Week 12: Elvis at 21 and the Life of Martha Washington

Omeka seems to be a pretty cool way to build exhibitions, archives, or tours. Thus far I haven’t had much luck, but I need to sit myself down and tinker. Thankfully there’s hope. The Omeka Showcase exhibits a wide assortment of websites using the Omeka engine to create public history and cultural materials. Now, I don’t know how often the site is checked, since there are a number of sites that no longer exist (Medieval Life – a Norwegian Site- being one of them).

I looked at tons of these sites, a lot are not in English and I did get horribly lost. The two I’m going to compare are simply the two that fascinated me the most. I would like to give “awesome name” awards to A Thin Ghost (a site discussing the works of Montague Rhodes James) and A Parcel of Ribbons (about 18th century Jamaican slavery). The former I feel needs to have a short biography section about the author. I have no idea who Montague Rhodes James is and what exactly I should get out of this site.

Now, on to the good stuff. The first site I’d like to delve into is Elvis at 21, an online companion to the National Portrait Gallery exhibition at the Smithsonian. The exhibit closed in 2011 and it’s great that this site is still available for viewing. I would hope that after the closure they would expand this site to include all the photographic images that were on display, but sadly it appears that the site is as static as it was when the exhibition was open. It’s a very quick site to browse, there are only about a dozen photos. It seems as though there are such few photos because they want the exhibition to hold a better draw, but also it is only one photographer’s work in a specific year 1956-7. The images are dramatic, crisp, and thought-provoking. I didn’t think there were any images of Elvis that would make me say that. It’s interesting to see him as a young man and dealing with the beginning of his career. Yet, the most evocative image for me is the photograph of Elvis at the Segregated Lunch Counter.

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It had nothing to do with him being Elvis, it put him into the historical context of 1950s Tennessee. It allows modern viewers to see him within the culture he existed in, for better or for worse. My only suggestion past adding more photographs now that that exhibit has closed, would be to include a biography for Alfred Wertheimer, the photographer for the project. Who was this guy and why was he hanging around Elvis? Are there any other photographs taken by others at the same time at the same venues that offer a different perspective?

The second site I explored was Martha Washington. Now, not as sexy as Elvis at 21, but the narrative style of the site had me hooked. That being said, the history presented wasn’t done in the most professional way. I read most of her life story and learned a lot about what “probably” happened and there a lot of conjecture about her thoughts and feelings. I saw all of two foot notes, both of which were for snippets of letters talking about or written by Martha herself. My only explanation for the lack of neutral tone or supporting materials would be that perhaps this is for middle school or younger age children? Several paragraphs are repeated between sections. This gives the impression that the authors assumed that visitors will not be reading the whole thing through and instead be picking and choosing sections.

Both sites were engaging and gave viewers a peek into the lives of American historic figures centuries a part. Most images or objects features on the sites gave citations, promoting better scholarship. All in all, I have hope that my Omeka site can be both visually pleasing and historically informative.

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