Omeka: Serious Web Publishing in South Africa

Together with his colleague at the Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative (APC) at UCT, Dr Mbongiseni Buthelezi, Grant secured a grant from the NRF to bring Sharon Leon to South Africa. Sharon is the Director of Public Projects at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) at the George Mason University. The RRCHNM has produced two leading open-source software tools –  Zotero and Omeka – that are very widely used in the digital cultural sector. The purpose of Sharon’s visit is to work with the APC on the Five Hundred Year Archive project. She will also be giving two free public lectures and workshops on Omeka, one at Wits in Johannesburg and one at UCT in Cape Town on Monday, 7th September (details below). 

Omeka is a free, flexible, and open source web-publishing platform for the display of library, museum, archives, and scholarly collections and exhibitions. We feel that it has much potential for the cultural sector in South Africa.


Omeka Workshop, Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative, UCT

When: Monday, 7th September 2015 at 9:00am

Where: John Berndt Thought Space (Room A17), Basement of the AC Jordan Building (Arts Block), Upper Campus, UCT

RSVP: Please RSVP to Faranaaz Vraagom ( and Grant McNulty ( before Thursday, 20th August. Space is limited to 25 participants so we ask that you send a representative from your organisation and RSVP as soon as possible.

Engagement and Access in Digital Public History (9:00am – 11:00am)

The work of public history calls for taking good history scholarship into the world to meet the needs and interests of a non-academic audience. While much of that work has traditionally happened in face-to-face encounters and at physical sites, increasingly public historians are encountering their audiences through digital means, such as social media, blogs, exhibit sites, collection and archives sites, mobile applications, and digital simulations. The possibilities for doing sophisticated digital public history work have expanded significantly since the first cultural heritage organizations began to create web presences in the mid-1990s. At the same time, the core elements and challenges of doing rigorous public history work have not changed all that much. As a result, the best digital public history work requires a blend of applied technical skills, targeted engagement strategies, disciplinary ways of knowing, and content knowledge.
Public historians in cultural heritage institutions need a practical introduction to doing digital public history that speaks to their theoretical and methodological commitments while offering clear guidance on preparing for, executing, and sustaining vibrant projects. This presentation will offer a formulation of support structures, tools, and frameworks to support the creation of user-centered digital public history work in small organizations. Bringing together the core areas of expertise in applied technical skills, targeted engagement strategies and historical content knowledge, the presentation will introduce the concept of user-centered digital public history, and then offer an outline of support materials for planning (research, strategy, and infrastructure creation), executing (building digital collections, creating rich interpretive content, and creating engaged communities around that work), and sustaining (frequent evaluation, ongoing outreach campaigns, and attention to issues of digital preservation) digital public history projects.

Taking the Next Steps with your Omeka Project (11:30am – 1:30pm)

Omeka is a leading open source (released under the GPLv 3.0) collections-based web publishing platform for cultural heritage institutions, researchers, scholars, and students, developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) and the growing open source developer community it supports. Publicly launched in February 2008, Omeka has been downloaded tens of thousands of times. Unlike many similar platforms, Omeka takes a user-centered, access-focused approach to collections, emphasizing approachable, accessible Web design and community features. As a result, a wide range of institutions adopting Omeka include the State Archives of Florida, the Newberry Library, the Smithsonian Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation, the University of California, Berkeley, and many college and university libraries (See the Omeka showcase for examples

This workshop will introduce participants to the basic elements of Omeka’s infrastructure: items, collections, plugins, and themes. From there, participants will learn how to publish their collections, and build interpretive websites that leverage contextual metadata, item relationships, and geospatial data. Similarly, participants will explore methods to engage visitors through a number of approaches, including social media, commenting, community-sourced contributions and transcriptions. Finally, participants will discuss the ways that Omeka is situated in the large scholarly communications ecosystem.

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