For my final project, I chose to use Omeka to create an archive of materials from the life of Henry W. Schweigert. Stemming from a long term project on Schweigert that I have been working on for a few years, I realized that I had collected many digital objects. I thought Omeka would be a great tool to organize and display them publicly, and for the most part, that turned out to be true. Omeka is fairly easy to use “out of the box” and although the option to customize Omeka by going into the coding is available, I decided to just work within the bounds of the standard installation, as well as some of the plug ins that are available.
My first attempt at creating the archive with Omeka was with my already-owned website domain at ipage.com, which involved downloading and installing. I struggled with this part with much frustration, and was in what felt like a never-ending loop with the tech support at ipage.com. But eventually their tech support was able to fix the error and I was able to start adding items. For some reason, my first batch of items’ images were viewable but when I went to add more items a few weeks later, the images no longer displayed properly. Again I went back to the tech support, but this time there was no solution. At this point, I signed up for a year’s subscription to Reclaim, after seeing how easy the Omeka installation was during class. I had no problems with that option whatsoever, and all of my image files are now properly displaying.
Once I had my new installation ready to go, I created three collections: Everyday Item (which includes his Administrator’s Account book, shaving mug, and books about farming and his fraternal societies), The Diaries of Henry W. Schweigert (which are also hosted on my Clio 2 website), and Schweigert Family Photos (which contains the Schweigert Family Photo Album as well as other photographs that have been shared with me by the Schweigert family). I ended up with 50 items total and created two exhibits. One exhibit is solely the Schweigert Family Photo Album, which was created as a way to have the photo album be viewed in order. I had tried to use the Item Order plug in but I could not get it to work as intended. The other exhibit is about Henry Schweigert’s social life, which involved spending time with his friends and family and attending meetings of the Odd Fellows and Junior Order of United American Machinists. I played around with different themes and ultimately settled with Berlin, as I found it clean and easy to navigate. I do wish that there were more ways to customize themes without diving into the code, but for a free product, Omeka is a great resource for online archives and museums.
I’m fairly pleased with the end result and I think it will help me to not only keep my own sources organized in a visual manner, but also allow me to share with the public the life of man who documented his own daily activities through his diaries. I’m not sure if other researchers will find this material interesting, but I think the collections displayed together in one website are a unique educational tool. The materials can teach us about life in the late 19th Century in a rural Pennsylvania German farming community, as well as the history of fraternal organizations, like the I.O.O.F. and the J.O.U.A.M. I will continue to update this archive as I acquire new materials, as my work on Henry W. Schweigert is still unfinished.