February 20, 2008

Omeka for All

Omeka As Steve Brier, Josh Brown, and Mike O’Malley pointed out in Episode 2 of History Conversations, CHNM’s late founder, Roy Rosenzweig firmly believed that it wasn’t enough for the historian interested in popular memory simply to be an analyst of popular historymaking. He or she also had to be an active practitioner of public history, making him or herself available to community, enthusiast, and other non-professional historians to help them in their efforts. True to Roy’s example and admonition, I aim to be both practitioner and analyst. But as the recent dearth of postings here on Found History attests, I have been doing a lot more practicing than analyzing lately.

Aside from general management stuff at CHNM, I have been spending most of my time and energy on Omeka. Just launched for general public download today, Omeka is CHNM’s latest software offering, a free and open-source platform for publishing collections and creating attractive, standards-based, interoperable online exhibits. It complements CHNM’s successful Zotero project, providing cultural content producers with innovative, open-source presentation software in the same way that Zotero has provided cultural content consumers with innovative, open-source research management tools.

First and foremost, Omeka is intended to reduce the costs and improve the quality and functionality of online exhibitions. There are lots of software tools in the world of libraries and museums for managing and searching collections. There are almost none to help designers, webmasters, curators, librarians, and scholars publish and present those collections in rich, narrative, interpretive online exhibits. Omeka aims to fill this gap. Free, easy to use, and fully customizable through feature plugins and design themes, Omeka can bring rich, elegant, interactive, and “Web 2.0” ready exhibits to even the smallest and least well-funded of institutions—institutions for which high priced web design vendors are completely out of reach.

In the early days of the web, personal web pages were poorly designed, difficult to update and maintain, flat, and generally ugly. That all changed relatively recently with the advent and widespread adoption of blogging packages and services like WordPress, MovableType, and Blogger. Now a well designed, dynamic, interactive, and standards compliant personal website is just a few clicks away for practically anyone. Why should it be any different for cultural exhibits?

With Omeka, it shouldn’t.

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