One of the interesting things about digital history is learning a new platform and trying to understand new terminology for data related to a digital item. Dealing with manuscripts in a classical sense usually involved taking notes on a letter or other manuscript and possibly making a copy of the item. With technology, research into manuscripts has changed at many institutions, though some repositories retain elements of the old school way of engaging materials. If I desire, I can take a letter and scan it into PDF, saving it to a jump drive for later use, which increases the versatility of the document, as I am not tied to the reading room taking notes on said document.
Omeka allows us to create a digital archive of collections of items on a given subject. You upload a file, or files, group them into collections, and they are accessible to the world via the Internet. While this sounds simple, there are some important considerations that can represent small challenges to the novice digital historian.
I have several letters from one of the folders in the University Archives collection # 28 relating to the Chester Fritz Library. These letters are replies from the dozens of institutions that the University sent invitations to attend the dedication for the Chester Fritz Library. While many are standard form letters indicating an inability to attend, there are a few interesting ones, which is a subject for another post.
Uploading these to Omeka is a simple process in that you find the file and add it, but there is important information needed to make the addition complete. This is the metadata, including Dublin Core information. This data provides greater detail as opposed to placing a PDF on the web with no supporting information. In Omeka, you have several items you can enter into the Dublin Core section, some that seem simple are a bit confusing. For instance, there are spaces to insert Format, Type, and Identifier, and while these are not required to add an item, they are important in providing greater detail to an object. The challenge is how the system lays out entering such data, providing a text box, where perhaps a drop down menu might be more appropriate. It’s a minor issue, but one where a change in interface could help those new to the platform overcome any concerns about making a mistake. Of course the best thing about digital history is that you can always edit it if you make a mistake.