Omeka Exhibition Assignments for AEAH 5813: Visual Culture of Refugees and Migrants

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In Fall semester 2014, Professor Jennifer Way in the department or Art History and Art Education invited UNT Libraries Public Services to collaborate on a classroom experiment to encourage her students to develop digital exhibits as an alternative to the traditional seminar paper. Digital Humanities Coordinator Spencer Keralis and Art Reference Librarian Rebecca Barham were embedded with Dr. Way’s graduate art history seminar. The students used Omeka, an online exhibit platform developed by the Roy Rozenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, to build their exhibits. Rebecca and Spencer delivered a series of mini-lectures for the students to introduce the platform, and to encourage the students to think about metadata, copyright, and fair use.

Professor Way offered this reflection on the pilot project:

The course topic involved questions concerning what visual representations tell us about refugees’ lives and identities, how and why representations emphasize certain things about refugees, how representational processes turn refugees into subjects, and for whom do they do this.

I wanted students to develop research projects that inquired about these questions critically. Moreover, having the students each research and create an exhibition through Omeka was a great way for them to become involved with the very material that makes up visual representations – works of art, photographs, and photographs and other visual media that are published and distributed in mass print and electronic media. Omeka-based exhibitions provided a welcome alternative to writing papers, too. Importantly, creating these online exhibitions challenged students to pursue image-centered research, something that proved new to many of them. At the same time, students learned to develop narratives that situated their images in relevant historical, social and cultural contexts.

By visiting with us over a nine week period, Spencer and Rebecca baby-stepped us into using Omeka. During each thirty minute visit, they taught us more about implementing Omeka’s capabilities and about related issues such as digital humanities, image archives, and copyright. Outside of class, students also connected with Rebecca for research assistance and with Spencer for fine tuning the construction of their exhibitions. The result was a wonderful range of projects delving deeply into course themes.

The information and demonstrations that Spencer and Rebecca delivered always enriched our research and technology. Ultimately, Spencer and Rebecca gave us additional layers of learning and skills that we otherwise would not have had. I enjoyed the collaborative aspect and look forward to developing other projects that connect my courses and students with the UNT Libraries.

Among the topics featured in students’ exhibits were Peter Hiatt’s exploration of refugees’ self-expressions on social media collected in “Hashtag Refugee,” and Jessica Burnham’s “Once a Lost Boy, Always a Lost Boy?” which collects book covers depicting Sudan’s refugee children.

The Public Services Division is grateful to Dr. Way and her students for taking part in this experience with us and, like Dr. Way, look forward to further collaborations in the future.