Update #1 on the Oberlin Community History Hub Project

As we continue to work on our Oberlin Community History Hub project, I was really struck by one of the dilemmas raised by this week’s readings: the tension between exhibits or projects that emphasize community life from the resident’s perspective (or indigenous curation) and those that adhere to professional standards of accuracy and objectivity. As the article on the OutHistory site explains, it’s hard to do both. Once that site decided that they would mark certain essay contributions as verified, it discouraged the submission of contributions from non-professionals. This issue came up in when Megan and I discussed our project in class when we were asked how we would assure the accuracy of digital exhibits or projects created by a student group or a local organization. We have not yet decided how to deal with this issue or indeed, even if we will be soliciting contributions beyond images or personal recollections. But we do need to seriously consider how to balance what is our tendency towards academic standards with the goal to build a project with and for the Oberlin community.

I am still grappling with the many different functions I’d like this site to serve and whether one project can fulfill all of these objectives. There is the goal of consolidating existing resources so they can be easily grouped and searched. The site also has the goal of collecting contemporary materials from Oberlin residents. But I am still attached to some of the functions of the Histories of the National Mall site as well. I would like the site to offer its own content too, whether that is short bios of important people in Oberlin’s history (who could be browsed under a search for “People,” as in the Histories on the Mall site) or whether it is short essays created in response to questions, like our sample exploration, “What Can We Learn from Monuments?”

As we are still debating these questions, this week I focused my efforts on creating more content and on building out different elements of the site. I am trying to add items to the site that can showcase its functionality and that might eventually seed contributions. This week I added eleven photos, all related to the Chalk Walk, an annual event where a local art organization provides chalk and people come out and draw on sidewalks all over the city. Flickr has over a hundred photos of Chalk Walk with Creative Commons reuse rights, and this week tried using Omeka’s Flickr Import plugin to scrape these images and their metadata into our site. Unfortunately, the plugin will not work with galleries or groups of images, although I was able to use it to upload individual images with their metadata. I also played with the batch metadata editor plugin to try to change some fields of metadata for all of these images at once, again with mixed success. It would be wonderful if we could encourage contributions of Chalk Walk photos each year—eventually, I could imagine some really interesting projects based on exploring the range of art produced each year.

I also explored the Terms and Conditions used by different online projects that accept submissions from the public and I drafted a Terms and Conditions statement for our site. My other goal for this week is to work on standardizing tags. The explore function of the site will only work to the extent that we have tagged items in ways that allow them to be grouped and searched, and our ideas for what will be useful tags is changing as we build the site. For example, when I initially uploaded items, I gave each a tag related to the decade the item was created (1920s, 1940s, etc). But we have now decided that we want the collection to be browsable by era and are splitting Oberlin’s history into the twenty year blocs (1830-1849; 1850-1869, etc), which means I have to go back in and change all tags. We are keeping a master list of tags that will eventually be useful if there are student or community volunteers working on the site, but I expect that we will continue to adjust the tags as we work to make increase the site’s functionality.

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