Intro to online archives with Omeka

Just wanted to say a little more about the Omeka workshop at THATCamp SEA, which will take place 1:40-2:30 tomorrow. Omeka, for those who don’t know, is a nice easy piece of software that lets you create online archives and exhibits. Think of it as a way of creating a searchable scholarly database of your primary sources with all of information that scholars want, plus a way of creating an interpretation and analysis of those sources. Here’s a great sample of an Omeka site related to early America: the John D. Rockefeller. Jr. Library of Colonial Williamsburg. Here, too, is a lovely Omeka site by Indiana University Libraries on the War of 1812.

Before tomorrow (or at the start of the session), please sign up for a free account on Omeka.net.


Integrating the tactile with the digital

Here’s my question, or topic, folks–and it’s quite speculative: How can I use technology to supplement my work in material culture–both with respect to research as well as pedagogy? In particular, I’m interested in textile and garment production in early America, but the relationship between the body and the object is really difficult to reconcile with digital interfaces. Of course, textiles aren’t the only such difficult object to translate onto the screen. Recent work on gastronomy and food ways, for example, presents a different, but similarly perplexing relationship between digital technology and historical inquiry.

Regarding research, I wonder if the database is the primary utility of digital technology. I’ve been tracking the development of the Cooper-Hewitt’s online collections of American design, since they have such a rich archive of textile arts–embroidery, garments, swatches. But relatively few images of these early artifacts are digitized. I’m interested in how this intermediary stage of the database creation forces researchers to forego the visual experience of these objects: Can we take advantage of this digital blindness to recreate some features of embodied experience, the experience that their wearers and producers might have more intimately had?

Regarding pedagogy, what uses of digital technology can we use to supplement teaching of material culture? I like to spend time with students introducing them to material culture by asking them to think about and discuss their own experience of clothing: Why, for example, might they choose to wear a certain garment rather than another–comfort? performance? utility? But how might we translate such observations on the continued salience of objects into/onto the two-dimensional experience of the screen?

I’d love to share skills sets and familiarity with dynamic platforms. In preparation for a discussion, I want to ask the following questions:

  1. What technology–hardware, software, etc.–makes you most aware of your physical engagement with the digital interface? with your environment at large?
  2. What has been the most challenging database you’ve encountered in your research? Did it generate any solutions or fruitful reevaluations of your archive?
  3. What is the oldest, least up-to-date piece of digital technology you use? What features do you value?

Thanks! Looking forward,




Session on database design & where else to go

Early American THATCampers,

This follows a bit along Zach Hutchins’s lines, and I’d be open to sharing a session with him if he’s interested.  I’ve been working on a database of the loan records for the Easton Library Company, an Easton, Pa. shareholding library (on the model of the Lib. Co. of Philadelphia), for the years 1811-1862.  The work has progressed to the point that my digital librarian collaborators and I are starting to plan front-end (i.e., user interface) issues, especially visualization tools.  At the same time, I have a research student sleuthing sources for biographical material on the shareholders and their representatives (in the early records, signatures of the people who actually signed the books out were included, not just the name on the account).  I’ve started looking at 19c maps of Easton, possible sources for the books (usually purchased in Philadelphia, from what I can tell), and I need feedback on these questions: what do you all want from a resource like this?  What queries/visualization options/etc. would be helpful?  What information beyond the loan records would you want integrated, and how?  I’m looking to do a little demonstration of the database so people can see what’s already getting built, but where things go from here is my main concern for the THATCamp session.  Thanks very much for your thoughts, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what others are doing, too!


TEAMS: Transcribing Early American Manuscript Sermons

I’d like to gauge interest in and to field suggestions on how best to pursue a long-term professional goal: creating a free, electronic archive of early American manuscript sermons. In The New England Soul (1986) Harry Stout challenged “the assumption that printed sermons are the best comprehensive index to ‘what was said and done publicly’” in colonial New England, arguing that manuscript sermons do not reflect the “shift from piety to moralism” suggested by the published record. Stout’s work with manuscript sermons overturned most basic assumptions about theology and lived religion in New England during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but his contributions have never been fully accepted by the scholarly community (I have heard early Americanists refer skeptically to his claims on a number of occasions) at least in part because his work is not easily replicable or verifiable. Stout read manuscript sermons in a dozen different archives over nine years; given the increasingly tight budgets at institutions across the country, most scholars will be lucky if they make a dozen trips to archives over the course of a career. Meredith Neuman’s forthcoming volume, Jeremiah’s Scribes (2013) will be the first major work to treat manuscript sermons since Stout–but still does not solve the larger problem of access. Establishing an electronic archive of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century manuscript sermons would allow budget-strapped early Americanists to extend the important work begun by Stout and now furthered by Neuman.


I have begun by identifying more than 60 different collections of manuscript sermons written before 1800 housed in eight different archives. While Stout’s work (and, I assume, Neuman’s) primarily treats sermons produced by Congregational ministers in New England, my proposed digital archive would provide a representative sample of sermons from multiple denominations and locations. I have already located sermons produced in New England, South Carolina, Virginia, New York, and New Jersey by Congregational, Presbyterian, and Episcopal preachers. These collections also include sermons written from multiple ideological perspectives, by Loyalists and Patriots, by advocates of Native evangelization and advocates of violence against Native Americans.


During this proposed breakout session, I’d love to hear your thoughts on such a project’s feasibility, appeal, problems, and design. Help, please!


museum-site visitor feedback

I’m interested in putting together a website of material on a very early American female lecturer, and I’d like it to be a research site that would host organized scholarly material (her manuscript lectures and letters, her touring schedule, the slides and charts she used, local educational materials, critical essays) but also be set up for feedback from scholars interested in the material—adding their research, links to related sites, critical articles, whatever. I suppose I’m thinking about an open blog attached to a website, but I’ve been surfing some sites that talk about the repetitiveness of certain visitor comments and the problem of too much input. How can this sort of thing be organized? I was curious if people had experience with these sorts of sites (dynamic ones) that didn’t get clogged, so to speak.

G. Ganter


teaching basic tech skills quickly, to get to the good stuff

Hi everyone. I also have a teaching related query. (I am going to echo Lisa’s previous comment: I’ve never been involved with a THATcamp before, so I don’t know if pedagogy is the type of focus ya’ll want to have. I struggle to integrate my classroom with the amazing digital stuff available though.) I’d be interested in sharing ideas about how to quickly & effectively teach basis tech skills so that students (mine are all undergraduates at a liberal arts school) can access material, perform readings/collaborations online, ect. For example, I use the Farber gravestone collection when teaching Puritan elegies http://www.davidrumsey.com. I know it isn’t ideal for the students to download an embedded application to view the images, but that’s the way the site is set up. I find that 50% or more of my students do not know how to walk through a download and install to be able to then view the images of gravestones. Some of them are quite tech savvy, but many are not. They may use their iPhones everyday, but that does not mean they know how to navigate and troubleshoot. (Of course, it doesn’t help that my school, like so many others, is still using Blackboard which is so terribly inefficient in so many terrible ways.) I’ve tried using a combination of groups and student-experts in the past, but I end up helping many of them in office hours. (Do I have to clarify that this is NOT the way I want to use my office hours?!) When you use http://publicpoetics.org or other sites, how do you also quickly coach your students to understand “how” to troubleshoot?  How do you help them understand the technology when some of them attend public schools that barely had working computers while others were provided with iPads? How do you help them help each other without the course becoming all about these skills and losing time on the content you are supposed to be teaching? I’d love to see some example lesson plans. Thanks 🙂


Possible topic–social annotation

Hi everyone.

I’ve never been at a THATCamp before, so I’m not entirely sure how the breakout sessions work. But one topic I’ve been thinking about a bit is social annotation. I’d like my students to be able to annotate texts collectively as they read. I’ve tried to do this class wikis (Columbia uses wikispaces) and with google docs, but both get very balky when the texts are long and multiple readers are working at the same time.

I’ve been looking at some MIT projects called Annotation Studio and NB. Annotation Studio seems well set up for long texts–one of their samples is Moby-Dick–while NB may be more fully developed at this point. The PI at NB turns out to be a college friend of mine, and the site includes a paper about classroom use of social annotation: “Successful Classroom Deployment of a Social Document Annotation System.”

I’m wondering if anyone who’ll be at THATCamp has tried either of these systems (or similar ones–the Annotation Studio site lists the following similar tools: eCommaDomeoHighbrowPrismOpenMarginPublic PoeticsCommentPressMarginaliaCo-ment, and NB) and might be interested in talking about how they could work for course reading. Again, I don’t know if this is what break-out sessions are for, but I’m happy to talk about this either at a break-out session or elsewhere. I don’t have a lot of time to prepare material much beyond what I’ve posted here–my paper for the regular conference is not yet written.

I welcome your thoughts.


Lisa Gordis


Announcing THATCamp SEA

We are excited to announce that the 2013 meeting of The Society of Early Americanists will feature a half-day THATCamp, an “unconference” that brings together scholars in the humanities with technologists, information scientists, and anyone else interested in learning more about the intersection between humanistic inquiry and digital technology.

THATCamp SEA will be held on Wednesday, February 27, from 1-6pm at the conference hotel. Please see <sea2013.thatcamp.org/register/> to register for the event, which will include workshops on Omeka, an open-source digital publishing platform designed specifically for scholars, librarians, and archivists, as well as on Data Visualization, which will explore several basic tools for visualizing literary and historical data. THATCamp SEA will also feature break-out sessions on topics proposed by THATCampers in the weeks leading up to the event.

Preliminary schedule:

  • 1:00-1:30 Welcome
  • 1:40-2:30 Workshop on Omeka by Amanda French
  • 2:40-3:30 Workshop on Data Visualization by Lauren Klein
  • 3:30-3:50 coffee break
  • 4:00-4:50 break-out sessions (3)
  • 5:00-5:50 break-out sessions (3)
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