Digital History with Omeka

Thursday, October 24, 2013
4:30 pm–6:30 pm, Alexander Library 413
169 College Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ
Taught by Sheila Brennan, Center for History and New Media, George Mason University.

This workshop will introduce Omeka, a publishing platform for library, museum, archive, and scholarly collection display that has been widely used for digital history projects. Omeka is designed for creating complex narratives and is known for emphasizing rich metadata using the Dublin Core standard. During the workshop, participants with sample materials will create their own Omeka sites using


This workshop is free but spaces are limited. Graduate students, faculty, and staff are welcome. No prior technical skills are required.
Please email Vishal Kamath to register at

Before the workshop

  • Sign up for a free Omeka Basic Account at
  • An Omeka site is built around a collection: please bring a small sample collection of materials (for example, a couple of images, or PDFs, or audio-visual files) to incorporate into your Omeka test site.
  • You may bring a laptop or use a lab machine. Using requires only a web browser. If you wish to use a lab machine, you will need a way to access your collection of materials. We recommend either e-mailing them to yourself (for small files) or using your cloud storage on ScarletDocs on ScarletMail (i.e., Rutgers’s bespoke Google Drive installation).

Notes from the workshop

At the workshop, Sheila handed out the Center for History and New Media’s Omeka Workshop Tip Sheet (pdf). I (Andrew Goldstone) have made a slightly modified HTML version; like the tip sheet, this post is licensed under a “share-alike” CC-BY-SA 3.0 license. At the end of this post, I have added additional notes about demo sites and plugins.

Plan Your Site

General Terminology

Content Management System

Controlled Vocabulary

what and why:


data about data, or descriptive information about a thing. In Omeka, the thing is an item. See the National Informational Standards Organization’s Understanding Metadata (pdf)

Dublin Core

Dublin Core Metadata Initiative provides an international standardized metadata schema for describing items in your Omeka site. Because the items are described with a standardized vocabulary, that data can easily be moved into, shared with other systems. See the Omeka Codex: Working with Dublin Core.

Hosting My Own Omeka Site ( vs.

See the Detailed Comparison Chart.

    • Allows for most flexibility in design
    • Gives you access to all plugins and themes, all are free
    • Requires a Linux server host and responsible for upgrades.
    • Best for complicated sites that want a unique design, and access to many different plugins
    • No server required, web app only
    • Sites and plugins automatically upgraded
    • Storage, number of sites, plugin and theme availability varies by plan, some potential costs involved:
    • Best for creating a site quickly and economically, focus is on the content. Works very well for as project space for students

How does Omeka compare to other systems?

Intros, Reviews, Resources about Omeka

Omeka-Specific Terms

(Modified from Miriam Posner’s Up and Running with

Omeka installation

folders and files packaged together in one main directory on your server that work together to build an Omeka website.


The basic unit of an Omeka site. An item can be anything: a photograph, a work of art, a person, an idea. You’ll describe each item, and you can upload files to represent it, too. You’ll build your Omeka site by assembling items.


A set of items that you’ve grouped together. Your Omeka site can have multiple collections, but an individual item can only belong to one collection at a time.


A thematic tour of your items. Each exhibit has pages, and pages can be nested. A page is a group of items (along with descriptions). You can have multiple exhibits, and items can belong to multiple exhibits.

Item Type

An item, can be many different things, like a photograph, a website, a book, or a person. An “item type” is just the kind of thing the item is. You can choose from a built-in list of item types, or you can create your own.

Simple Page

A web page on your Omeka site that isn’t part of an exhibit or item. For example, you can add an “About” page using Simple Pages. Pages can be nested.

Help with Omeka

Start with CHNM’s documentation, containing step-by-step tutorials:

Ask a question:

Notes added by AG from the October 24 workshop

Selected Omeka sites

Some of the sites we looked at:


We also discussed a number of plugins during the workshop. The plugins are discussed in this section of the site documentation: Manage Themes and Plugins. In addition to the crucial Exhibit Builder plugin, we mentioned or tried out the following:

Some of these plugins require one of the paid service levels on (but can be installed free on a self-hosted omeka installation).

We also looked at Neatline, a suite of Omeka plugins for maps and timelines (Scholars’ Lab, University of Virginia). Not available on, this requires additional setup. However, you can try it out in the Neatline Sandbox, or see the Neatline Demos.

Workshop notes added by AG, October 27, 2013
Minor edits by AG, same day