Omeka and Film

This series of short essays scaffold discrete components of the research and writing process leading up to a final project that makes claims about the reception history of a film. To do so, students compose an exhibit guide, give a class presentation, and curate a web exhibit. This sequence was developed for sections of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) course, “English 104: An Introduction to Film,” using the Omeka platform.

Here you will find the assignment prompts, rubrics, and teaching instruments developed to aid the use of this technology by the students, a pedagogical reflection on the use of curation, and samples of final products by students. The sequence of original work and its assessment is collected here under the auspices of UIUC’s Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, in application for the Certification in Technology-Enhanced Teaching.

This curriculum has been employed at Bucknell University, as well as featured content in the “Curation” section of the MLA Commons’ Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities: Concepts, Models, and Experiments (2017).

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Reviews do more than give a film a thumbs-up or -down. They are informal secondary sources that provide evidence and details, carefully selected not to spoil the film while at the same time justifying whether it is worth your hard-earned cash. But how do you define a film’s value? Do we all go to the movies for the same reasons?

Reviews, by the evidence they select and the claims they make based on that evidence, argue simplicity (and sometimes explicitly) for the social value of a film. In this essay assignment, students were asked to compare and contrast three (3) separate reviews of the same documentary film, assess their arguments regarding for whom this is worth viewing, and what the the potential gains would be for doing so or not.


In this formal primary source paper, I am now interested in how students are coming to understand and analyze their selected documentary. They are asked to conduct close-readings of two (2) related episodes from your documentary and analyze them in order to to a thesis addressing how it deploys filmmaking techniques to craft an argument.

By analysis, I mean a detailed examination of elements and/or structure as a basis for discussion or interpretation. The goal of this assignment is to develop skills for reading films and develop a unique claim based on evidence.


As formal secondary sources, scholarly articles develop an argument derived from analysis of primary sources—precisely what we have been doing all semester. And like their informal kin, reviews, they do much more than grade a film: they consider how it influences and is influenced by culture. Of our two useful approaches, immanent reading and historical contextualization, criticism often employs the latter, using historical knowledge to make sense of text and perhaps to resolve contradictions.

In this assignment, students were asked to compare and contrast three (3) separate articles of the same film and topic, assess their arguments and method. They they were asked to make a claim about a trend you see linking these three pieces. To restate—yo will not be merely summarizing their claims, but analyzing their rhetoric and evidence choices to make your own argument about the articles.


The goal for students in this final curation is to craft an exhibit, selecting the materials from throughout the semester that when edited together (as in a film) tell a particular story. Students are asked to consider the rhetorical principles exercised through the previous four assignments: how can you establish the exigency — the timeliness and relevancy — of your research? How are you establishing ethos? How are you guiding the reader? What are the stakes? Or rather, what people or groups stand to be affected? How does your research change the way we think about this film or documentary filmmaking more generally?


For this project, students were asked to learn and use a new tool, the open-source platform called Omeka. The structure of the platform visualizes relationships between primary and secondary sources, allowing students to see and intervene in a critical conversation as well as imagine carving multiple paths through their sources. Students were asked to select from this list of documentaries to select a film on which to focus this project. (I developed an infographic, Omeka: A User’s Guide to Web Curation, using Piktochart for easy reference throughout the semester.)

Three components made up this final curation project:

  • Omeka Curation
  • Visitor’s Guide
  • Docent Presentation

The web platform allowed students to construct an “exhibit” within online museums they had been constructing throughout the semester; they included materials that shed light on the influence, afterlife, and reception of their chosen documentary film. The “exhibit,” along with a reflection and visitor’s guide, constituted a final portfolio project for an introductory cinema studies course. Want to learn more about Omeka, who is using it, and how you can, too? Check out


This assignment sequence is being used in a range of courses at different universities. It has also been the subject of Digital Pedagogy and Humanities research, including:

  • Flanders, J. “Curation.” In Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities: Concepts, Models, and Experiments, edited by R. Frost, M. K. Gold, K. D. Harris, and J. Sayers. MLA Commons, January 2017.
  • Green, H. E. “Fostering Assessment Strategies for Digital Pedagogy through Faculty-Librarian Collaborations: An Analysis of Assessment Strategies for Student-Generated Multi-Model Digital Scholarship.” In Laying the Foundation: Digital Humanities in Academic Libraries, edited by H. Gilbert and J. W. White, 179 - 204. Purdue University Press, 2016, doi: 10.2307/j.ctt163t7kq.13
  • Green, H. E. “Collaborative Digital Pedagogy: Teaching Digital Humanities in the Classroom through Faculty-Librarian Collaborations.” In IFLA World Library and Information Congress 2014 Information Literacy Section Satellite Meeting: Facing the Future: Librarians and Information Literacy in a Changing Landscape Conference Proceedings, Limerick, Republic of Ireland, August 14-15th, 2014, edited by S. Mader, M. Chou, J. Teo, J. Cavanaugh, and P. Kirby, 47 - 58. Limerick Institute of Technology Library and Information Resource Centre, 2014.

Updated 2022-04-30