Projects as a Scholarly Genre: Readings 4-6

The first three readings of this week explore the project creation process of Digital Humanities. Readings 4 to 6 dive more into the specific products of Digital Humanities and its issues, such as Omeka platform and what it means to be “done” in a Digital Humanities project. 

Tom Scheinfeldt, who is an associate professor of Digital Humanities at the University of Connecticut, discussed in Omeka and Its Peers the existing types of Collections Management Systems and Content Management Systems used by collections professionals and interpretive professionals, and where Omeka falls in the landscape of these toolsets. Scheinfeldt argues that there is no alternative product like Omeka. Unique from many of the products on the market, Omeka provides its users the functions of both “back of the house” and “front of the house”. These mean that Omeka has the professional tools for digital collection and management systems “in the back”, and it provides the design-driven interactive content “in the front”. As Claire walked us through in her blog, you can start an Omeka site from the ground up by building collections and designing exhibition content. With Omeka initially realized in 2008, and the article written in 2010, Omeka was still a relatively new system. Therefore, I was very curious about the progress that had been made to the platform itself and what new products have been developed a decade later. According to Omeka’s website, the Omeka team launched Omeka S in 2017. The new version is designed for larger institutional users. At the same time, the original version, Omeka Classic, continues to exist and is being developed alongside the newer version. The collaboration of disciplines is one of the key components of the Digital Humanities. Scheinfeldt points out that one great benefit of Omeka’s combination of functionality is that it draws librarians, archivists, museum professionals, and scholars together. Through working on the platform, connections and communication between these fields could be enhanced. Do you think all museums and libraries should aim to transition to a platform like Omeka that combines both the collection and presentation functions?

The next article is from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Created in 1965, the NEH is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the US. Its Office of Digital Humanities offers grants annually to organizations with innovative and experimental digital projects that encourage professional collaboration and public engagement in the humanities. The Digital Humanities Advanced Grants 2021 outline and the list of past example projects give us a better sense of the recent advancement of the Digital Humanities field today. I specifically looked at a project from the University of Virginia entitled The Development of Digital Documentary Editing Platforms. The project proposed that in order to create an all-inclusive digital platform for all aspects of editorial work from document collection to digital publication, it is essential that we possess content expertise and familiarity with documents themselves. Therefore, the project aimed to bring technical experts and editors from two existing technologies, Omeka and Drupal, in an attempt to build a groundwork of collaboration. Together, they reviewed the current use of the platforms and discussed the use and development of future platforms in creating and publishing digital documentary editions. What is your observation of the successful Grant applicant projects?

In the last article, Done: Finishing Projects in the Digital Humanities, Kirschenbaum raised an important question regarding the work involved with Digital Humanities: “How do we know when we are done?” The quality of innovation and extensibility of Digital Humanities makes it harder for people to define the “completeness” of a project. Kirschenbaum makes mention of the culture of the “demo” in the US, using the example of Digital Humanities start-up grants and their focus on innovation and experimentation of the projects, instead of “steady, measured progress”. This tendency is shared in the NEH grants where it emphasizes the value of innovation in projects and clearly stated that the grants cannot support “regular, ongoing maintenance of existing projects.” Do you think that a Digital Humanities project should have a definite endpoint or is the quality of open-ended and extensibility a valuable asset of the Digital Humanities? What do you think is the measurement of completeness? Does the development of newer versions of Omeka count as a sign of a never-ending project?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Wednesday!

6 Replies to “Projects as a Scholarly Genre: Readings 4-6”

  1. Hi! In response to your question “Do you think all museums and libraries should aim to transition to a platform like Omeka that combines both the collection and presentation functions?” I think it would be incredibly beneficial for museums and libraries to create a digital platform to parallel their exhibits or featured resources. This would broaden their audience by expanding access to the internet for those that couldn’t go in person. Also there’s an extra level of creativity and conversation that can be reached by utilizing a platform like Omeka that museums and libraries couldn’t necessarily reach otherwise. Thank you for breaking down the starting up of Omeka and the transitions it’s made in its development over the years.

    1. I totally agree with you Claire. I also think that picking a platform that is uniform throughout the industry could be extremely helpful. While I understand that many institutions strive to be unique in the display of their content, I also wonder how a widespread integration of Omeka as a platform hosting museum content could benefit users. For example, if users become skilled in navigating Omeka exhibitions and collections that may lead to them feeling more confident and better equipped to take on more research. I know for me (even as a graduate student) navigating different digital sites, digital archives, and platforms can be a daunting task when attempting to undergo research. I’m curious if part of this could be tackled through the field turning towards widespread use of a platform like Omeka.

    2. Hi Claire! I really like your idea of museums and libraries creating a parallel exhibition for people to access! I noticed Omeka site showcased two examples like this, one is Toronto Library and the other is Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum! The element of collaboration and conversation of Omeka also really stand out for me when I read the article. The design of Omeka really reflected the philosophy of collaborative, transdisciplinary research in Digital Humanities.

  2. I’d like to respond to your question: “Do you think that a Digital Humanities project should have a definite endpoint or is the quality of open-ended and extensibility a valuable asset of the Digital Humanities?”
    Personally, I think that a project should always have an end goal that progress can be measured against. I think that it is a fair point to say that digital humanities projects could go on indefinitely, but a project manager, or funder for that matter, cannot measure against an indefinite timeline. While a definite endpoint may not be achievable in institutions with enormous collections to digitize, a defined goal is a valuable asset. We can acknowledge that digital project have the ability to continuously evolve, but overarching goals drive progress and, realistically, encourage funders to keep funding projects.

  3. Hi Mengshu! In response to your question about Omeka, I think it’s really interesting to see how the platform provides a combination of collection and presentation functions. I thought it was also cool to read how Scheinfeldt described it as a collaborative platform between the different personnel in a museum. For that reason, I feel like it is a good way to encourage different parts of an organization to work together. However, it seems like it would be a challenge to transition to Omeka just for the sake of transitioning to the platform. Especially for organizations with a lot of archived information, I wonder what the process would be like to move information over to Omeka. So maybe museums and libraries should aim to use platforms like Omeka as a way to connect with audiences and make their collections more accessible?

    1. Hi Mia! I agree with your concern about moving the entire archival system and website to Omeka. I think it’s certainly very beneficial to have a platform that encourages the collaboration between museum curators, designers, and archival professionals. But I was also wondering when reading about the existing collection management system used by museums and libraries, what are some of the benefits of keeping the collection or content management system separated and controlled by the institutions themselves? I also agree with you that for the institutions that already have a huge collection system and developed their own system of using the platform, maybe the most practical way is to upgrade the existing platform to be more like Omeka.

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