Omeka is a wonder, in my opinion, because it is a firm example of the “two intrinsic advantages of the digital medium: accessibility and searchability” Cohen & Rosenzweig describe. It is only in discussing Omeka in conjunction with specific examples that I recognize its amazing capabilities. Despite discussing these advantages when covering American Memory, or the fact that I’ve heavily utilized digital archives during my two years at CSULB.
What I find truly amazing is the ability to share what people want to find and the ability for authors/creators to share this while following their own agenda or plan. No longer are we going to be subject to the budgets of museums or the exclusive ideas of expert curators. Not to say these organizations and individuals are not good at their jobs, but now I do not have to wait around for the stars to align if I want to study a subject.
A good example to prove my point is a comparison between the Science Center’s exhibit on King Tut and Terra’s digital archive The Civil War in Art. For the King Tut exhibit, I must wait for items to be shipped to California, for staff to create specific galleries, and created with perspectives I may not agree with or understand. In The Civil War in Art, I can instantly search through over one hundred images with expert commentary, questions to further develop my thoughts, and suggestions for further reading. It is a far more comprehensive teaching and learning experience in my opinion.
One issue I take with archive hits upon a topic another student, SH, made in their blog post for this assignment: “familiarity with text-heavy content for historians.” The Omeka UI evidences the point. The User Interface is overwhelmingly text-based even though the entire archive bases itself upon imagery. We need to expand the UI to allow for more discussion outside of just the written word. Just look at literacy most social media literate individuals have with memes. With a digital archive full of art, digital history has the potential to foster historically based art literacy in ways never imagined. Even I subscribe to a Facebook page about memes using classical art. (It is surprisingly funny.)
On the other hand, historians should also exploit the fact that they are familiar with text-based interpretations of historical events via Omeka and WordPress/blog like software. A good example would be to create a website akin to Reddit where individuals who are in someway vetted for their credentials write a small interpretation of various historical sources. The anonymity mixed with verified expertise could allow for far more interesting, most likely casual, discussion on subjects. Nonacademic users of the site could also leave vetted responses. Allowing for a more democratic discussion of historical content fostering growth in both academic historians and hobby historians.
Lastly, I’d say the one thing that vexes me about various websites such as The Civil War in Art, Map Scholar, and Gilded Age Murder is the fact that they are so different and difficult to maneuver through. Cohen & Rosenzweig hit the nail on the head when describing hypertext materials to be a new frontier with no uniformity that will difficult to interpret. I did not expect them to be THAT accurate. I thought this was the complaint of non-native internet/computer users who had not lived most of their lives searching and moving through digital content. However, this was confusing and every time I thought I got it down and moved to another website, I had to learn the process all over again. Moreover, I do not say this as a general complaint. I say this as a user who had to take four or five tries to understand the message of some of these sites because, in my previous interactions with them, I missed the messages they were putting out.