The Architectural Landscape of the Achaemenid Empire: Mapping the Photographs of Dr. Matthew P. Canepa

By Johnathan W. Hardy, DCL Graduate Assistant

Screenshot of story map with the tomb of Cyrus in the background

This mapping project was designed first and foremost to showcase the vast collections of the Digital Content Library. The content held on the DCL relating to the ancient Iranian world ranges from original site plans, photographs from the age of excavation in the early 20th century, to contemporary documentation and artefacts. The DCL holds over 300 individual works relating to the Achaemenid empire, with an additional 500 + works documenting the Seleucid, Arsacid, and Sasanian empires. In order to showcase this invaluable collection, each section begins with a link to a search on the DCL for pertinent images relating to the site. To better illustrate the content that the viewer is engaging with, specific photographs from Dr. Canepa’s collection are highlighted in the map with links to the full work on the DCL.

The achaemenid Kaba ye Zarduxsht at naqsh eh Rustam

A view of the Ka’ba-ye Zardosht from a break in the rock face of Naqsh-e Rustam. In the distance is the Sasanian (224-650 CE) city of Staxr.

The vision of this mapping project was to provide the interested public and students information that filled the gap between a Wikipedia article and a scholarly journal. The information provided is not overly complicated or full of specialist vocabulary but exhibits a filtered look into the latest information on the debates in Achaemenid art and architecture. Each site is given a full, linked bibliography which gives the user the ability to delve deeper into the literature if they wish to know more. I wanted to have a seamless user experience that was able to guide an inexperienced user through the material, while allowing a broad degree of flexibility in how they interact with the maps. Each tab within the map series can stand on its own, without the user having to follow a set chronological or spatial timeline.

screenshot of a story map of Persepolis

The total project consists of 42 different maps all integrated into the final product. Linking such disparate material into a single, useable product was made incredibly easy through the use of Esri’s story map options, and all maps were designed and implemented through ArcGIS Online.

I am of course thankful to LATIS and the Digital Content Library for allowing me to work on this special project, as well as Dr. Canepa for allowing his incredible photographs to be digitized.

Creating Exhibits in Omeka

By Nathan Weaver Olson, DCL Graduate Assistant


The first step in creating an Omeka exhibit is to set up an Omeka account. Currently, the best way for individuals connected with the University of Minnesota to do this is to contact DASH Domains and open an account through them. Check out the DASH website to see if this is an option for you. If you have access to a web server, you can actually download Omeka directly. Alternatively, Omeka will host your collection at’s basic plan will give you 500 MB of free storage, although more robust storage options are available for an annual fee.


Once you have Omeka up and running, the first step in building an Omeka exhibit is to add the digital objects or “items” you wish to include in your exhibit to your Omeka account. Do this by clicking “Add an Item”, the green button at the top of the screen. Once you have a new item, you need to add the necessary metadata (i.e. data about the data), which you can do by clicking through the various tabs entitled “Dublin Core” metadata, “Item Type Metadata”, “Files”, “Tags”, and “Map”. For the “Mud-Brick Mosques of Mali” exhibit I added some twenty-three items to our account.


Once you have added all of your items to your Omeka account, you can add a new exhibit to your account by clicking on the “Exhibits” tab and then clicking “Add an Exhibit”. The look of an individual exhibit is largely controlled by the exhibit theme. Several themes come pre-loaded in Omeka, but these are just a fraction of the themes available. In fact, users can design themes of their own. In my case, I wanted to use a theme that would allow me to insert my own background image and logo. I settled on the “BigStuff” theme and then added it to our Omeka account using the DASH Domains File Manager.


When you create a new Omeka exhibit, the first page available to you is the “Edit Exhibit” page, where you select and configure the exhibit theme, design the exhibit’s main page, and add new exhibit pages to the site.  In the image below, my theme, “BigStuff”, is clearly visible in the drop down list.

Themes can also be further configured to fit your particular aesthetic and presentation interests. “Big Stuff” allows me to insert my own background image, logo, and header images. In my case, these were images that I designed in Photoshop before uploading them to Omeka.


The content of my exhibit is stored and organized using different pages, accessed through the “Edit Exhibit” link. Each new page includes title and “slug” fields, but users are then able to add one or more blocks of content layouts entitled “File with Text”, “Gallery”, “Text”, “File”, “Geolocation Map”, “Neatline”, and “Neatline Time”.

With the exception of the “Text” layout, all of these page options allow you to pull the “Items” you created into the exhibit. When you add an item, you can also add a caption below the image. I chose to make every caption a link back to the original image in DCL Elevator. My principal goal was to showcase images from John Archer’s collection, but I was also able to locate individual mosques in space as well using Omeka’s “Geolocation Map” layout option.


Finally, when you are on the “Edit Exhibit” page, it is easy to rearrange page order and even nest some pages below others. In my case, I have five principle pages: “Mosque Design Elements”, “Regions and Styles”, “Image Gallery”, Further Reading”, and “About the Photographer”.  Yet several of these pages contain sub-pages, and sub-sub-pages, as a tool for organizing content.

Those are the basics of exhibit building in Omeka. Now that you know the basics, it’s time to get an Omeka account of your own, decide on a narrative you would like to represent as an online exhibit, and get to work adding items to your account.

The exhibit used as an example in this tutorial, “Mali’s Mud-Brick Mosques”, is just one of a number of Omeka exhibits that we have been working to create at the DCL in recent months. We should be rolling them out on our website soon. But you can find Omeka-powered exhibits and websites all over the Internet. Check out’s exhibit showcase for more ideas.

John Archer and Mali’s Mud-Brick Mosques: Exhibit Building with Elevator and Omeka

By Nathan Weaver Olson, DCL Graduate Assistant

Picture a vast interior space, dark and cool, its edges hidden by a forest of columns. The only visible light is that which trickles in through an ornate window screen. You are inside one of Mali’s monumental mosques, a sacred space, and the walls, columns, and even the lofty minaret towers are likely not stone but molded earth, mud bricks plastered with a layer of mud and rice hulls. It is a vulnerable structure in a region of intense heat and seasonal torrential rains, forever dependent upon an army of skilled workers to maintain its elegant and massive form. If cared for, it will last a century or more. If neglected, it will quickly fall to ruin.

In the mid 1990s, Minnesota Professor John Archer, now Professor Emeritus, visited the country of Mali with his camera and an eye for timing and image composition. He took hundreds of images of Mali’s people as well as its natural and built environments. The majority of this wonderful collection is currently housed at LATIS’ Digital Content Lab, where we are slowly adding Archer’s images to the Digital Content Library, which currently contains over 300,000 objects. So far, we have added nearly three hundred and fifty images from John Archer’s trip to Mali to the DCL and organized them into thirty-seven different “works”, each with between one and thirty-nine attached images or “views”. Among the works already available through the DCL is a collection of images of mud-brick mosques ranging from the country’s oldest, to its most iconic and monumental, to more humble examples. It is a unique collection, and now, thanks to Omeka, we have been able to create an online exhibit using many of these images to teach our users about vernacular architectural traditions in Mali while also introducing them to our object database, called DCL-Elevator.

Searching the DCL

One of our goals at the DCL is to make our collections widely available to scholars and students, not only those at the University of Minnesota, but also those working outside of the U. While many items in our collection require the user to possess an X500 to receive access, quite a few of the objects in the DCL are part of our “Open Collections”, objects available to anyone who visits the DCL’s website. Users can currently view Archer’s Mali collection on the DCL by performing an advanced search in Elevator, our database tool, and sorting by collection and keyword.

Elevator includes comprehensive and relatively intuitive finding aids, but here at the DCL we are also looking at additional tools to better familiarize users with the site and its extensive contents. Lately we have begun to do this by building exhibits using Omeka.

Omeka Exhibits

Omeka is an open-source web-publishing platform that is oriented towards users from disciplines within the Humanities. Students, professors, librarians, and archivists can all use Omeka to develop and display scholarly collections. In the case of the DCL, Omeka allows us create exhibits that highlight our collections by focusing the user’s attention on a limited number of objects from the DCL and then sending them into Elevator to find the materials themselves. In practical terms, this has meant festooning our exhibits with links that transport the user to specific images within the DCL Elevator collection. In the exhibit featured in this post, “Mali’s Mud-Brick Mosques”, I put a “Find it in the DCL” link under nearly every image I added to exhibit, as well as a link to an exhibit that Ginny Larson created for the photographer, John Archer.

The structure of an online exhibit, which is essentially a narrative, presents the user with a familiar set of tools for viewing the collection and making sense of its contents. Instead of searching through thousands of images, an online exhibit introduces the user to a finite collection that allows them to approach the more generous holdings of the DCL Elevator database from the vantage point of a specific theme. Because our Omeka exhibits serve to not only showcase the DCL Elevator Collection, but to also extend its pedagogical value for our users, I added a “Further Reading” page to the exhibit as well.

These are all things that anyone reading this post, and especially anyone connected with the University of Minnesota, can do as well. While there are free versions of Omeka available, they have a very limited online storage capacity. But U of M users are able to acquire a more substantial Omeka account through Dash Domains. The DCL has its own domain account through DASH, and through it we have the capacity to access a number of content management applications, including Omeka. To learn more about how to create your own Omeka exhibit, click here for detailed instructions.

“Mali’s Mud-Brick Mosques” is just one of a number of Omeka exhibits that we have been working to create at the DCL in recent months. We should be rolling them out soon. But in the meantime, check out the DCL’s collection and let us know if there are other themes that you would like us to explore as online exhibits.

Gopherbaloo: An Action-Packed and Fun-Filled Day of History!

By Andy Wilhide, DCL Research Assistant

On a cold, wintery Saturday afternoon, I followed some unusual visitors into Wilson Library: teenagers. They streamed in—by themselves, in pairs, in groups, and in families—talking excitedly and carrying books and bags with them. What brought them here on a weekend afternoon? Gopherbaloo, an annual event sponsored by the University of Minnesota Libraries and the Minnesota Historical Society’s History Day program. The afternoon included power conferences with History Day experts, research sessions, project workshops, and presentations on archives. Oh, and pictures with the History Day Moose—I got one too! There were raffles where students could win large exhibit boards, t-shirts, and other History Day swag.

The real prize was the opportunity for students to get some feedback on their History Day projects and to discover new resources that could help make their projects stronger. That’s where I came in—I was there to show off the Digital Content Library and help students, parents and teachers explore this unique archive.

This year’s History Day theme is “Taking A Stand.” Several students stopped by my table to check out the DCL. With the topics they had chosen, it was a bit hit and miss, but we did find some interesting materials, including dance photographs from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, photographs and documentaries about Susan B. Anthony, a documentary about the L.A. Race Riots in 1992, and various materials connected to Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo—the scientists behind the theory of heliocentrism.

In preparation for the event, I made media drawers of potential History Day topics. These drawers are available to anyone who is logged into the DCL. One media drawer is dedicated to this year’s theme of “Taking A Stand.” Using the keywords “demonstrations” and “protests,” I found records ranging from a Communist rally in New York City (1930) to the Soweto Uprising in South Africa (1976) to the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington D.C. (1968) to Tiananmen Square Protests in China (1989). Many of these images came from the Department of History and the Department of Art History. One set of materials caught my eye—a series of photographs of the Iranian Revolution in 1978, taken by William Beeman, a professor in Anthropology.

Most History Day students rely on Google to find their images and resources, but we did find some materials that were not easily available through a Google search. Students, parents and teachers left my table excited to explore more of the treasures in the DCL, but from the comfort of home. Herein lies a challenge in sharing the DCL with public audiences: while public viewers can see most of what is on the DCL, they cannot download any of the images. This can be a deterrent for History Day students who need those images for their projects, which may be an exhibit, a documentary, a website or a performance. This is our first year connecting the DCL to History Day. We’ve made guest accounts for users outside of the U of M to access the DCL. We’ll see how it goes and report back!

The History Day State Competition will be held on the University of Minnesota campus, April 29, 2017.

Thank you to Lynn Skupeko and Phil Dudas from Wilson Library and the Minnesota History Day staff for inviting us to be part of Gopherbaloo. We hope to come back next year!

@MNHistoryDay [Twitter]

The DCL is available to anyone with a U of M x500 account. If you know of someone who is not affiliated with the U of M but would like a guest account to access the Digital Content Library, please have them contact Denne Wesolowski,