Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend THATCamp Philly: The Humanities and Technology Camp. The event was co-organized by the Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University, and was one of more than thirty THATCamps that have been held around the world over the past two years. The Center for History and New Media is known for having developed the open-source software programs Zotero and Omeka, as well as a number of prominent digital history projects, including the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, the Bracero History Archive and the September 11 Digital Archive. As a relative newcomer to the digital humanities, I was excited to attend THATCamp and start learning about the wide variety of digital technologies that can increase access to archives and public history projects, including the Greenwich Village Digital Archive.
As an “unconference,” THATCamp had an unusual and informal format. The first day, Friday, September 23rd, was a “BootCamp” – a day of introductory workshops on digital skills. Saturday, September 24th was the “unconference” for which people put forward session proposals on the THATCamp Philly blog for which we voted for on Saturday morning. There were no scheduled presentations or papers; the most popular sessions were informally facilitated and discussion-driven. Over the course of the two days I attended a number of workshops and sessions relevant to the Greenwich Village Digital Archive as well as to my own Capstone project with the Metropolitan Council on Housing.
On Friday I attended the BootCamp session “Making Content Shine with Omeka.” The workshop was facilitated by THATCamp Coordinator Amanda French (who formerly taught in the APH program at NYU) and Rebecca Goldman (author of Derangement and Description!). Omeka is a web publishing system designed for museum and archives, using the Dublin Core metadata standard, and can additionally be used for online exhibits. There are two types of Omeka installations, omeka.org (for which you must provide your own server space, allowing more control over the installation) and omeka.net (which uses the CHNM Omeka server).
Together we went through the basics of adding content to Omeka, during which Amanda and Rebecca emphasized the importance of consistent description of items across each installation of Omeka. I learned that one complication with the Omeka metadata fields is that the date field is actually a text field – allowing for flexible date descriptions such as “circa Jun 1934” – but rendering it difficult to sort items by date. However, I was really impressed by the metadata options for oral history items!
We also explored the possible plug-ins, add-ons and customizations that can increase the functionality of Omeka. Notable plug-ins included (1) Dropbox (facilitating batch uploading of files); (2) Dublin Core Extended (giving additional metadata options); and (3) Geolocation (creating maps from item metadata). We finished the session by walking through some basic customizations of Omeka themes, including changing headline font sizes and background colors. These customizations require ftp access, i.e. using an Omeka installation hosted on your own server.
I attended several different THATCamp sessions on Saturday, and one in particular resonated with the Greenwich Village Digital Archive project: “Hidden Humanities and Everyday Life”. In this session we discussed digital technologies for mapping the humanities onto our local geographies in an accessible and engaging manner. We began the session by discussing existing projects that incorporate the humanities and lived environments – many of which were grounded in specific communities and urban geographies. Examples of these projects included PhilaPlace, which allows users to connect images, audio, video and text stories across time to specific places in Philadelphia; Retrographer, which uses Google Maps technology to collaboratively develop maps of Pittsburgh’s historic photographs; and the Ghost Gardens and Lost Landscapes tour, a smart phone-driven treasure hunt of Philadelphia’s lost landscapes. This final project was particularly interesting due to its interplay between digital and physical environments. These examples are Pennsylvania-specific due to the location of the conference, and I’m sure there are many inspiring NYC examples!
These example projects were also primarily long-term, grant-funded projects and are thus beyond the scope of our class on creating digital histories of Greenwich Village. However, I found it really interesting and inspiring to learn about the many different possibilities for local and community digital history projects; and I hope to incorporate elements of these projects into my future work. I am also excited to gain more familiarity with Omeka during this course and explore the different add-ons and customizations that can improve its functionality.