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The Best Websites For Exploring Cultural Heritage

Aboriginal cave paintingAs digital archiving goes mainstream in many countries, the preservation of cultural heritage is becoming an ever more realizable goal. Much emphasis has rightly been placed on the need to preserve cultural artifacts belonging to vulnerable communities (such as indigenous tribes), but efforts are now being instigated by all types of societies, from the vastness of Europe as a whole to the relative minuteness of the Plateau Peoples of America.

Archiving tools are now versatile and well-developed enough to allow for this range of different end users. The EU-funded Europeana Collections represent a high watermark for depth, variety, and scope in digital archiving. Meanwhile, accessible CMS tools like Mukurtu itself make the preservation of culture in a digital environment a possibility for much smaller communities.

As citizens of a globalized world, many of us find ourselves a member not just of many different communities, but of communities differing in size from the closest-knit (family or tribe) to the most incomprehensibly enormous (nations or even the world as a whole). In between these extremes, we find everything from ethnic to linguistic identities and social to interest-based identities.

The fact that each of us possesses a ‘membership’ to such a huge number of different communities underlines the need for digital archiving solutions that work on many different levels, from the most localized to the most global.

In this article, we explore three fascinating uses of digital archiving and how each one, in its own unique way, is contributing to the preservation and sharing of vital cultural assets.

Black Cultural Archives

The Black Cultural Archives is a UK-based charity that documents the long and fascinating history of African and Caribbean people in Britain. The organizers describe the charity as a “national heritage center” dedicated to the collection, preservation, and celebration of their community.

One of the most remarkable achievements of the team behind the archive is their creation of both a digital archive alongside their free-to-enter exhibition building in Brixton, South London.

Collections of particular note include the papers of renowned writer and historian Stella Dadzie. Stella was the joint winner of the 1985 Martin Luther King Award for Literature for The Heart of the Race: Black Women’s Lives in Britain. She has been a key figure in developing and promoting anti-racist strategies that have played a significant role in shifting and modernizing public life in Britain. She is also a noted campaigner for women’s rights.

The center is also home to the papers of Dr. Jan Mckenley, a noted activist involved in the Brixton Defence Campaign. This social movement is historically significant within London as it represented a key moment in the backlash of black communities against institutionally racist policies and policing methods present in Britain during the 1970s and 80s.

A digital archive also exists for a fascinating collection of photographs documenting the lives of African and Caribbean peoples in London between the 1930s and 2000s.

Europeana Collections

The Europeana Collections contain a mind-boggling 51 million individual artifacts pertaining to the heritage, culture, and history of the continent of Europe.

The formation of this digital archive was helped along with financing by the EU. The European Union has been one of the most proactive political bodies in the world in exploring the possibilities of cultural digital archiving and even took the step of naming 2018 the European Year of Cultural Heritage.

The efforts of the Europeana Collections team and their partners have paid off handsomely and the online archive today is a treasure trove, not only for historians and scholars but for all people connected to or interested in the rich and varied artistic, literary and cinematic history of Europe.

Particular highlights include a fashion archive with items from household names including Emilio Pucci, Yves Saint Laurent, and Chanel.

Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal

The Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal is a leading example of the possibilities for small, threatened and often isolated tribal communities to digitally archive their unique heritage. Built with the Mukurtu CMS and maintained with the help of WSU, the portal offers a user-friendly means of exploring the cultural heritage of various different Plateau tribes.

These tribes, including the Nez Perce, are indigenous to the interior Pacific Northwest of the modern day United States and Canada. The archive contains neatly presented linguistic and photographic artifacts that serve not only to preserve the history of the tribe, but to spread knowledge and understanding of their unique struggle throughout history. The collection also serves to underline the fragility of indigenous cultures facing enormous outside pressures on their way of life.

WordPress and Drupal: A Side-by-Side Comparison

Building a website with a content manager system (CMS) can be difficult within itself. There are many different options that are different in price, quality, and content. Choosing one that fits your website development needs and ideals can be difficult. We should look at the two top quality brands, WordPress and Drupal, and compare them. Knowing more about each can help you make an informed decision. Let’s look at the overall qualities of each.

WordPress

WordPress is the world’s most popular CMS website. It has over 140 million downloads and has over 45,000 free plugins for you to customize your website. Because of this, WordPress is an easy interface for non-coders to customize their website. It allows for the page by page editing and has over 4,000 free themes to choose from. Why is WordPress so popular? It is free. No contracts or hidden fees.

This is great as it cuts the initial investment costs for startup companies. With so many themes and free plugins, WordPress is also one of the most customizable CMS platforms. Lastly, because of the popularity of the site, there is a ton of online support. Between googling an issue, WordPress support, or the support forum, you can find exactly what you need to solve your problem. This allows you to customize your website easily without all the knowledge of coding.

Of course, WordPress is not perfect. WordPress does limit the amount of creativity. Even though they have numerous amounts of plugins and themes, doing any significant visual design is difficult. Additionally, building the website from the ground up can be challenging without coding knowledge. This means that if you do want to make significant visual edits, you’ll probably need to hire someone. This can set you back depending on the size of the project. Although this is a negative, for a beginner, this is a positive. By limiting the ability to mess with the coding, there are fewer chances for beginner to accidentally mess up their entire website.

Drupal

Drupal is a smaller website than WordPress but still has a significant following. With 15 million downloads, Drupal offers only 34,000 free plugins. Even though this is 10,000 plugins less, it still beats the nearest competitors such as Joomla. Drupal only has half the themes at 2,000 free downloadable themes. This offers less for beginners, but Drupal makes the ability to edit files directly.

Instead of being at the mercy of your plugin, Drupal allows users to edit content, visuals, and plugins alike. With this, Drupal is the most customizable CMS platform out there. It is also the most powerful at face value. With faster response times, it uses resources more efficiently and works well with hosting websites. Just like WordPress, Drupal is free. There are no contracts or hidden fees. Once you download the software, you can add this to your hosting server.

Drupal also has its downfalls. One of the biggest complication of Drupal is that it requires advanced technical knowledge. Many people require at least some basic HTML or CSS editing knowledge. If you do not have this, hiring someone can be more difficult. You will have to hire someone with more technical expertise which could cost you more. Although Drupal requires higher tech-savvy individuals, it allows for people to customize their visuals or plugins to exactly what they need. This is good if you want to create more complex stores.

Comparison

So what does this mean for you and your website? Either CMS platform can help you create a good website. Depending on your specific websites needs will determine the exact choice. Looking at them side-by-side, here is an overview to help you better determine what you need.

  • WordPress is a good choice for beginners because of its easy interface. This is usually the best from smaller e-commerce websites and blogs. This is one of the better options if you want to create the website from a template.
  • Drupal requires the basic understanding of HTML and CSS. Because of it is more difficult, you can create the website to your exact specifications. This is better more complex and larger websites. Easy for those who are tech-savvy.

How to Tweak WordPress For a Community Site

Wordpress logoThere are many advantages to having a community website. Whether it is increased traffic by revisiting users, passive creations of SEO content, or even access to better analytics, community sites can help increase the demand for your website. The easiest way this can be done is using the platform WordPress. WordPress is very friendly for those who do not have technical knowledge. It allows for effortless uploads and page editing that translates into an easy user-friendly interface. With this in mind, here are 3 ways to make your website a community site.

Forums

This is the most popular way to create a community website. Essentially, forums allow for your customers or website viewers to create discussions on your site and have conversations through a message board. Forums can serve three purposes. One is that it increases your website traffic by creating users that want to come back and respond, post, or discuss topics. This can create a community of people and their passions, depending on your website. Secondly, it produces content with little work.

Users will produce their own content which can then be optimized for search engines. This, in turn, increases traffic and provides a more dynamic website. Thirdly, forums provide passive feedback. Learning the thoughts of your consumers through reading forums can give insight into their habits. For example, if there is a website that has educational opportunities, then a forum on that allows people to express their ideas, concerns, or offer their own support can help your website.

bbPress is one of the best forum plugins for WordPress websites. It can be integrated with any WordPress theme without major coding or modifications required. It is easy to setup and moderate. It has over 300,000 active installs and is rated 4 stars out of 320 reviews.

Social Networks

Social networks take a sociable community to the next step past forums. They allow for your users to interact among themselves in a more private manner. They can create groups to form communities or interact with friends. Social networks also allow a user to create their own profile. This can help your website for a couple different reasons. More than just increasing traffic, user profiles allows for an in-depth look at your customers. You can learn about who they are in order to better target third-party ads or target them with promotional offers. Insight on your consumers is one of the most valuable assets you can have. Having a social network can enhance your analytics and your community.

BuddyPress is one of the best social networks plugins that allows for easy integration with WordPress. It creates activity streams, user profiles, and allows for the ability for social connections. This is a more advanced tool, but can really make your website look professional. Currently, it has over 200,000 active installs and 4.5 stars out of 361 reviews.

Blog Posts

Implementing blog posts can create a much more intimate social community. It allows for your users to submit topics to your site and read others works. The blogs can be as long or as short as you would like them to be. Creating a community of bloggers allows for content to create on your website for free. Without hiring professional writers, you can have other write opinion pieces. After optimizing them with search engines, this can increase traffic, which leads to more blog posts, and so on and so forth. This also gives you the ability to read through everything to make sure that it is appropriate or aligned with your content.

Remember, the content you produce through blogs is key, so filtering will be necessary. Depending on the niche of your website or product will depend on the content necessary. For example, if you are a real estate website, you might want to limit the content to real estate. Creating rules for your blog posts can go a long way in producing quality content. Having blogs that also allow for comment sections only furthers the sense of community as it adds an element of discussion underneath the content.

User Submitted Posts is a great WordPress plugin that allows for users to submit posts, upload images, or submit pages of content. It also comes with built-in widgets for user accessibility. It is easily customizable and has a shortcode that can implement on any page. Currently, it has 20,000 active install and 4.9 stars out of 389 reviews.

3 Best CMS & Digital Archives For Communities

In the modern age, preservation of cultural artifacts by indigenous communities is increasingly moving online. Whether we like it or not, cultural hegemony is a real phenomenon in linguistic artistic and wider social spheres.

The new digital terrain we all operate in may speed up the spread of dominant culture, but it can also be a safe-keeping space for the cultural artifacts of small communities.

As Aboriginal communities adopt modern technology, they are seeking ways to balance the competing influences of integration and preservation.

In this article, we look at the best options for CMS & Digital archives that are socially responsible and culturally sensitive to the needs of these users.

WordPress

This will not come as a surprise, but the world’s most popular CMS is also one with great global potential. In particular:

    • The ability for users to set their administration language independent of the site’s front-end language. This gives great flexibility for people from wide-ranging parts of the world to interact with WordPress as an administrator and not just a reader. Language settings can be done on a user-by-user basis. (See: WPML.org)
    • Social features like BuddyPress facilitate sharing and community organization. Users can establish groups, make friendships and even privately message each other. This helps to make online preservation a collaborative experience – be it stories, folklore, photographs, or otherwise.
    • WordPress is very well geared toward security and best practice backup protocols. VaultPress is itself developed by Automattic (the firm of WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg). This means preservation efforts, whether they’re published online or offline, can be reliably secured and protected against any possible data loss. This is, after all, one of the core requirements of a reliable digital archive!

Get WordPress.

Mukurtu Archive

Mukurtu is an open-source CMS with the distinction of being developed alongside indigenous communities themselves. This gives the platform an unparalleled degree of specialization in the use case of small, culturally diverse communities.

Mukurtu is mobile-ready, and the development ethos is to be responsive to the needs of its core base of users. The key tenet of Mukurtu is to facilitate the management, sharing, and exchange of digital heritage to empower and connect communities.

Get Mukurtu. See Demos.

Drupal

Another great option to round out our picks is Drupal. Also open source, the Drupal community is underpinned by the collaboration of many thousands of talented developers and designers around the world.

Its userbase is impressive – from media behemoths like the BBC and NBC to none other than the digital presence of the US government.

Like WordPress, what makes Drupal well-suited to the needs of niche communities is its responsive to the needs of its userbase. As a popular and much-loved CMS, it also has a secure developmental strategy and clear future prominence, making it a less risky choice than other newer platforms. The last thing you want as a digital archive administrator or website operator is to end up running on redundant software.

These risks are all low with Drupal. You also get to enjoy a suite of features that includes:

  • Blogging and forum capabilities.
  • Advanced search (useful for digging up material from archives)
  • Very frequent security updates
  • Content creation and editing by multiple users for collaborative initiatives.

Get Drupal.

Conclusion

There are many other content management systems (CMS) we could have included in this list for their impressive features or ambitious goals.

However, a digital archive tailored to a small and potentially non-tech savvy community needs several things to be truly well suited:

  1. User-friendliness and linguistic flexibility – it’s essential that the platform can be adapted for use by people with little to no technical expertise. Multiple language settings and/or simple English instructions can also make-or-break accessibility efforts.
  2. Security – as bugs and vulnerabilities emerge, it’s important that an open-source team is ready behind a CMS to patch and protect the integrity of the software. Newer startup CMS offerings tend to be leaner and with a smaller user base comes slower responsiveness.
  3. A Clear Future – once a digital archive has been established to store heritage materials from the community, it’s necessary that the underlying CMS stays relevant over time. Aboriginal communities are unlikely to be able to switch their CMS of choice with any great ease, and so this ensures time proofing of their efforts and ensures their ability to continue sharing and managing their materials.

Other options like Joomla! did not make the list because their declining popularity has seen many members of the open source development community jump ship to those CMS’s that are prospering in 2017, like WordPress and Drupal. This makes these two popular platforms, alongside the highly tailored Mukurtu, great picks for any small community seeking to connect, share and manage their heritage in the digital realm.

Whether it’s photography, video, speech, or text, you can find a safe haven with WordPress, Drupal, or Mukurtu.