The French of Italy Time Map and the Oxford Outremer Map Project are powered by Omeka, a free open-source platform that was initially created to curate online exhibits.
One of the benefits of using Omeka is that information can be presented in exhibit form, but also mapped spatially using the platform’s Neatline plug-in. Our choice to use Omeka was largely driven by a desire to use the capabilites that Neatline had to offer. We have therefore spent more time tailoring Neatline to serve our purposes than working with the basic Omeka platform.
We used a full installation of Omeka hosted on rented server space. Unlike the simpler version of the platform found at Omeka.net, this installation allows for significant customization and the use of a wide range of plugins, including Neatline. Neatline facilities the creation of interactive maps, and can be used to illustrate Omeka exhibits or to create stand-alone exhibits based on maps.
Both of our Neatline maps have custom backgrounds. To make this possible, Neatline requires access to a program called a geoserver, which allows the points on the custom maps to correspond to modern mappings of those co-ordinates on the globe. We used a geoserver provided by AcuGIS to feed our digital maps (whose files are hosted elsewhere) into Neatline. A geoserver is necessary in order to have custom map backgrounds in Neatline; although it is possible to use static images as backgrounds without recourse to a geoserver, users would be unable to zoom in and out, and the images would not behave like the digital maps to which users have become accustomed.
The two projects – the interactive version of Matthew Paris’s Outremer Map and the French of Italy TimeMap – developed in tandem, but the French of Italy project was the pioneer. Most of the technical details were addressed during the preparation of that project, so that mounting the Outremer map was much more straightforward. To read about our processes for creating the exhibits, see the Technical Workflow essays for each project.
Some websites we have found useful for Omeka and Neatline:
- Omeka’s documentation can be tricky to navigate, but instructions tend to be clear and up-to-date.
- Neatline’s documentation is easier to access. We recommend reading through it before beginning a project to get a sense for the possibilities Neatline presents.
- The forums at Omeka.org are very active, and the developers frequently check them to offer solutions and advice.
Stackoverflow and GitHub also have more advanced information about the software.