Prototyping an Oral History Archive: NATO Bombardment in National Memory and Nostalgia

Like many graduate students, I am currently in the midst of applying for summer fellowships and research funding. One of the fellowships I just applied for would grant me funding to conduct an oral history project for the 20th Anniversary of NATO’s bombardment of Serbia. In the event I’m awarded this grant, an important part of this project down the line is building a digital space for these interviews to live. I want these stories to be publicly accessible so that people can hear and engage with them, educators can use them as teaching tools, scholars can utilize them as primary sources, and policy makers can reference them when making important decisions in foreign affairs. For my digital project for this class I’d like to build a prototype of what this site would look like and how it would function.

Project Description: This online oral history archive would live on an Omeka S server (access provided by American University.) It would host the fifty or so oral history interviews collected through my (potential) summer fellowship research. The site would have important contextual information about the project and NATO’s bombardment of Serbia. It would also provide a timeline, so users can understand the series of events that took place and a glossary to provide reference for terms that often appear in interviews but are unfamiliar and/or unique to this event. The archive itself would host each oral history interview. It would provide biographical information on the interviewee and eventually a transcript of the interview. Each video would be tagged based on interview content and the oral history archive would be key word searchable. Users could search based on theme, places, gender, and birth year. An educational section of this site would later be created and geared towards high school and university instructors.

Audience: This site would be built for several audiences. First and foremost, it’s for the interviewees themselves. Having a space where interviewees can go and listen to their interviews and share them with people important to them is a vital aspect of this project to me. The second audience this site would be built for is the public. This would be a site that anyone trying to learn more about the NATO bombing could easily access and navigate, but also a space useful to educators, scholars, and policy makers.

Existing Projects: So many oral history projects are now hosted online as either archives or through digital story telling platforms. My vision of what this site would look like draws both on the Croatian Memories Project and Oral History Kosovo. Both of these sites are well done and easy to navigate. They make different historiographical interventions than this project, but they provide good models of what a successful online oral history space looks like.

Plan for outreach and publicity: This online oral history archive would be shared among its interviewees, which would hopefully produce a ripple effect and allow its reach to grow. It would also be advertised to the numerous former-Yugoslav communities in the U.S. and abroad. Links would also be sent to secondary education facilities and universities. Specifically, I’d try to be in touch with university libraries who could link the projects on their main sites. I’d also utilize social media, particularly Twitter and Instagram (#twitterstorians) to gain a base of followers.  

Evaluation Plan: The success of this project would be measured over time and in a variety of ways. First, I’d most want to see traffic on the site grow, as long as there is a steady increase of traffic, that’s progress. Second, I’d be interested in receiving feedback from instructors who use the site. Their comments would indicate how useful the site actually is to the public and what changes need to be made. Finally, down the line, I’d be interested in seeing if/how these interviews are being utilized by scholars. I’m not yet certain how this would be tracked, but I think it’s a reasonable way to measure success since this project aims to add to the historiography and body of literature on the former-Yugoslavia.

Crowd-Sourcing Jasenovac: Wikipedia as Memory and the Production of the Past

Our discussion about crowdsourcing really got me thinking about the construction of historically memory online and what influence this memory has on historical narratives and national identity. My project proposal below digs into that a little deeper and I look forward to hearing any comments or suggestions you all might have!

In 2018, popular online magazine Balkan Insight reported historical revisionism found in Croatian Wikipedia’s article on Jasenovac Concentration Camp. Jasenovac was the concentration and death camp where at least 83,000 Serbs, Jews, Roma, and anti-fascist political prisoners were executed and/or interned by the Ustaše– a Croatian proto-fascist, ultra-nationalist, Nazi collaborationist organization that ruled the Independent State of Croatia from 1941-1945. These news articles showed that Croatian Wikipedia misrepresented the nature of Jasenovac and the Ustaše and omitted facts crucial to understanding the crimes committed there, sparking outrage among Serbs, Jews, and other representative groups.

As an open-source, community-built space, Wikipedia functions as a public venue where Serbs and Croats engage with their contested past. Examining their representations of Jasenovac and the Ustaše grants insight into public memory of the Second World War and the Holocaust in Serbia and Croatia that exists beyond official memory and suggests its influence on contemporary conceptions of national identity. Using J.M. Winter’s idea of “collective remembrance” and Benedict Anderson’s framework of imagined communities, this paper assess how Wikipedia has become a forum for the cultivation of historical memory in Serbia and Croatia in the post-Yugoslav era.[1] As numerous scholars have found, contested memory surrounding the Ustaše and Jasenovac occupies a distinct space in ongoing animosities among Serbs and Croats. Their studies, however, have generally only examined official spaces of memory like commemorations, museum exhibitions, political rhetoric, international criminal courts and other politically charged sites of memory.[2]

         Wikipedia articles are built on three policies: users cannot contribute original research, they must provide a neutral point of view, and all information must be verifiable (cited secondary sources are preferred.) ‘Neutrality’ on Wikipedia is loosely specified and generally regulated by other users and site administrators, while the quality of information users contribute to Wikipedia is not held to any precise standard. This paper thus uses Croatian and Serbian Wikipedia to examine the narratives of Jasenovac and the Ustaše contributors have crafted. It considers what elements of these narratives are left out and how they are positioned within each framework of national history. It further traces the evolution of these pages to determine how these narratives have developed over time and examines the interactions and points of debate among contributors to further grasp what elements of Jasenovac and Ustaše memory are of greatest concern and why. Placing this study within existing literature ultimately reveals conflicts and continuity within the existing memory framework and its place in current conceptions of Serbian and Croatian identity.


[1] Jay Winter, Remembering War: The Great War Between Memory and History in the Twentieth Century, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 3-5; Benedic Anderson, Imagined Communities Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso Press, 1991).

[2] Lilijana Radonić, “Croatia – Exhibiting Memory and History at the ‘Shores of Europe,’” Culture Unbound 3 (2011): 355-367,; Rob Van Der Laarse, “Beyond Auschwitz? Europe’s Terrorscapes in the Age of Post-Memory,” Memory and Post-War Memorials: Confronting the Violence of the Past, ed. Marc Silberman and Florence Vatan, (New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013), 71-92; Stipe Odak and Andriana Benčić, “Jasenovac- A Past That Does Not Pass: The Presence of Jasenovac in Croatian and Serbian Collective Memory Conflict,” Eastern European Politics, Societies, and Cultures 30 (2016), 805-829; Heike Karge, “Mediated Remembrance: Local Practices of Remembering the Second World War in Tito’s Yugoslavia,” European Review of History 16 (2009): 49-62; Đurašković, Stevo. “National Identity-Building and the ‘Ustaša-Nostalgia’ in Croatia: The Past That Will Not Pass.” Nationalities Papers 44, no. 5 (2016): 772–788.

Curating Online Exhibits with Omeka

Have you even been out with friends who keep talking about this really great vacation they recently went on but you didn’t go and so you’re kind of left out and don’t know all of the inside jokes? I think that’s how most people in the Humanities feel when they hear the word Omeka, but don’t really know what it is.

Omeka, as their website so eloquently puts it, is a “web publishing platform for sharing digital collections and creating media-rich online exhibitions.” Or in grad student terms, Omeka is a nifty online platform that allows you to create digital exhibitions. It can be really simple or more crafty depending on what you’re looking to create and how much effort you want to put in. While several new open source online exhibition platforms have become available over the last few years, Omeka is kind of the OG.

Now I have a confession to make. I am not totally new to Omeka. We actually first met back during my first year of grad school for my Intro to Public History course. But, I am not an expert by any means (as I will soon show) and I was excited for the opportunity to reunite with Omeka and rekindle my relationship with it.

Omeka actually has what I would consider a pretty spectacular user guide, and since I’m not one to reinvent the wheel, I’m going to draw on it to show you the most basic elements of how to get started (you can view the whole guide and more here.) Then, I’ll show you what a basic Omeka site looks like by giving you a glimpse of the site I made in 2016 (shameless self promotion, yes I know). Finally, I’ll show you some fantastic Omeka powered sites that put mine to shame, and show you what this platform can really do.

So first things first. Go to www.omeka.net and click on Sign Up. Choose the Trial plan. Fill in the sign-up form. Check your email for the link to activate your account.

Sign up for a trial account

Once you’ve activated your account, you’ll be taken to a page where you can create your own site. Fill in the information about your site’s URL, the title you want to use, and a description if you’d like, and Congratulations friends, you have a site!

View your site

Empty Omeka sites are pretty dull. They look like this:

Public view

Which is why you’ll want to change the theme by clicking on the Appearance button and choose something more eye catching. Once you have your new and exciting theme, you are ready to add some content. You’ll find the item button on the left hand panel.

Add an item

Once you’ve clicked that, you’ll provide some information about your item. Just don’t forget to check the little public button on the right side of the page or no one will be able to see your cool stuff.

Make your item Public using checkbox circled here

You can also attach images to your items and link to URLs.

Adding files to an item

Once you’ve added a bunch of items per the directions above, you’re ready to create collections. So for example, if your site is about the Civil War, you might have a collection on Civil War military uniforms, another on photographs, and a third on manuscripts. You can organize the items you want to put in each collection by following this simple process.

Add a collection by clicking on the button to the left.

Add a Collection

Gives us some info on it.

And add your pre-added items to it.

Click the item checkbox to batch edit

Hooray! You now have a collection and are on your way to an awesome Omeka site!

Now, unfortunately, when I created my first Omeka site many moons ago in 2016, I did not uncover how to create collections, so my site looks like this, and is made up of a bunch of items:

And although this basic site perhaps isn’t the ideal example, you get the gist of what a site looks like. Here’s a closer look at how each item appears on the site:

Now if you really want to get inspired by Omeka, check out its directory of sites found here. They utilize the plugin features that can be added to Omeka which you can learn about by following this link. I really liked this site for the American Merchant Marine Veterans Oral History Project that features a really fancy interactive map.

But my personal favorite site, that I was just ecstatic to find, was this one on World War One curated by the National Library of Serbia. It features some great tools for educators teaching about the Great War and an awesome variety of collections.

So now that you know how to use Omeka and have seen what it can do, the only question is what kind of digital exhibit you’ll curate.?

Digital Analysis Is Becoming a Walk in the Park.

As the digital humanities continue to grow, it’s important to acknowledge where the discipline has been, where it’s going, and why its methods are of use to all humanists, digital and non.

These are questions Martyn Jessop and Joanna Guldi tackle in their articles. They’re interested in the use of digital visualization and textual analysis in humanities scholarship.

In “Digital Visualization as Scholarly Activity,” Jessup describes digital visualization with three characteristics. It is:

  • Interactive
  • Allows the manipulation of both graphical representations and the data it’s derived from.
  • And finally, it acts as the primary medium of communication.

Today, digital visualization comes in various forms, but Jessup looks specifically at the types of data being visualized and identified the following:

  • Space: While Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software tends to dominate the study of spatial relationships, digital dynamic maps are more often utilized by humanists.
  • Quantitative Data: Quantitate Analysis as visualization can be found in generic statistical analysis software or embedded in specialized applications like those used in text analysis.
  • Text: A lot of text visualization methods are analytical quantitative methods borrowed from the sciences. These can include tables or graphs, or more recently, unidimensional or two-dimensional physical objects, abstract objects showing relations among words or between words and annotation, and animations.
  • Time: These usually look like timelines that study complex historical events, their buildup, and the interrelatedness of earlier events.
  • 3D Visualization: This is typically in the form of visualizations of built environments, like a recreation of Ancient Roman Cities.

While these forms of digital visualization in the humanities appear to be something new, Jessup shows how they fall in the wider context of visual sources in the humanities that scholars have utilized for some time. These include galleries of images, single images, museums and collections of objects, moving images like film or television, dramatic recreations, maps and atlases, and visualizations of data. Each of these visual secondary sources organize thoughts about the past and communicate them to others. They represent a continuum of visualization within Humanities scholarship that have always constituted valid scholarly activity. Digital visualization is simply the latest development.   

Jessup does however find problematic qualities in digital visualization because it presents viewers with a complete and convincing image that is formed from research that is often incomplete. In addition, only few users practice digital visualization or are even visually literate which results in a lack of historical background regarding theoretical issues and methodology among practitioners.

To ensure the integrity of digital visualization as a scholarly activity Jessup argues that standards of the field need to be established in order to ensure intellectual rigor. He looks to the London Charter, a document created for and by the digital heritage community, as a model for the creation of such standards. It addresses issues of method, sourcing, transparency, and documentation standards that should be applied to digital visualizations in order to reach its full potential application in the humanities.

The issues Jessup highlights with digital visualization are personified in Guldi’s study of walking in London during the first half of the nineteenth century.  

Guldi uses electronic databases like Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO), The Making of the Modern World (MMW), Google Book Search, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and others to understand how walking symbolized social change in nineteenth century London. She ultimately found that during the rise of middle-class political power that occurred around the time of the 1832 Reform Act, walking became a means of identity making on the streets of London where power was vied for by middle-class ‘striders’ and aristocratic ‘loungers.’

Guldi’s work shows that these type of textual digital visualization methods can be extremely beneficial to historical inquiry. However, this research was not without its complications.

As Jessup notes above, problems of method and incomplete data pose an issue to visualization, issues that Guldi encountered during her research. She found many constraints in the databases she was using. They were often incomplete, reflected institutional biases, or had questionable accuracy rates.

Despite these shortcomings, Guldi did in fact find serious benefit to using these resources –they just required some cross checking, contextual readings, selection of terms, iterations, and careful periodization. This approach is how Guldi was able to perform a nuanced series of keyword searches across these platforms to identity how the term ‘walking’ in its various forms appeared in secondary publications from 1800-1850. Applying contextual readings based on these searches, Guldi was able to identify how the ‘stride’ of the middle-class and the ‘lounge’ of aristocrats were constructed and symbolized class differences and conflict during this era.

While Guldi found that walking in nineteenth century London was a subject particularly well suited for this type of textual analysis because of its substantial use of nuanced terminology, it’s likely that other areas of inquiry would benefit from this type of analysis as well. As digital analysis methods develop into concrete standards and practices like Jessup hopes, and visual literacy expands, humanists will be able to utilize these methods on a greater scale. This will open up new avenues for research that might have always existed, but perhaps we didn’t know were there or didn’t know how to use them.

Has Guldi’s research inspired you to try out textual analysis in your own research? Can you think of a project that would benefit from digital visualization? What kind of standards should methods and tools of digital analysis have?

Greetings All!

Hello! My name is Alexandra, but you can call me Alex. I am a first year History PhD student here at AU. My research interests center on memory politics and the former Yugoslavia. I’m particularly interested in public spaces of historical memory, commemorations, and the relationship between the past and present. I have an MA in Public History, and although I am pursuing the traditional History PhD, I’m deeply committed to producing work in accessible mediums the public can engage in. (You can take the girl out of Public History but you can’t take Public History out of the girl.) That’s where this class comes in! I’m excited to learn more about current digital history platforms, tools, and methods that I can apply to future and current work. I also hope to incorporate existing digital tools into my research as well (stay tuned for more on that!)

During my time working on my MA, I craved a class on Digital History Methods. Unfortunately for me, a professor wasn’t hired to teach such a course until after I graduated. From what I can tell, this course will offer me the fix of Digital History that I’ve been longing for and then some. I’m looking forward to an exciting semester & can’t wait to see where the semester project leads!

I know that it’s become critical (or rather an unwritten requirement) for historians and other scholars to have an online presence. Last fall, while applying to PhD programs I created my own wixsite. Unfortunately, I haven’t done much to update it since then (whoops) and need to rework it to fit my new role as a PhD student and incorporate the exciting research projects I’ve been working on over the last year. If you have a second to check it out and have any feedback I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!