Digital Public History

Walking Through History in Public Part II

Last fall I was fortunate enough to visit the Chinese Historical Society of America in San Francisco.  William Tran, the Education and Programs Coordinator, led my teacher group on a walking tour of Chinatown.  It was fascinating to observe all the layers of story as he explained the evolution of Chinatown through its architecture and changing landscape.  He held up documents and photos that helped us to see the changes in the landscape over time and to understand the ways that urban pressures are rapidly eroding the cultural heritage of the community.

Later in the trip my family joined me, and I tried to duplicate the experience using a paper tour map that William copied for me. I was not a successful tour guide.  I was missing his knowledge and the supplementary materials he showed us that enriched the experience.

Recently, friends have visited San Francisco, and I have encouraged them to try to book a tour through the museum.  Sadly, tours are very limited due to staffing shortages.  Thinking about the work of Histories of the National Mall, I have imagined how a mobile history app or website that mimics William’s wisdom, insight and perspective might aid the museum in sharing the rich history of Chinatown and draw people in to connected exhibits housed at CHSA.

While I haven’t used StreetMuseum in the field, I wonder if it might overload the user with content in an already overwhelming environment.  It seems that the challenge of augmented reality is to provide enough information and supportive content to enhance the experience of the user without overwhelming the real world.  While our physical landscape may often be a living museum, it is important to remember that the life goes on as we are moving through it.  A museum is, by its nature, an intentionally designed physical space meant to constrain the user’s experience of an environment.  Signage, user guides and docent tours augment that intentional space.  It seems that one of the challenges of augmented reality is how to design virtual signage, user guides and docent tours in a way that are supportive for its user and do not stress the user with information overload.

While my project isn’t really tied to an augmented reality environment, I wonder how I might design an experience for visitors to the CHSA as they walk though the museum’s exhibits and out into the physical landscape that inspired them.  In my mind, less may be more, but I would make sure that the content I did create would enhance the user’s focus and security in the environment in order to generate meaningful understanding about how an environment changes over time.

Walking Through History in Public


I used Clio to locate the Downtown Dallas Walking Tour.  To call this tour a mobile history site is a generous term.  While it does guide the driver or pedestrian on an 18 stop tour of downtown, it leaves a great deal to be desired.  The page layout is not sized to fit the mobile device, and many content items appear on each page.  One must navigate down to the bottom of the page to click to the next stop on the tour.  It does provide an audio guide, but it is simply a computer narrator voicing the written text.  While it keeps the tourist from having to read the information, it only provides place by place information.  Walking directions aren’t included.  One needs to follow the link on the Google map embedded in the page to get walking directions. This requires one to flip between apps and uses data to maintain a connection to the landscape.

Another drawback is that the information presented would be just as useful viewed from a desk as from being in the field.  The content is in no way connected to helping the user contextualize being in the landscape.

In sharp contrast is the Rick Steves Audio Europe Travel App that I have used in many cites while on research trips in Europe.  Rick Steves is an author and tour guide who has made a name for himself on public television and beyond.  While he is not what many would call a public historian, his reach for popularizing European history is extensive. Steves does local community history but on a continental scale.

The app is free and contains walking tours of hundreds of sites (museums and historic city walks) Steves has written about in his many publications.  Users can download the app and episodes before they go to Europe to avoid expensive data usage fees.  A vivid photo bookmarks each stop on the audio tour as Steves literally walks the user through the physical landscape, pointing out details with an engaging narrative.  Accompanying PDF maps that simplify the landscape help to place users in the physical space.  Steves’ excellent directions guide readers not only to take in a particular site but between sites as well.

While I realized that the scope and resources that have produced these two sites vary to extremes, I think it is important to note what it is about the Steves experience that works.  It is simple in its design and rich in content; however, that content is very focused on the audio experience.  Steves doesn’t expect users to engage their vision on the screen; he wants them to engage in looking at the history all around them.  Users are literally in the museum, and he is the docent.


Project Update Part II

This week I accomplished the task of migrating all of the items from the original archive to the new Omeka section of the Weaving Our Story integrated platform.  I opted to move the items over by hand instead of figuring out the export/import feature in Omeka.  While I am sure that is a possibility, I didn’t want to waste valuable time figuring out the Omeka process through trial and error.

Looking back, the process of moving the items over manually took far more time than I thought that it would, but the process had a hidden benefit.  In having to look at each piece of metadata individually, I was able to detect errors that I had made as a novice metadata technician and to correct them.  Because I have added items at different points in the process, I could also see that my metadata strategy changed based on the collection I was drawing from and the progress I had made in the course.  I recall an earlier reading from the program noting how metadata, which should seemingly be unbiased, invariably reflects the institution or individual creating it.  This was apparent in going back through several iterations of gathering information.

I find the concept of “progress” on this project to be a bit illusory.  While I want so much for there to be visible process on the front end, I am beginning to realize how much work goes into creating a sustainable project from the back end.  I now realize the importance of creating an organized system for naming files, housing them on network drive in an organized fashion and keeping a separate document or spreadsheet that keeps track of everything.  However, without a consistent plan for the details, what people see on the front end may be muddled.

Now that I have the details sorted out, my goals for this coming week are to continue to work on permissions releases and to begin to play with how the refreshed archive can be re-imported into the Scalar site in order to create a web of exhibits.


Having played around with transcribing oral histories manually, I recognize that it can be a time consuming effort.  Using transcription tools like Transcribe or oTranscribe can enhance the process by slowing down playback when typing.  Both of these platforms, along with the Voice Typing feature in Google Docs, feature the ability to speak text instead of typing it.  Just listen to the audio and speak back what you hear.  The computer does a fairly adequate job of transcription this way; however, it does not work well when playing back the audio directly into the computer’s microphone.  It seems that a human intermediary is still necessary.

However, when all is said and done, the end result is still only a transcribed interview.  According to Doug Boyd of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, the cost of transcribing and auditing an hour long interview can reach $200. To make the interview useful, it would still need to be processed to include an index correlating topics to time in the interview.  This is where OHMS helps to streamline this process by improving search functionality within the interview and does so more efficiently.

First, OHMS can quickly create an encoded transcript of an interviews so that the connection between a keyword and a time in the video are easily accessible.  OHMS also features a viewer so that the encoded transcript can be more easily manipulated on the front end.  Furthermore, OHMS can streamline the process of transcribing the interview by aiding in indexing content rather than fully transcribing it.  While transcription is still the goal for most oral history repositories, the high cost of generating a fully audited transcript can quickly drain resources.  OHMS makes indexing more efficient so that the cost for a graduate student to process an interview is around $30.

I would like to keep this tool in mind as an option for processing my father’s taped memoirs as a gift to my family if it is possible to use OHMS as an open source tool on my own at some point in the future.


Oral History: Opportunities and Obstacles

As with many genres of digital humanities, data management is a complex issue at the heart of oral history repositories.  On one hand the ability to collect and to disseminate digitized oral histories make the field of oral history ripe for growth as a means of understanding and preserving the past.  On the other, managing that process in a way that makes oral history usable is an entirely different matter. Similar to Mitchell Whitelaw’s observation in “Generous Interfaces for Digital Cultural Collections,”  Doug Boyd recognizes that designing a usable interface is critical to the user experience.  According to Boyd digitization without well-planned design is not any more useful than “boxes of tapes and stacks of printed transcripts.”

This is certainly a key issue for the the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. While the archive houses over 7,000 interviews of WW II veterans, it is not possible to efficiently search outside of the topics curated by the museum or to filter by multiple topics.  According to the museum’s website, the oral history collection was originally designed to preserver the legacy of the World War II generation; however, the museum is currently “re-envision[ing] its educational mission and reach through digitizing these collections and making them more accessible online.”

As with other oral history collections, having a usable interface is largely dependent on transcribing and/or annotating each item and creating an platform that allows for efficient search within the transcript or video.  Doing so, however, is a costly process, and the museum charges hefty fees in order to cover the costs associated with collecting, transcribing and annotating the histories.  For any public history project involving oral history, it is important to factor the cost of transcription into the cost of the project.  While collecting interviews for preservation before generations pass away is important, the work will go largely unrecognized unless funds are available for making it usable.

Digital tools such as the OHMS plug-in for Omeka help to lessen the costly burden of transcription by providing an open source system for indexing oral history recordings using a system of tags and standard vocabulary.  This allows a recording to be processed more efficiently from a “high level” point of view at a fraction of the cost.  Boyd’s hope is that “smaller historical societies . . . with very limited budgets and almost no IT support can take full advantage of OHMS . . . .”  In my experience a novice user might be able to operate OHMS within Omeka, but it is unlikely that I could take full advantage as Boyd suggests.

Another strategy for reducing the cost of oral history collection and administration involves the process of designing a web interface such as the Occupational Folklore Project that involves designing a system that allows oral history interviewers to process and catalog interviews as they are submitted.  This greatly reduces the cost associated with collecting oral histories and uses a crowd source philosophy to do the work of archiving recordings using a well-designed standard submission format.  Applying this format to other American Folklife Center projects such as the Veteran’s History Project would help the collectors of oral histories to do the important work of making their work usable as well.

In designing any oral history project, it is critical that researchers make sure that a strategy exists for making the interface usable either by securing extensive funding, charging fees for use (which diminishes the public facet of the work) or employing technological tactics that make processing the collection more efficient and cost-effective.

Initially, I had envisioned that Weaving Our Story might exist as an archive for the oral histories themselves.  I imagined that students would look to their own grandparent’s story and find corroborating or contrasting interviews on the same subject from past interviews.  I am glad that I abandoned that plan early on as managing and processing an oral history collection in a tremendous job, one far outside the scope of what I am able to do as a teacher and with the technological resources I have available.

Oral history is an important tool for historians, and one should not abandon plans for collecting oral histories.  However, keeping the collection manageable is critical until such a time that digital technology such as voice recognition progresses to the point that processing oral histories is more cost effective in creating a usable collection.


Boyd, Doug. “OHMS: Enhancing Access to Oral History for Free.” Oral History Review 40.1 (2013): 95-106. Published on March 20, 2013.

Whitelaw, Mitchell. “Generous Interfaces for Digital Cultural Collections.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 9.1 (2015).

Project Update – Keeping Up With the Details

This week has been a busy week for Weaving Our Story 2.0. In terms of adding to the archive, students are neck deep in the final stages of research.  Notable stories from this year include a connection to the U2 Incident and a Russian Jew who fled service in the czar’s army only to become a highly decorated soldier in the U.S. Army during both World Wars.  Another student is working on telling the story of Cambodians fleeing the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge.  Wrestling with the question of history, memory and commemoration, a young historian is unpacking her connection to a distant relative honored for her ‘bravery’ during King William’s War. Using the Raid on Deerfield resource has helped her to understand this time period from a variety of perspectives.   Finally, another student is solving a history mystery as she and her grandmother try to attach meaning to a disparate set of photographs and artifacts from German and American soldiers collected during her great-grandfather’s service in the 70th Infantry Division during World War II.

Students have been encouraged to bring in photographs, letters and other objects to photograph for use in the documentaries, and I plan to use them alongside the films as additional resources in the archive.  I also plan to use this material as part of a lesson on the concept of metadata and how their desire to constantly “search it up on Google” really works.

As far as the digital project goes, I have spent a good bit of time figuring out logistics.  I’ve adopted a new domain for the revised project to make the archive, blog and scalar site seem to work in a more unified fashion.  However, I need to migrate the items in the original Omeka archive into the new one. This week I cleaned up the metadata in the original archive and tried to mirror/tweak the set up for the item metadata in the new archive to be ready to receive the content.  I am aware that there is a plug-in to do a bulk upload into Omeka, but there doesn’t seem to be a simple way to export the data from one Omkea archive to another that I understand.  I’ve looked through several forums, but again, it seems to require more “back-end” know how than I have.  I decided it will be simpler and less time consuming in the long run to migrate the items and metadata one-at-a-time using the tried and true method of “copy-paste” while both the archives are open on linked monitors.

My biggest priority for the coming week is to finally concentrate on obtaining signed permissions statements from students whose work I used in creating the first archive and exhibit.  The school attorney was slow in getting on this so I secured verbal agreements first.  My second priority is to reach out to the Class of 2018 who will be graduating in only a few weeks.  I probably have the most chance of success of securing permissions from them since it is still a face-to face relationship.  I also need to reach out to parents and students of alumni in order to secure permissions from students who have already graduated; however, I realize this may be less fruitful and require more time.  Keeping track of contacts and permission form records in an organized system is also a priority.

While I feel hopeful that the structure and design of the digital project will work, I am also beginning to realize that project management is a huge issue.  The project is complex both in the resources that students are using to compile their films as well as in how the various platforms work together to present those assets.  They will need to create metadata for their items, and I need to design a streamlined, pre-populated Google form to help them keep the metadata “clean” for the archive.  The project is complex in the number of items and permissions I need to secure to build the digital project, and I need a system to manage all of these things on an ongoing basis.  I feel a bit like I’m with Harry Potter in the Gringott’s vault looking for the right horcrux, only to realize that each item replicates itself each time it’s touched.  I may be drowning in the details.

Family History in Public

As Tammy Gordon writes in Private History in Public: Exhibition and the Settings of Everyday Life, one of the characteristics of community history projects is that the “exhibits emerge from curators whose identities are profoundly informed by the history presented in the exhibition” (36).  In contrast to exhibits driven by an academic desire for a more balanced treatment, community history projects are inherently tied to a desire for its consumers to appreciate the perspectives and voices of the local community, as the community understands itself.  Gordon notes that exhibits emerge from the work of curators for whom “the historical subject profoundly informs the[ir] identit[ies]” (38).

This concept operates at two different levels in the Weaving Our Story project.  As documentarians, my students are profoundly connected to the stories of their grandparents and the perspectives they offer.  While students do place those perspectives in a larger historical context, the goal is not to offer a counter-point to the grandparent’s experience but to locate it within the historical record.  For example, one student has documented her grandmother’s experience in an internment camp in Indonesia during World War II.  While she frames that story within the larger context of World War II, she does not dig into the Indonesian resentment of Dutch colonizers and who first welcomed the Japanese as liberators.  Granted, these are short documentaries completed by seventh grade students, but the point remains that the “exhibit builder” (in this case, my student) is greatly influenced by a desire to extract empathy for her grandmother from those who view the film.

On a similar level, Gordon observes the bind that local history curators face in maintaining positive public relations in order to obtain the volunteers, recollections and material culture that bring community history to life. Certainly, sensitivity to grandparents’ experiences is an important factor in continuing to generate enthusiasm for the project.  Now that the archive will be digitally accessible, the public permanence of the project will make it increasingly important to be mindful of community history resources while maintaining the project as a vehicle for practicing historical thinking skills.

This article has also helped me to understand the nuances of community history, especially as it relates to its unique goals.  As Gordon notes, the goal of community history is not necessarily to contribute to a scholarly dialogue but to communicate “their interests to outsiders, connecting elders to young people [and build] a sense of shared past . . . . ” (39).  While students may be curating content in a manner that shares only one perspective on an event, they are creating a space for practicing historical thinking and for historical conversations to occur.

In regards to the overall design of the digital site, Gutterman shares important lessons learned from designing  She corroborates the strategies discussed in earlier modules that incorporate generous visual interfaces by noting that the site’s traffic tended to gravitate to pages with large images and away from pages that were textually burdensome.  Additionally, complex search features may have overwhelmed visitors to the site who were more comfortable with a more simple approach.  In the same way community history curators may be influenced by community identity, digital history project designers may be influenced by such familiarity with content that they may design experiences that are too complex for a first time visitor to a project.

A final observation relates to Gordon’s reminder that one goal of community history is to draw people to a place for the purposes of tourism.  Billboards draw turnpike travelers toward local museums and attractions.  In a similar fashion, promoting a robust social media strategy and creating intriguing design elements are critical to generating traffic to digital community history projects.  However, historical societies also have a role to play.  The vast array of projects digitally curated by the Minnesota Historical Society is a good example of how local projects could get lost without “signage” directing users to the sites.  Many of the projects were fascinating but would not have turned up on a Google search of a particular topic because one wouldn’t necessarily know that thread of community history existed in digital form.


Gordon, Tammy. “Community Exhibition: History, Identity, and Dialogue.” In Private History in Public: Exhibition and the Settings of Everyday Life, 33-57. Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2010. Gutterman, Lauren.

“ An Experiment in LGBTQ Community History-Making.” The Public Historian 32.4 (2010).

The Devil in the Details

Modules 4 and 5 have been incredibly helpful in guiding my thinking about my project as I revise Weaving Our Story both structurally and conceptually.  The original version of the project was initially conceived only as an archive, and the exhibit features were added as an additional requirement.  The process of creating both the archive and the exhibit did not include a deliberate process for strategically planning either of those features in advance. Working through these modules has helped me to rethink the entire project as I design it for specific audiences, taking into account how a particular persona moves through the site as well as crafting content to elicit engagement.

Structurally, the archive is based on a textual search.  However, if a person is unfamiliar with the contents of the collection, it will be difficult to know what terms to search.  As Sherratt notes, “recordkeeping systems tend to reflect the structures and power relations of the organisations that create them.”  I was completely familiar with the particular terms the user should type into the search box; unfortunately, the user might not be as familiar.

Though some exceptional visitors to the site might successfully find films in a search using keyword tags, these results would not be curated in a way that would highlight the connections evident to a person more familiar with the collection.  A “successful” search might result in three or four related films being trucked out into the lobby (to borrow a metaphor from “Generous Interfaces for Digital Cultural Collections”) for the individual to view; however, the search results would lack any kind of contextual information to elicit deeper understanding for the viewer.

In order to overcome this deficiency, the original site assembled selected films into exhibits with accompanying text and questions.  However, these curated exhibit pages relied heavily on Omeka’s default interface.  As a result, the tool was driving the way searches were conducted as well as the way exhibits were curated.  The goal of this project is to turn that situation on its head.  Instead of the tool driving the process, thoughtful planning is meant to drive the project toward the right tool (or tools) and to curated content that is purposeful.

Both “Generous Interfaces for Digital Cultural Collections” and “It’s All About the Stuff: Collections, Interfaces, Power, and People” emphasize the importance of ways that communicating visually rather than textually can invite a higher and often more successful degree of interaction from the user.  Having a robust visual interface both in creating exhibits and in conducting searches are key features I want to include in the revised Weaving Our Story project.

In thinking through the purposes and audiences for which I am designing, I have come to understand that multiple tools can be used for various purposes.  While Omeka is still a good choice for archiving the large number of items the collection will eventually contain, it is not a useful platform for designing the level of visual engagement my project needs.  I have created a new domain with a cleaner name – simply and will use subdirectories for each individual tool.  At this point, I have not migrated the Omeka items from the original project site to the new site because I want to spend some time adjusting the metadata to insure accuracy.

After doing some research, I landed on SCALAR, a publishing platform that has a diverse collection visually appealing pages designed with a variety of purposes in mind.  One of these pages allows me to assemble a more generous interface for my inquiry level search creating a collage of selected items in the collection.  I am able to import the items directly from the Omeka archive by enabling the API.  This allows the items to be exported with their metadata intact.  Instead of typing a key word, the user will click on a visually engaging picture that will draw her into a curated exhibit page.

However, instead of the exhibit pages driving the layout of the site as they do in Omeka, Scalar’s set up allows exhibit pages to weave together more organically, much like a network visualization might do.  And, like the manner in which the Invisible Australians project blends a Zotero site into the navigational links, my project will incorporate a WordPress blog for teachers in a different subdirectory.  Though I am using three different tools, each blends with the other to create an overall look of cohesiveness.  Downloading the Customeka theme helped me to design the Omeka archive to thematically mirror the look of Scalar.  WordPress offers a variety of customizable themes that also mirror the look of Scalar.

Once the structure is in place, keeping the message on point and specific will be critical to making sure the site is engaging once the viewer has been drawn into using the visual interface.  The text does matter at this stage of the process, and making sure that the content delivers a clear message to a target audience appropriately is critical.  Keeping the content concise and focused will help the audience to maintain interest.  As Fisher notes, managing the scale of project is critical to preventing boredom and overkill.  Finding a balance is critical.  With more careful planning the second time around, my aim is to build a better project by ensuring that the foundational principles are rooted in sound practices of public history.

Weaving Our Story 2.0

History Questions and Content

In its current form, Weaving Our Story is an archival prototype for the historical narratives produced by seventh grade history students at St. John’s Episcopal School in Dallas, Texas.  Students collect oral histories of grandparents and use that content as the foundational primary source material in creating a short documentary film.  These films tie personal experiences to larger events in the community, nation and world.

The Weaving our Story archive will eventually house over 250 documentary films collected from 2014 to the present.  However, as the archive was developed, concerns and potentialities began to emerge that invite a redesign of the original project.  Beyond merely being an archive, Weaving Our Story 2.0 will also be an interpretive space in which to explore the connections between and among the experiences of the individuals highlighted in the collection.  In order to enrich the documentary narratives, supplemental images, files and video recordings will help to round out the collection and to provide additional primary source materials.  These objects will be sourced from open content  and public domain collections from across the world such as the National Archives and Records Administration, the Library of Congress, the Imperial War Museum and the Australian War Memorial as well as materials from private collections made available through personal permissions or publication in places such as Wikimedia Commons.

Weaving Our Story 2.0 will leverage these documentaries and supplemental resources to create exhibits that invite visitors to the website to explore the connections between and among the different narratives through activities that explore the complexity of a shared past that often exists in the shadows all around us.  Ideally, the collection will also be searchable in a way that invites the viewer to further explore the archive through a vibrant visual interface while maintaining meaningful metadata in a keyword search format.

In addition to providing content and context for the documentary films, part of the project’s mission is to further historical scholarship among middle and high school students.  Weaving Our Story 2.0 will provide a detailed manual for teachers outlining the pedagogical framework and instructional assets used in coaching students through the process of developing the documentary films from beginning to end.

Digital Technologies

Currently, Weaving OurStory is built solely in Omeka.  While Omeka is a powerful open source CMS and publishing platform, it is not as user friendly a platform for visual interfaces for novice users as WordPress.   This proposal follows the NEH guidelines for submitting a Discovery grant request in order to “assess the approaches a platform might take . . . in platform research and selection.”  Ultimately, the final platform will include a basic guide for setting up an archive and exhibit space using the proposed combination of Reclaim Hosting, Omeka and WordPress technologies in the classroom.

Target Audiences

Secondary Teachers Exploring New Ways of Doing History with Students

Teachers often want to try new ideas in the classroom to engage students in doing history and learning to think historically.  Developing a comprehensive web presence that not only shows the teacher what the end product can be but also documents the process of how to go about coaching students in creating the documentaries will be of value to many teachers.  Teachers may also be interested in developing their own archive for use in the classroom, and Weaving Our Story 2.0 will provide a toolkit for how to go about setting up a public history project in the context of a secondary school environment.

Prospective Parents and Students

In the Dallas area, many parents choose to send their children to one of many independent schools.  While mission statements, curriculum guides and websites provide insight into what the students will be learning, it is often difficult to differentiate between schools.  The Weaving Our Story project sets St. John’s Episcopal School apart in the ways that it is developing historical thinking skills by creating a real world product.  This type of learning is central to the concept of Project Based Learning that St. John’s strives toward in order to develop students with “the love of knowledge” and “the courage to use it.”

Grandparents or Family Members Who Contribute the Oral History Process

Grandparents who work with their grandchildren to offer up primary source content will be interested in seeing the final product, especially if they are unable to attend the Documentary Film Festival that has previously served as the vehicle for publication.  Exploring the exhibits in Weaving Our Story and being able to browse the archive will allow grandparents both to share the end product of their own grandchild’s work and to “walk down memory lane” in interacting with the work of other students who might have alternate perspectives to related events.

Diving in to Collections Without Hitting the Board

The readings of late have been of particular interest to me as this week I am teaching my seventh grade students about how to begin research on their oral history topic.  As most are grappling with putting context around what their grandparents have shared with them, knowing where to start can be difficult.

The imagery posed by Mitchell Whitelaw in Generous Interfaces for Digital Public Collections was particularly helpful to me in reflecting with my students about what searching really entails. He describes wandering into a sterile museum lobby and handing a written query to an attendant who will retrieve matching items in the collection.  The items are trucked out a few at a time, but it is difficult to know how effective the search has been because it is impossible to get beyond the wall to see everything in the collection.   Sometimes it takes asking a subsequent question a different way to find something that is actually helpful.

The readings also helped me to reflect on the idea that “recordkeeping systems tend to reflect the structures and power relations of the organisations that create them.” Students desperately want to “search it up on Google” without realizing that the powerful algorithms that drive the search engine may not provide the information they are looking for because it’s not a site that received a lot of hits previously.  A case in point is my recent discovery of The Raid on Deerfield digital history site that is incredibly helpful to the research of one of my students; however, it is a serendipitous discovery and not one that has shown up in her queries relating to her family history project.

For students who are just learning to research in the “deep end” of the pool, these experiences can be daunting.  In fact, many times their first forays into research are belly flops or even worse, a scrape of the diving board.  Trying again isn’t something they want to do.  As a teacher, I need to help them to learn to navigate the search process successfully so that they can get past those initial barriers in order to find the rich content that can turn a belly flop into Olympic gold – or, to continue with Whitelaw’s metaphor, to move past the teller window and open up the vault.

The Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in his Picture Gallery at Brussels by David Teniers

While the above reflections have more to do with larger searches relating to the internet, I have been considering how search and engagement might relate to how I can design an archive for Weaving Our Story that lends itself to being a competent CMS (content management system) for our documentary archive while still providing a rich engagement with history for my users – grandparents, prospective parents and other teachers who might want to embark on a similar project.

I have a “founding collection” of documentaries that have been created over the past few years, and in the past week, I have gathered a variety of images and video from open content collections from around the world.  That experience in and of itself has been very valuable as I have compared how different museums and archives structure how their collections are presented and managed. On a much smaller scale,  I would like to find a way to design exhibits or overviews that connect a collection of items that invite the viewer to dive in to the individual components.

The challenge seems to be designing that level of engagement within the structural confines of Omeka.  While it is a powerful open source CMS and exhibit tool in the hands of a skilled programmer, I am not as skilled in making my content “pop” visually in a way that draws people into the collection.  Instead of the design of the search algorithm being the difficulty, it is the flexible design of the tool itself that can be limiting in the hands of a novice.  I am working to understand how WordPress and Omeka might work together in rigorous archival publishing without having the background knowledge necessary for programming a rich visual interface.