IMLS funds Opening Omeka for Close and Distant Reading

RRCHNM is pleased to announce that it has been awarded a National Leadership Grant for Libraries from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to fund Opening Omeka for Close and Distant Reading [LG-05-14-00125-14].

Over the course of the two decades since the invention of the web browser, the world’s libraries have provided digital access to a torrent of cultural heritage materials. For many libraries and special collections, Omeka has been the route to providing this kind of unprecedented public access to their holdings. While access to digitized materials is better than ever, average users do not have adequate tools to help them gain intellectual control over these materials—up close and at scale.

Libraries and archives with diverse collections need a new set of easy-to-use tools to enable visitors to engage in both distant and close reading, without requiring users to have knowledge of sophisticated programming languages. In some collections, an individual item may appear trivial and anecdotal. But, examining all items as a coherent corpus holds the promise of surfacing larger insights by evaluating large bodies of text in the aggregate. While some researchers interested in examining large-scale collections, researchers often also need to closely examine individual elements. This practice requires another set of tools, operating where the collections live, so that once the relevant sources have been identified and isolated, they are available for focused explication by a knowledgeable hand by highlighting, isolating, and annotating important elements within particular digital objects.

Opening Omeka for Distant and Close Reading (Oct. 2014-Sept. 2017) will produce four plugins for Omeka that will facilitate both the computational analysis of large collections of materials and their metadata, and the close reading and annotation of individual digitized sources:

Distant Reading

  • A word frequency plugin that will allow site creators and authorized users to offer a quantitative snapshot of an Omeka collection or another grouping of items
  • An n-gram plugin that will allow site creators and authorized users to chart the usage of words in document transcription in relationship to some other metadata variable, such as date or coverage

Close Reading

  • An annotation plugin that will allow site creators and guest users to add targeted commentary to image files, making aspects of their close reading visible
  • An annotation plugin that will allow site creators and guest users to add targeted commentary to text/transcription content

In the effort to support the adoption and use of these tools by content experts who work with existing Omeka collections, or who plan to build research collections in the future, RRCHNM will produce a series of step-by-step case studies and usages guides for each plugin, using the September 11 Digital Archive as the seedbed for these case studies, we will clearly demonstrate the benefits of using the tools to develop and communicate new insights about large-scale digital cultural heritage collections. Together with instructional guides and research case studies, these tools will help encourage enthusiastic and reluctant scholars alike to explore digital archives, which will lead them to ask new types of research questions and explore topics previously out of their grasp.

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Since 1994, the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University has used digital media and computer technology to democratize history—to incorporate multiple voices, reach diverse audiences, and encourage popular participation in presenting and preserving the past. We sponsor more than two dozen digital history projects and offer free tools and resources for historians. Learn More

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