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Add Space and Time to Your Omeka Exhibits

Omeka put the creation of rich online collections of archival materials within reach of anyone who has some limited experience with installing and running software on hosted web server. We have been a big fan of it here at ProfHacker, and with Omeka.net, which we introduced back in its beta days, now you can have an Omeka site up and running with no server experience.

A number of fantastic plugins have emerged and are supported by a wonderful developer community. One of the exciting larger ways that Omeka (as well as WordPress and Drupal in this case) can be expanded in powerful ways is Scripto, which we talked about here in the context of a growing number of tools for crowdsourced transcription.

In 2012 another fantastic collection of tools tied in with Omeka called Neatline came out that enables you to more easily incorporate a spatial and time component into your Omeka exhibits. Neatline was put together by the Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia library and since its release, it has developed quickly with a 2.0 release last year, and a very solid collection of blog posts and documentation that helps you get up and running.

Perhaps the best way to see what Neatline can do for your Omeka collections is to check out the demos. Bethany Nowviski has explored the "textually-derived maps and cartographically-arranged texts" of Frances Henshaw’s 1823 Book of Penmanship Executed at the Middlebury Female Academy, with comments in the form of an exhibitor’s guide, listed at the right as you explore the maps. You can even use it for the more straightforward task of creating rich layered maps without a narrative or exhibit quality to it. David McClure shows what beautiful visual and typographical effects and come out of working within Neatline to create an exhibit on the neighborhoods of San Francisco.

As always there are other tools and ways that can get you the same end result as seen in these two examples. However, what really makes Neatline strong is the way in which allows you work with a set of archival assets that all can have full Dublin core metadata in the easy and familiar environment of Omeka. It takes some of the pain out of map hosting and out of the box supports a number of key base maps like Google Maps, OpenStreeMap and and some nice OSM layers from stamen.com.

Some of the most powerful exhibits in Neatline can be created by having geocoded historical maps at the base, rather than on of the above layers. This process requires more work to prepare the geocoded maps, and somewhere that will host GeoServer to serve up the map tiles. If you are up for giving it a try, there are three blog posts (1, 2, 3) that guide you through the process of incorporating historical maps directly into your exhibit.

Have you given Neatline a try? Or come across effective use of Neatline exhibits beyond those shown in the demos? Have you found other effective ways to get a space and time component up without too much technical effort required?

[CC-licensed Flickr photo by David]

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