Digital History

September 27, 2020 – Module Four: Omeka, Combs, and Strange Image Issues

My experiences with Omeka before this class were not nonexistent, but it had been awhile. I took a class at Auburn where we had a week on Omeka where a student gave a roundtable tutorial as we all followed along to learn how to add images to a collection and went through all the different categories. I played around with it once or twice more after this class, using it for a very basic DH project for a conference, but I thought I would have few issues.

I, of course, immediately ran into an issue. While adding the image to ‘FIles’ for an item, the image continued to not appear even as I uploaded the file, tried a different file, and of course, just uploaded the same thing around two or three times, not understanding what was wrong, though the answer was right in front of me.

The obvious answer, staring me in the face as it tends to, was above the items list, clear as day. “The ImageMagick directory path has not been set. No derivative images will be created, etc.” I had never seen this before, or run into this issue before, most likely because I used ‘sandboxes’ with multiple users for other Omeka work prior. But I had no idea how to fix this, and I figured I should give it a fair try (read: use Google) before asking my classmates in our Slack channel for help. 

First, I made my way over the Settings, scrolled down and saw ‘ImageMagick Directory Path’ next to a blank row. “Hmmm, okay,” I thought, “Well I need it so set derivative images. What if I just write ‘set derivative images’ on the line?”

“Ah, you fool,” continued my inner dialogue. “That would be too easy, plus, there probably needs to be something more computational written in the blank,” I chastised myself. Alas, I thought, and turned to Google. Googling “ImageMagick Directory Path,” I hoped to figure out what-the-heck ever to type into the box so I could have images. The images are, you know, kinda really important.

Pages and pages popped up, some questions on forums, others tutorials, ranging in years and different versions of Omeka. I clicked on a couple, pulling them up in new tabs, and skimmed, trying to get a quick, clear answer, which I actually managed to do! I needed /usr/bin in the line. 

I know I’m a historian – but what did people do before Google? I guess the internet wasn’t a thing for too long before Google, but still.

Now to double check that my images would appear as they should on the items, after making sure to click “Save Changes.”

Making my way back over to ‘Items,’ the image still does not appear on my item, but I tried adding the image to the file again, since the path had just changed. So I edited the item, deleted the attached image, and uploaded it once more, and again made sure to click “Save Changes.”

A hopeful attempt!

And success!

Now to add more items for our project!

I started adding images I thought we might use for our final project for class, though mainly as a thought exercise since I was doing it on my own for practice. Taking images of combs found through Digital Public History of America, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and other institutions found within DPLA. Once I was able to add images with no problems, adding images of combs and metadata went pretty well. I actually enjoyed sort of the rote data entry involved with Omeka. 

Here is the link to my Omeka project on my site, and one can click through all the attached items. I also created a collection of images of combs from the Met that were all from Predynastic Egypt and had animals on them. Most likely, these combs were more for ceremonial or religious use, as they were hand-carved from bone, ivory, and horn, and not very practical for hair. Here is the link to that collection.

I could see already how it would be useful for our project, since we were all already collecting images from different repositories and needed a dump for our work to create a visual project (template still being decided). 

One thing I enjoyed was using tags since I could take comb images with certain categories that would help later with either categorizing or finding a specific image from a time/place. 

After collecting almost twenty images in Omeka and creating a small collection, I took a break to walk my dog. As I walked, trying to keep him from jumping on other dogs or drinking dirty water, I had (what I thought was) a good idea. In ‘tags,’ I should list the repositories and digital collections the sources were from so I could see where I was getting my sources. After getting back home, I sat down and edited all the items. 

I tagged the repository I found the image at (For those I found on DPLA I tagged DPLA and the individual archive pulled from as well), country or region, time period (ancient, early modern, modern), materials used, and any other specificities. 

From the backend of Omeka (note: not all tags used are in the photo because of the size)

Not sure that the tag ‘comb’ was needed since the whole domain is dedicated to combs, but here we are. Or maybe ‘hair,’ but, again, here we are.

On the site, I clicked through the tags and was able to find a word cloud with all the tags used, showing me the ones I used the most. ‘Combs,’ of course, was the largest and redundant, but I decided not to remove it in case the objects used diversified. Otherwise, we see ‘american,’ ‘ancient,’ ‘Egypt,’ ‘The Met,’ and ‘Digital Public Library of America,’ all tags I used on a number of items. It will be interesting to see how the cloud changes as I add more items from different times and places, and what that will entail for our project.

TLDR: here’s a link to my Omeka work:,

One reply on “September 27, 2020 – Module Four: Omeka, Combs, and Strange Image Issues”

As noted in our group discussion, I find your idea to tag the institutions that house the items genius. As a researcher, it would be helpful to see the conglomeration of items from different institutions AND for the individual organizations. In regards to the latter, it would allow users to more easily locate citations, conduct more targeted research, and better understand what places are more likely to have certain items.

On an unrelated point, I think that digital tools are wonderful, but user errors are usually difficult to mediate. I think as I continue along in digital history work, it is important to think about how technological support functions.

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