Exploring Southeast Asia with Omeka and Neatline

I just spent a very long day trying to learn how to install and use Omeka and Neatline.

For those who don’t know, Omeka is (to quote Wikipedia because I’m too tired to think right now. . .) “a free, open source content management system for online digital collections” while Neatline is (quoting the Neatline web page) “a geotemporal exhibit-builder that allows you to create beautiful, complex maps and narrative sequences from collections of archives and artifacts.”


Omeka and Neatline are free, but you need access to a server in order to install and use them, and that is not free, but there are inexpensive options that one can chose.

Omeka can be used to create a “digital collection” of whatever digitized materials you want to collect, and you can then create displays of those materials.

Neatline, meanwhile, enables one to connect texts or images with online maps


Today I tried to create Omeka and Neatline exhibits using a report that James McCarthy, Superintendent of Surveys in Siam, presented to members of the Royal Geographic Society on 14 November 1887. This report was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Geographic Society and Monthly Record of Geography, New Monthly Series, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Mar., 1888): 117-134.

I used a passage from this report about a trip that McCarthy made to the northwest of Siam, into the area of what is today Laos.

omeka hosting

The documentation that Omeka and Neatline provide is not as detailed as one would like. There are some companies that provide server space and offer “one-click installation” of Omeka, and they are listed on the Omeka web page. That’s probably the easiest way to start.

Once Omeka is installed, the Neatline plugin has to be uploaded to the server and activated. The documentation for that is fine, and I used Web Disk to do that.


Finally, when it comes to building an exhibit, again, the documentation is not as clear as one would like. In the end I found that trial and error worked.

This is the result of my labors: an Omeka exhibit of McCarthy’s expedition to Laos, and the beginnings of a Neatline exhibit of the same expedition (click on the circles on the map).

I can definitely see a lot of potential in using these platforms to present information in interesting and helpful ways, but the learning curve at the beginning is a little steep. It’s not impossible, but it does take time.