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Preview of Histories of the National Mall, #MCN2013

2013 November 22
by Sheila

Today at the Museum Computer Network annual meeting, I presented a preview of RRCHNM’s forthcoming Histories of the National Mall site built with a beautiful responsive design that will display well on any sized screen–particularly on mobile phones. I talked a little about our planning process for the site and the content, and then took the audience on a tour of the site and the content. I finished by posing some questions about the challenges I think we will face as the team moves forward.

This is our wonderful hard-working, Histories of the National Mall, team:

  • Co- Directors: Sharon M. Leon and Sheila A. Brennan
  • Project Manager: Lee Ann Ghajar
  • Software Developer: Jim Safley
  • Web Design: Kim Nguyen
  • Project Associates: Megan Brett, Lindsey Bestebruertje, James Halabuk

For this presentation, I took reveal.js for a test drive. I really liked it building with it, see what you think. And, please leave me comments if you have any questions about the project.

8 Years After Katrina and Rita

2013 August 29
by Sheila

Official USCG photograph

I was privileged to be asked to participate in a session organized by Leigh White, Hurricane Katrina: Disaster Recovery and Documentation in Archival Collections, at Society of American Archivists’ Annual Meeting, August 15, 2013 in New Orleans, LA.

I spoke about the work that we did at RRCHNM together with Michael Mizell-Nelson and the University of New Orleans from 2005-2008 to build the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank. If you haven’t had a chance on this 8th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina to reflect on those events, please take some time to browse through the collections and through user-contributed stories and images.

One of the highest compliments the project received at the conference came from an archivist who recently relocated to New Orleans who researched Katrina’s and Rita’s impact on the area in HDMB before she arrived in LA. She mentioned that without HDMB she would not have had any sense of the extent of the damage–structural, institutional, emotional– across the region without the Hurricane Archive. We hope this will prove useful for others as time passes.

Below are the slides from my talk:

Intro to DH for Historians

2013 August 21
by Sheila

I was asked to give an introduction to the digital humanities to a group of visiting scholars working at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. My slides from yesterday’s talk are available below:

Back-to-School Edition, Use Omeka in Your Class, posted on Omeka blog

2013 August 20
by Sheila

It’s that time of year when educators and instructors are planning like mad for the coming semester or quarter, so we are highlighting some resources to help you get started using Omeka in your class.

You might be asking, well, how have others incorporated Omeka into assignments or final student projects? What were the learning objectives and expected outcomes? We know of many instructors using Omeka, these are a few pieces they wrote describing processes involved in launching student-driven digital projects with Omeka:

To see some of the possible uses for Omeka, see, “How Might You Use Omeka” and the growing list of Sites Using Omeka.

Running Omeka on a Server or

Now that you know how some people have used Omeka in their classes, consider your technical abilities and capabilities. Do you have access to a Linux server? Would you need hosting? How much support can you offer students? Do you wish to only use Omeka as a web service?

We recommend folks start in the Getting Started section of the Documentation. You will find detailed information about technical requirements and hosting suggestions.

If you are not interested in setting up a server or in finding outside hosts, you can try the service. See, for more information about signing up for an account and the different plans available (for free and for purchase). Check out this spreadsheet that details the differences in functionality, storage space, plugins, themes:

Consider contacting your library liaison, department chair, or IT services representative about purchasing an Platinum plan so that everyone at your school has access to Omeka sites and to all of the plugins and themes available on

Building a Site

You have an Omeka site, now, how do you and your students begin to plan and to add content?

General Caution

Building digital projects always takes longer than you think. Be sure to plan enough time for snafus, and warn your students that they need to plan as well.

Take some time to work through the decision-making process on getting Omeka installed or using, before introducing it to students.

We have provided many resources to help users of all technical abilities to get started using Omeka for a class project. We ask that as you are instructing students to build sites together, or individually, that you encourage them to collaborate and problem solve together. Peers should serve as the “first ask” for technical questions before posting to the forums or sending an email.

We do our best to respond to questions on the forums and email, but if you or your students ask a question the night before a project is due, it is possible that you will not get a response before class.

Even with those few cautionary words, we hope that you will dive in and use Omeka this semester or next to help students to learn about the processes of knowledge creation, to work with a digital publishing platform, and to develop a public scholarly voice.

via Omeka Brennan

Four P’s of Digital Project Outreach

2013 August 1
by Sheila

The first version of this cheat sheet was prepared for a talk given at the NEH, ODH Project Directors’ meeting (September 2012). I revised it in its current form for the Another Week | Another Tool ODH Summer Institute, July 2013, and is available also as a Google Doc: .


  • is intentional;
  • is integral to a tools/project’s success. Outreach team must be equal stakeholders in the building process;
  • is not only about publicity, the job includes testing and making the tool accessible to targeted audiences;
  • is user advocacy.

Four components of a good outreach strategy:
Plan | People | Presence | Press


  1. Outreach is intentional, it requires a plan (most grant programs require you have one, too):
    Articulate primary audiences, secondary audiences
    Create user scenarios.
  2. Learn about those audiences: where do they go for information, how can you best reach them.
    How can you best teach them about the tool later?
    Think about online and analog ways to reach people.
  3. Plan to extend outreach duties well beyond the official launch of the prototype/tool/software: workshops, demos, support.


  1. Outreach must be someone’s job.
  2. Outreach folks must be equal stakeholders in the building process, and are identified as the project begins. This job is not over even after a grant ends…unfortunately.
  3. Outreach must be involved in testing, and in UX/UI advocating for intended users during development.
    Test like you know nothing about the project.


  1. Establish and maintain a stable, digital presence for the project immediately.
    • Name the Tool–do some research on alternative meanings for names (check Urban Dictionary).
    • Buy domains…try to scoop up as many as you can once you’re committed to a name.
    • Grab the twitter handle.
    • Design a logo and start using it.
    • Build a project website, and only launch the site when you have content and something to say. Pages must contain words and sentences! Do not expound about the PIs CV. Focus on what it is, what it does, what it can do, and who on TEAM is building, creating, testing.
    • Start a blog for regular project updates, process posts, celebrations
  2. Teach others how to use the tool with online Documentation. User guides help teach new users how this works (different formats WP pages, a Wiki, GitHub pages).
  3. Give users a place to ask questions and give feedback
    Appropriateness depends on users, scope of possible questions, level of technical knowledge required:
    Omeka devs’ (Google Group) | End User Forums (BBPress) | Contact form for Net | Anthologize End Users (Google Group) | Anthologize Devs (Google Group)
  4. Together with project managers and developers set goals and be ready to release/launch on those dates.
    Perhaps you want to debut at a big conference or another significant event. Hard deadlines are good.


  1. Before a release, prepare your publicity.
  2. Give press previews to new tool by finding a writer, podcaster who might speak to your intended audiences.
  3. Blog progress and launch news, tweet it, get others to retweet.
  4. Incorporate electronic, print, social media, in-person. You may have institutional public affairs officers who can help.
  5. Prepare analog stuff: Showcase your logo, your URL and let folks show their support for your project w/a sticker, bookmark, pen, mug.
    Bookmarks can be cheap (500, 4-color, 1-color on backside, under $100 w/shipping).


  • Answer emails, phone calls.
  • Check forums regularly.
  • Respond to questions.
  • Incorporate user feedback into the tool.
  • Present at conferences.
  • Give a workshop.
  • Encourage others to use it and teach others.
  • Leave a SWAG trail when you travel.

Selected dh+lib Review, Editor’s Choice Resource, August 6, 2013.

Selected by DHNow as an Editors’ Choice Resource, August 13, 2013

Making My Research and Scholarship Open

2013 July 26
by Sheila

Last Sunday night, I was very excited when I posted my first revised chapter for my new digital and book project site, Stamping American Memory. I planned to blog about my process and reiterate my commitment to open access publishing. In the mean time, I got busy with my job and didn’t blog, and then most historians were floored, or thrilled, with the American Historical Association’s statement this week asking for universities to stop requiring that PhDs file dissertations in electronic formats and allowing graduate students to choose to embargo their dissertations for up to 6 years to protect the potential publishing viability of derivatives of that scholarly work. (The History@Work blog has linked many of these responses, although they are still coming in here and here).

With other academics sharing their stories publishing dissertations, one with a Creative Commons license, Adeline Koh, and another through an open access repository,Jen Guiliano, I want to share my story of how and why I’ve made my dissertation (from defense date forward) available. And, that this did not prevent me from being offered a book contract.

What I Did:

  1. Action: Before my defense, I posted my dissertation, PDFs of chapters, because I thought that it should be made widely available and having one hard copy at the library didn’t seem sufficient when I had additional methods available for distribution.
    Result: Many attendees at my defense had skimmed parts of it well enough to ask me some good questions.
  2. Action: When filing my dissertation, I chose the open access option. It is available in PDQOpen for anyone to download.
    Result: I received a number of unsolicited requests to publish my dissertation from small commercial presses, as many other folks surely do.
  3. Action: Linked my dissertation to my CV and to my personal website.
    Result: Not much of anything
  4. Action: Queried a few academic publishers about my book project and linked to the full open access version of my dissertation.
    Result 1: Received some interest, no one mentioned that publishing an open access dissertation hindered their interest in my material. The hindrance was that it needed revising…of course it did!
  5. Results 2: I won the HASTAC-University of Michigan Press Digital Humanities Publishing Award, and will be producing an open access digital version of Stamping American Memory, together with a printed book with UMichigan Press.

My commitment to open access and to making history scholarship more successful stems from my background as a public historian and my training as a historian at GMU and my work at RRCNHM. I firmly believe it is our responsibility as historians to make our research and scholarship as accessible as possible, including: making the products of the research open and accessible for reading/consuming/participating; writing in “plain style” that is jargon-free; incorporating diverse kinds of evidence that incorporates multiple voices; and making our processes more visible and replicable.

I am indebted to those who tested the waters before me, and I am grateful for their leadership in this area. First of all, I must thank Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig for pushing their publisher Penn Press in 2005 to allow for the reproduction of a free, online version of their Digital History book. And, Penn Press made that happen when almost no academic presses were considering such layered publishing strategies. Seeing that as a viable publishing option, together with other examples of scholars publishing open access volumes–including but not limited to: Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nowratotzi, Mark Sample, Mills Kelly–made me want to only seek out publishing contracts that allowed for open access versions.

All of those scholars also worked with progressive editors and publishers who are experimenting with different formats and are willing to push the definitions of academic publishing. Thanks especially to University of Michigan Press, and also to others doing cutting edge work, such as University of Minnesota and NYU.

As an alternative academic, I am not bound by the system of T&P. This means that while I do not have job security, I can afford to take a stand based on my beliefs because I am not invested in that system–and am doing so in conference panels, including during at the Society for History in the Federal Government panel in April. While individuals must make these decisions for themselves, we need to ensure that junior scholars understand that there are viable publishing paths beyond embargoing, siloing, silencing, and hoarding research. We should let our research become part of the “commons,” and should not allow that act of openness, alone, to punish anyone in their professional life.

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