OHMS and Omeka: The OHMS Plugin Suite

This post is about the Nunn Center’s release of the OHMS plugin suite for Omeka that integrates OHMS (the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer) and Omeka in several powerful ways. But first, some historical context.


When I first designed OHMS (Oral History Metadata Synchronizer) in 2008, I envisioned it working primarily for the Nunn Center’s access point at the time, the Kentuckiana Digital Library. When we received the IMLS National Leadership Grant in 2011, it was clear that we were designing OHMS to be used by other institutions. This meant that the OHMS viewer had to work with the infrastructure at that institution. When we wrote the proposal in 2011, and when I wrote the article “OHMS: Enhancing Access to Oral History for Free” in the Oral History Review, we were envisioning a suite of plugins for some of the more common content management systems. The dream was that OHMS-ed interviews would someday be importable into a CMS and that a user’s global search would include the contents of an OHMS index or transcript, and take the user to the corresponding moment. The reality was that we would have had to choose which CMS for which we would create OHMS compatibility. It was not soon after I published that article that we changed development directions for OHMS.

If we had chosen three content management systems to work with OHMS, and your institution did not use one of those three systems, OHMS would be of little use. I try always to make decisions about OHMS with sustainability in mind. I feared that, once we completed the grant, we would not have the continued support needed to chase updates for multiple commercial and open-source content management systems to ensure seamless and continual OHMS integration. At that moment we made an important choice to make the OHMS Viewer a stand-alone entity that could be embedded into a CMS, as opposed to integrating the OHMS Viewer more holistically. The advantage of this approach was that the OHMS Viewer could be embedded into any system that could accept an iFrame embed code. The viewer would present as a page within a page. The disadvantage of the iFrame embed was the contents of the OHMS index and transcript would not be automatically incorporated into a global CMS search. The host institution would have to massage their data so that this content would be included in a global search of the CMS. This issue was not a problem for institutions with IT support. At the time, the Nunn Center was using Blacklight as our CMS, and we devised automated workflows for harvesting and indexing the data so that it could be made searchable. Smaller institutions without IT support were not as fortunate.


There had been some experiments using the OHMS Viewer with Omeka. Goin’ North: Stories from the First Great Migration to Philadelphia was our first utilization of Omeka. Goin’ North was a partnership between the Nunn Center and professors Janneken Smucker and Charlie Hardy who were teaching a digital history course at West Chester University. We mapped out a plan to utilize OHMS as a pedagogical tool, in addition to enhancing access to this oral history collection. Students authenticated the transcripts, built metadata thesauri, and created the interactive OHMS indexes that eventually interfaced with over 500 digitized primary sources. The students created a remarkable Omeka digital exhibit that utilized OHMS. Indeed, this model was an incredible success, and is detailed in the article Connecting the Classroom and the Archive: Oral History, Pedagogy, & Goin’ North.

Although the model collaboration and website were innovative, some realities drove me and Janneken Smucker crazy behind the scenes. Technically speaking, OHMS and Omeka were not integrated. The “OHMS-ed” interviews were embedded in Omeka “Simple Pages” via the viewer’s iFrame HTML embed code. Omeka did not treat these interviews as “Items,” which is Omeka’s basic unit, and, thus, the OHMS-ed version of the interviews could not be easily incorporated into Omeka’s powerful exhibit platform. Finally, the contents of the OHMS index and transcript were not, as you may have guessed, incorporated into the global search of the Goin’ North site. Every other item on the site was searchable, but not the oral histories, which were the centerpiece of the project, which returned me to that moment in time when we opted to make the OHMS Viewer stand-alone and “universally compatible,” instead of fully integrating OHMS into a few systems via plugins.


There are strategies for manually making the contents of an embedded OHMS Viewer searchable in a content management system such as WordPress or Omeka. We included a .csv export in OHMS in addition to the core .xml export. While the .xml is what makes the OHMS magic happen, the exported .csv (from OHMS) can be used to structure an imported record (including the contents of the index and transcript) into a CMS like WordPress or Omeka. Even more manually, you can create a field, paste the contents into the field, and then make the field hidden. This approach will, indeed, make OHMS-ed interviews searchable by the global search. There are super hi-tech ways of slurping metadata and such, but those of you who have these options probably do not need the help.

Using Goin’ North as a model, in 2017 we announced our intentions to create OHMS plugins that would truly integrate OHMS and Omeka.

With funds awarded through the 2016 American Historical Association’s Roy Rosenzweig Award for Innovation in Digital History, we are contributing to these open-source communities by developing Omeka plugins that allow the OHMS viewer to more seamlessly integrate with the content management system and enable users to search across OHMS indexes and interview transcripts. These improvements will increase the ease in which other classroom/archive partnerships can occur.[1]

Myself, Janneken Smucker and Eric Weig worked on the design, development, and testing, and in July 2018 we successfully launched the OHMS Plugin Suite for Omeka which fully integrates OHMS and Omeka. The OHMS Plugin Suite includes:

  • OHMS Import: OHMS .xml files can be imported into Omeka automatically, creating an item and populating fields that correspond to the metadata fields in OHMS. This import includes the full text of the OHMS index and transcript.
  • OHMS Object: The OHMS Object plugin uses the embedded OHMS viewer to display an oral history item (assuming that oral history item has been “OHMS-ed.” OHMS Object ensures that the transcripts and indexes are included in a global search, and it makes the OHMS Viewer presentation of the oral history item eligible to be included in an Omeka exhibit.

Here are a few samples of Omeka exhibits utilizing the OHMS Plugin Suite. The digital exhibits and websites on this list utilize the theme we created and called “Philly” as a tribute to the Goin’ North project (which utilized the Berlin theme). The “Philly” theme was designed to work with the OHMS Plugin Suite and optimizes presentation of the OHMS Viewer:

  • The Robert Penn Warren Oral History Archive (Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History): If you search “revolution” in the global search, the user is able to access the interview Robert Penn Warren conducted with Martin Luther King in 1964. At the 00:15:22 mark in the interview, King and Warren discuss the revolutionary aspects of the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Philly Immigration (Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History and West Chester University): This site is an innovation on the Goin’ North partnering the Nunn Center and West Chester University.
  • Buffalo Trace Oral History Project (Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History): This is a basic site formerly created in WordPress. Using the plugin suite and theme, I created this site in under one hour. Enjoy the history of Bourbon responsibly.
  • Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum Oral History Project(Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History): This site is currently used as a website and a touch screen interface at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Owensboro, Kentucky. If a museum visitor walks up to the screen and selects an interview from the gallery, they can choose any audio segment they wish to watch from the OHMS index.
  • Outsouth: LGBTQ+ Oral History Project  (Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History): This site is a good example of the Philly theme’s built-in gallery feature. If you install the Philly Simple Gallery plugin the site builds a gallery automatically.

You can access these plugins, documentation, and the “Philly” theme from the OHMS website. There are some configuration steps you need to take when initially setting up an Omeka site that will utilize the OHMS Plugin Suite and the Philly theme. It doesn’t take long. Once you configure your site, the steps from import to completion are incredibly efficient. Reclaim Hosting (http://www.reclaimhosting.com) enables one-click installation of both OHMS and Omeka, providing a simple and affordable solution.

In future posts, I will be focusing in on specific components of the OHMS and Omeka integration and post tutorials for setup as well.

Stay tuned.


[1]  Smucker, Janneken, Doug Boyd, and Charles Hardy III. “Connecting the Classroom and the Archive: Oral History, Pedagogy, & Goin’ North.” Oral History in the Digital Age, 2017. http://ohda.matrix.msu.edu/2017/02/connecting-the-classroom-and-the-archive-oral-history-pedagogy-goin-north/

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