It is official, I have curated an online exhibit and if I can do it, anyone can. There are no more excuses for any kind museums to lack a digital presence.
This week I transformed my Omeka collection of Egyptian items into an exhibit entitled Nile Blue in honor of the dazzling and distinctive Egyptian blue glass and glass-look-a-likes. I broke my exhibit into several categories: Glass Production, Glass Uses, Mimicry, and More Than Just a Pretty Thing. I followed the advice of Trevor Owens in, “A Draft Style Guide for Digital Collection Hypertexts” and Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach by Beverly Serrell. Although my pages move the reader through the exhibit in a logical order, I also wanted each page to stand-alone so that if someone came upon my Omeka exhibit, no matter which page they entered through, the exhibit would still make sense. I also linked-in external content so the viewer could learn more information outside of my Omeka collection, if they were interested. My favorite source was this video from the Getty Museum showing how core-formed glass was likely made by the ancient Egyptians and other Near Eastern societies.
In this exhibit I showcased different pieces of Egyptian glass and discussed how they were made, their uses, and symbols. Egyptian glass is opaque and archaeologists think that was because the Egyptians wanted to mimic lapis lazuli, an expensive precious stone imported from Afghanistan. The Egyptians didn’t make glass until the New Kingdom period, but they were already proficient producers of Egyptian faience, a blue or blue-green glazed, non-clay ceramic that was made from similar raw materials as glass. Archaeologists think the Egyptians first created faience to imitate lapis lazuli, and then learned how to produce glass. Evidence of glass-making is found at palace complexes and was probably controlled by the royal government. Glass was a luxury item and it was used to create decorative or ornamental pieces. I wanted to show that a study of Egyptian glass has more context than viewing it solely as art. Creating this exhibit also gave me the opportunity to do some research on an ancient Egypt topic which I was unfamiliar.
There were a few aspects I found challenging and a bit frustrating when it came to creating this exhibit. I never intended my audience to be a general audience; I planned this exhibit with an amateur researcher in mind, someone with a basic knowledge of ancient Egypt’s history. I struggled at times when it came to my content, how much explaining was too much? Too little? I hope I found a balance in this exhibit.
Omeka is simple to use, perhaps too simple. I was expecting more from their exhibit-builder plug-in. I chose the ‘Berlin’ theme, as I liked its clear lines and its blue color scheme – the perfect background for blue glass. I thought there was going to be more design options for the exhibit. I was looking for lines, boxes, etc. to make the exhibit a little more visually interesting. I was also hoping I could manipulate the images more. This could have been because of the theme I chose, or because I am operating on the free Omeka. Overall, the exhibit and the Okema platform provides images and content in a way that is easy to consume. I look forward to using this platform in the future.