The Oxford Outremer Map 

The Possibilities of Digital Restoration

Omeka Mapping Tutorials

Tobias Hrynick, Ph. D. Student, Fordham University

Download a PDF of this tutorial here


  1. About the Tutorials
    1. Whether to Use Omeka and Neatline
    2. Software and Servers
  2. Tutorial One: Getting Familiar with Omeka
    1. Set up an Omeka Account
    2. Choose a URL for Your Website
    3. Access the Omeka Dashboard
    4. The Top Navigation Bar
    5. The Left-Hand Navigation Panel
    6. Make a Collection
    7. Create Items
    8. View Your New Collection
    9. Moving Forward
  3. Tutorial Two: Creating an Annotated Historical Map Using Omeka Neatline
    1. System Requirements
    2. Understanding the Omeka Dashboard
    3. Installing Plugins
    4. Making a Neatline Map Exhibit
      1. Convert a Map Image to Geo-Referenced .tiff
      2. Upload .tiff file to GeoServer
      3. Create Neatline Exhibit
      4. Import .tiff file from Geo-Server to Neatline Exhibit
      5. Create Records with Desired Annotations
    5. What do all the Fields on Neatline Records Mean?
      1. The Text Tab
      2. The Map Tab
      3. The Style Tab
  4. Conclusion

I. About the Tutorials

The Oxford Outremer Map project created a website with an annotated interactive map, to showcase an unusual 13th century map drawn by Matthew Paris. The website was created using Neatline, a mapping plugin used with Omeka, an open source web design and content management system. The purpose of this guide is to help people planning similar digital mapping projects decide whether these platforms are suitable for their purposes, and if so, to help them implement them.

A mapping project like the Oxford Outremer map requires dedicated server space, which can be prohibitively time-consuming and expensive to set up for people who have not gone beyond basic curiosity in a digital system, and a desire to assess the system’s capabilities. Therefore, after an introduction speaking generally about Omeka and Neatline there are two sections:

II. Tutorial One: Getting Familiar with Omeka. This tutorial is designed to help cultivate a basic understanding of Omeka using only free tools and server space.

III. Tutorial Two: Creating an Annotated Historical Map Using Omeka Neatline. This tutorial is intended to walk users through the steps required to create an interactive map like the one available at , assuming available servers.

Since the two sections are designed to be useful independently, they contain some redundant information.

A final option for familiarizing yourself with Omeka is to go through one of our Omeka-based websites (, or Neither of our websites comes near to exhausting the possibilities of Omeka, but they lay out some possibilities. You can also examine a range of Omeka-based sites available at, which will demonstrate other possible applications.

Whether to Use Omeka and Neatline


Omeka, like all content management systems (CMS’s), is intended to make it possible to make and edit websites with little direct engagement with the underlying code. Many other such platforms exist, and it can be difficult to decide which platform is most appropriate for a given project. In light of this, it is important to consider the intended purpose of the software – in attempting to make web design easier, all such systems wind up making assumptions about what those users will want. Accomplishing goals outside a CMS’s assumptions is often still possible, but it will be infinitely more frustrating.

Omeka is intended primarily for cataloging and archiving. The underlying structure is based on “items,” which are intended to contain information about or computer files (picture, recordings, videos, or text) pertaining to sub-categories within a broader collection (of books, art objects, oral history recordings, etc). It is quite possible to make Omeka websites without using the item system – the center for medieval studies is in the process of making such a website for the project “Exploring Place in the French of Italy,” (not yet live). In our case, we made the decision to use Omeka for this project because many of the people working on the new project were already familiar with that platform, and because maintaining the same system allowed close conformity between the new project and older ones, to which Omeka was more obviously suitable. In the absence of such outside considerations, however, projects which do not conform well to an item-based system could be made just as effectively with other software.


Neatline, made by the Scholar’s Lab at the University of Virginia, is an optional plugin for Omeka, designed to allow for the display of information (including maps, images, and annotations) in a geographic context. It is important to note that it is primarily a display tool, not a tool intended for analysis. It contains a much more limited set of options for the manipulation of data than geographic information software (GIS) like Arc or Quantum, or even from simpler but still database-oriented tools like CartoDB. On the other hand, it is more web-oriented and easier to use as a way of creating geographic displays than GIS systems, and is more flexible than CartoDB. It also has an unusually robust timeline tool, which can be useful as a way of organizing items chronologically, or displaying changing trends.


In summary, if you wish to display relatively detailed information about particular items in a geographic context online, Omeka Neatline is likely an appropriate tool.

If you are interested in producing maps for print editions, or analyzing geographic data based on co-location in ways more sophisticated than visual clustering, you would be better served by a program like ArcGis or Quantum GIS.

If you are looking for a tool to quickly display geographic information for a number of points which are all similar to one another, or which have only a small number of relevant attributes that you wish to display, you would be better served by CartoDB, Google Maps, or a similar platform.


Software and Servers

If you wish, you can conduct a digital map annotation project like the Oxford Outremer Map almost entirely using free and open-source software. During our project, we did not do so, instead using proprietary software periodically, either because it was easier, or because we were already using the proprietary platforms for other projects: examples include our use of PhotoShop and ArcGIS to clean the image and convert it to a usable form (rather than, for instance, the free programs with similar capabilities, Gimp and Quantum GIS). A more unavoidable cost is server space.


Though the Omeka software itself is free, implementing it as a website requires a server. If you have access to institutional servers, and if you or someone willing to work with you can manipulate these servers, the best solution is simply to upload Omeka software onto one of them. There are many companies that will rent you server space: some possible options are listed at:

Omeka itself also rents server space, and provides a very limited version of Omeka on its own servers for free – see Implementation through Omeka’s own servers is somewhat easier, but can be limiting. The free version especially imposes sharp limits the total amount of data, the number of sites which can be produced, and the plugins and visual themes which can be used. Neatline, for example, is not supported in the free version. Nevertheless, even the free version provides some significant functionality, and even if it is insufficient for your final project, it can provide you with a good chance to become familiar with Omeka in general terms. The first tutorial, below, is designed to help build basic familiarity with the Omeka platform using this version.

Running Neatline and uploading map images will also require server space running GeoServer, a sophisticated server system for holding geographical data for other systems to access. This platform will store your map data, which will be accessed by the Neatline plugin, and displayed on your Omeka-powered site.

Our own project currently runs both Omeka and GeoServer on server space rented from AcuGIS, though we hope at some point to migrate our data onto Fordham University’s own servers. We chose AcuGIS because it could support both Omeka and Geoserver on a single platform.

Continue to Tutorial One: Getting Familiar with Omeka >>

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