positions at non-profits, arts centers, libraries, museums, archives, and government organizations asking for professional experience on Omeka. Secondly, I was impressed by the a number of smaller projects powered by Omeka and their diversity and would like to further explore how such a platform might not only extend or transform the scope of an individual’s research project, a museum’s or library’s collections, or an upcoming exhibition but how it might expand awareness or interest in this work.
The following is a list of some of the examples that caught my attention. They represent the wide array of topics, functions, and designs of Omeka and some of the groups using it.
Documenting the Gilded Age, The New York Art Resources Consortium
HIV and AIDS 30 Years Ago, The National Museum of National History
The Land of Penn & Plenty, Pennsylvania Historical Society and Museum
Fire Files Digital Library, Edward Metz (Personal site), Head Librarian at NETC Library, FEMA
Making the History of 1989, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History & New Media, GMU
Writing of Indigenous New England, Book Companion, Dawnland Voices: Indigenous Writings from New England, edited by Siobhan Senier
Print History Collection, Queens College
Lincoln at 200, The Newberry Library
Cash Crop: Stephen Hayes, Stephen Hayes, Art Exhibit, UNC—Charlotte
Digital Dos Passos, Amanda Visconti, PhD Candidate in English, UMD, College Park