Curating Digital Objects

It seems simple: upload a half dozen objects to an online exhibit. Yet there are so many more decisions to consider. How to categorize the object, navigate the online copyright landscape, and properly present objects each required much thoughtful decision-making.

I had initially planned to upload transcribed letters to the editor of the Santa Barbara News-Press. These “voices” and my analysis of them will be my final Clio 1 project. But who own a transcription of a letter posted to public newspaper space? Does the original letter writer? The newspaper? The transcriber? I have requested permission from the transcriber- Darren Hardy with the thought that he “must have” navigated this complex legal environment to post his versions online. In reality, he likely has not because neither the News-Press, nor the letter writers (or their heirs) have bothered to protect their rights in court….. BUT copyright law is out of my area of expertise and the scope of this post.

After determining that with Darren’s permission, I would post away.. I attempted to upload each XML file in Omeka. Unfortunately XML files are not a permitted type of file in Omeka. What the CMS giveth, the CMS taketh away. After attempting to transform the XML files to something more useful, I decided to upload some of my own personal photographs, though I would keep the “Santa Barbara Oil Spill” name for future work on that project. The photos came from a tour of Monticello that I chaperoned back in 2008 and represent a sort of prototypical public history experience.

Uploading my own material allowed for easier metadata creation. I didn’t need to place uploader (me), letter writers, newspaper editors, and transcribers into “creators”, “publishers”, “contributors”, or “source” categories. Yet there were still difficulties. Does a photograph of an object get a “language” (I decided no). A photo with English text (yes). Dates needed properly formatted descriptions (YYYY-MM-DD) and consistency between data was key.

Once the items were described and thankfully uploaded, I needed to place them into an exhibit. This was also slightly trickier to navigate in Omeka than I expected. Fortunately, all the work of adding images and metadata made the exhibition work much simpler once I knew which buttons created pages and their association with objects. I organized the pages into a vaguely narrative format, though the user could navigate in any order.

My Omeka exhibit is here.

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