Presentation Tools

Teaching, research, and more

People pictured from behind, examining pictures at an exhibit in the Museum of Modern Art

Presentation tools: Omeka, ArcGIS StoryMap


Alas, I knew not everything was going to be as successful an adventure as my introductions to Tropy and Zotero were! I was quite excited to use Omeka–I’ve seen it demonstrated at conferences before and looked at model projects created in it, and I’ve really wanted the ability to curate digital exhibits for years now, when I realized how useful they were as teaching tools during the COVID lockdowns of 2020-2021. But unfortunately, I think it’s going to take me a bit more time to figure out how to get the most out of Omeka.

My blog post, “There never seems to be enough time….”

I was frankly getting ready to write another slightly disappointed post about my inability to make Omeka do anything exciting. I’d been all gung-ho to use my new-found 2014 Beinecke MS 413 images to create an exhibit, but I’d run up against the same issue I’d encountered before: a message telling me “The ImageMagick directory path has not been set. No derivative images will be created.” I downloaded a program called “ImageMagick” in hopes that this would solve the problem, but no dice. In fact, having downloaded it, I’m not sure what ImageMagick actually does. But then, going down the same internet rabbit holes I’d been down before, I came across a familiar page.

A screenshot of the Reclaim Hosting forums titled "ImageMagick in Omeka Classic"
Thank you, Tim Owens at Reclaim Hosting!

It seemed to me that I had been down this path before and been shot down by WordFence, but I decided to give it one more go, and…

A screenshot of a barebones Omeka exhibit, containing only an image labeled "50r"
As exhibits go, I recognize that it’s not fancy, but at least it has the picture on it!

Victory! Now I have something I can use as the foundation for an exhibit. And honestly, if I ever find the PowerPoint that I made for Rare Book School in 2014, I might try to actually make it an exhibit. First, it would be good practice for me in using Omeka: entering metadata, putting exhibits together, experimenting with layouts, and so on.

A screenshot of a metadata entry page on Omeka
Entering metadata for Beinecke MS 418 fol. 504

But second, because I thought it was a cool project–I don’t know that I’d ever get an article out of it, but the conclusion I had drawn, that this luxury display volume was actually read and used and annotated by its owners, was a pretty interesting one, and I was and am interested in the labeling of the characters in the illustrations. I’d love to be able to do a more thorough investigation of the annotations as well, and I think Omeka might be a good mechanism to display the results–the gallery view you can use for exhibits would be great for displaying, eg., the number of annotations that just read “non.” Some contrary annotator back in the 15th or 16th century just disagreed with everything in this manuscript, and I think it would be cool to illustrate that with an arrangement of the pictures I took of this annotator’s handywork.

So cheers to Tim Owens at Reclaim Hosting, and cheers to Omeka–in searching for information, I found some really cool models of Omeka collections that had been curated as a class project. And speaking of class projects….

ArcGIS StoryMaps

The moral of the story? I really like ESRI Story Maps. I’m still not sure how to make the best use of it for research purposes, but I feel a lot more comfortable using the tools, and I’m ready to dig in and start experimenting with it again.

From my blog post, “A Whole New World”

I will admit, I didn’t go in this week and experiment with, say, making a map of the garden in Le Roman de la Rose, or mapping out the campaigns of Philip Augustus against King John in the early 13th century (though I have been listening to a fascinating audiobook about them).

A screenshot of an ESRI Storymaps project called "Medieval Manuscripts and Modern Audiences"
Alas, poor StoryMap, you remain unfinished.

Instead what I did was make a tutorial in how to use ArcGIS StoryMaps for my students.

My basic introduction to ArcGIS for my ENGL 2130 class

Why? Well, on a purely practical level, I had some students who sounded like their project ideas would work well in ArcGIS, and they were unfamiliar with it, so, as is so often the case, I relearned how to log in and start a new project in a program I wasn’t previously conversant in so I could introduce my students to the basics. Is it bare bones? Sure, but my hope is that, if my students learn enough about the basics to realize that ArcGIS is even an option for them, they’ll experiment with the tool further and go to the Center for Geospatial Technologies if they need help I can’t give them.

But on another level, I think this is an important consideration in how I would realistically use ArcGIS StoryMaps as part of my work. I’m a literature scholar, not a historian, and geography isn’t always relevant to the questions I’m asking of texts. But it’s very relevant when I’m trying to explain, say, the events of the Norman Conquest in 1066, or the Third Crusade, or the Viking Age to my students.

A StoryMap I made in StoryMap JS about the Norman rule of Sicily, for a world literature class I taught in Spring 2020

I’m constantly looking for ways to give my students a sense of the distances that people traveled in the Middle Ages to go on pilgrimage or to war, or to explain what made a particular location so important, either strategically or to an author who can’t stop talking about it. There have been a few times when maps have been relevant to my research, sure, but they’re relevant to my teaching pretty much every semester.

Over winter break, I really want to go back into ArcGIS StoryMaps and see whether I can translate one of my introductory PowerPoint slides into a StoryMap that I could introduce in class and that my students could revisit afterwards as a study aid. The format is perfect for connecting space and time in walking my students through the background they need for understanding a medieval text, and I think that if I can familiarize myself with it, it could be a really useful teaching tool. (I’d also be better at teaching my students how to use it for their own projects if I got better at it myself!)