For the last couple of days I’ve been thinking about digital history more or less, 24-7. And I’ve decided that even though my original project idea (a blog documenting history exhibition installation shots) is useful, I think I could pretty much do it right now (well, theoretically….will I have time to do it? maybe not!) and so, because I’m in an environment where I’ll have more support than at any other time, I think that maybe I should try to go back to my original, much more ambitious, proposal.
My history department at Eastern Illinois University is full of wonderful, committed public and local historians. And what they’ve been doing for a long time (since 1998!) is gathering primary sources, mostly pertaining to Illinois state and local history, and putting them online. So what we have right now is two websites, Localities and Past Tracker, both which contain lots and lots of great primary sources (no one knows how many!) as well as some student and faculty projects using these sources. In other words, collections, and exhibitions. There are also some lesson plans, another great resource. We already know that many local teachers and researchers use them, and many of the documents on the site are not reproduced anywhere else. So we have a sense of who our audience is, and what their needs are, and how we might help meet those needs while at the same time expanding Localities and Past Tracker–perhaps with data visualization? Or collaboration? There are lots of good possibilities here, but before we do anything else, we need to strengthen our foundation–the collections.
When I came to Eastern last year, I began working with other faculty and a few graduate students on making these sources more accessible and more dynamic. So far, we’ve reorganized the two websites and regrouped our links, but they remain websites, and not databases. All of these sources and exhibitions need to be catalogued, organized, and invested with metadata. And after we get this back end done, we can start working on front end and interface. This is going to be a giant project that will likely take many years, but I’d like to begin now, by at least creating a project plan on how we might begin to use Omeka so that incoming graduate students have a place to start. This is my new plan, and I’m pretty excited about it. My new goal is to come out of the Doing Digital History summer institute with a game plan for this very big project.
Source: Another Day, Another Project