Digital History Exhibit Assignment

This assignment requires you to build a robust digital exhibit on a historical topic using Omeka. Archives and museums have vast collections of items in storage, only a small fraction of which are on display on any given day. The online exhibit you make for this course (using Omeka’s Exhibit Builder plugin) will, like a museum exhibit, be a meaningful selection of items from your archive accompanied by explanatory, interpretive text.

Key assignment dates

Completion of Steps 1-4: March 6

Rough Draft Exhibit: March 27

Final Draft Exhibit: April 24

Step 1

Choose a topic. Your topic might be rather large (ancient Egyptian funerary art), or it could be small and focused (labor unions in western Pennsylvania during the Great Depression). It might help you to look through collections of online objects to find some objects that might fit an idea for a topic – without objects (images, artifacts, data, etc) you can’t build an exhibit. Make sure to discuss your topic with me before moving forward.

Please note that the point of this exhibit is to demonstrate mastery of various digital tools and thoughtful construction of a digital exhibit, not necessarily to do original research. I have no problem with you basing the exhibit on a research project you have done before, or a paper you are writing for another class this semester. You are not cheating or “double-dipping” – you are developing a focused area of research expertise! 🙂

Step 2

Begin finding online items that you can use for your exhibit. Remember that “items” can include objects, photos, maps, timelines, tables, illustrations, figures, videos, and audio clips. You will need at least 15 items of at least 3 different types. Really excellent projects will likely go beyond the 15 items. (Note: We will be discussing additional tools to use in your exhibit in the coming weeks.)

There are many sources for digital objects:

United States History

Library of Congress, especially American Memory



National Archives

NYPL Digital Gallery

Internet Archive

Digital Public Library of America

Making of America

Flickr: The Commons (contains international and U.S.)

European/World History


British Museum

Bibliothèque nationale de France (don’t worry, you can use the English page!)

Bundesarchiv particularly the still picture archive

Latin American Archives (a list of various archives and sites – not all digitized collections)

International Dunhuang Project (Central Asia and the Silk Road)

East Asia Image Collections (Lafayette College)

Nagasaki University Digital Collection

Obviously, this is only a sampling of the vast digital archives and collections available online, and you can (and probably should) use items from other sources. Beware, however, of Tumblr sites or social media feeds like “History in Pics” or the like – these usually don’t give proper attribution or metadata, and often have inaccurate captions.

Remember that, when using objects from elsewhere, you should record full citations and include them in your exhibit, and also include all available Dublin Core metadata.  Also, be sure you are using the highest-resolution images, not just the thumbnails, when pulling items from other sites.

Step 3

Keep in mind that an exhibit is not just a collection of objects. It is the purposeful curation of those objects to tell a particular story.  Like a traditional paper, an exhibit has a thesis – a core question or idea that provides the structure. With that in mind, you may find your initial collection needs additional objects

Review tutorials on using Exhibit Builder for Omeka.  NOTE: DO NOT skip this step. It is probably the most important part of the entire process!

Step 4

Find references and information to support the interpretive text for your exhibit. Of course, you can start with Wikipedia as a reference source (make sure that you check  the recommended links at the end of the Wikipedia entry), but you should do further research. Be sure to make use of the reference and informational materials available to you through the online databases at the college’s library. The LibGuide for History is also very helpful. You should list the sources that you find in a specific “references” section.

Steps 1-4 should be completed by Tuesday, March 6. That week I will be consulting with each of you about your exhibit planning and your collections before you move forward with exhibit construction.

Step 5

Create your exhibit, which should be geared for a general audience but which should also convey your knowledge of the topic that you have selected. As you work on the text descriptions and information for your exhibit, it is a good idea to work on that outside of Omeka and then cut-and-paste into Omeka. That way if something goes wrong, you still have your typed-up material.

Step 6

By 12:00 noon on Tuesday, write a 200-300 word blog post which includes a link to your Omeka exhibit, and also reflects on these questions:

  1. What is the thesis or “big idea” of your digital exhibit?
  2. What 2 or 3 items in your exhibit help communicate those ideas most effectively?
  3. What areas do you think still need improvement?
  4. What additions and improvements are you planning to make?
  5. Is there an idea you had for an interpretive element that you don’t know how to do?
Step 7

Revise your exhibit in accordance with the feedback of the instructor.

Step 8

Submit your final exhibit for a grade.  Due Date is Tuesday, April 24.

Finally, please remember that your work is public on the web, viewable by anyone; so you should make it your best possible work.

Exhibit requirements:

  • background information about the exhibit’s topic
  • an explanation of each of the exhibit’s items. The explanation should be a solid paragraph in length, maybe 100-150 words, but this could vary a bit
  • At least two of the following interpretive elements:
    • a map with analysis or information (not just illustration)
    • timeline (using Neatline or TimelineJS)
    • annotated image or document (using Neatline or Thinglink, for example)
    • audio (a voice introduction, for example, or an excerpt from an oral history)
  • proper citations for sources
  • proper grammar and style
  • overall professional design of the site (background, font, and colors)
  • working hyperlinks
  • a section of “references” listing the sources that you have consulted
  • a section “for further reading” that provides links, books or article for more information
  • a section “about me” which should explain the assignment and some short background information about yourself.

Your online exhibit should not include:

  • materials without proper citation
  • large amounts of quoted secondary-source material and commentary
  • commercial content or any advertising
  • pornography, obscenity, or links to such images or content


Screencast: Embedding Objects in an Omeka Exhibit


Other Resources for Design and Interpretive Elements in Your Exhibit

Canva: great resource for creating header images, banners, stylized text, etc.

CloudConvert: “convert anything to anything” For converting files into more user-friendly formats. Need to make that PDF into a JPG so it can be an Omeka item? This will do it, quickly.

Geolocation: Omeka plugin that allows you to give items a location on a map. View this helpful screencast for a good introduction to its function and setup.

MapWarper: geo-rectify historic maps to present day geographic data

TimeLine JS: create a timeline of key events, described with images and text. This can then be embedded into your Omeka exhibit.

Juxtapose: compare before and after images (for example, aerial views of a city before and after bombing)

ThingLink: annotate an image with text, audio, and links.

Story Maps: map data and incorporate maps into interpretive storytelling. Does most of the same things as CartoDB, but interface is more user-friendly.

Omeka Themes: Themes allow you to customize the appearance and navigation of your Omeka site.  You can download some common ones at the Omeka site, but there are lots of others out there, including:


Customomeka (lets you customize just about everything. Not for the faint of heart!)


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