Teaching with Omeka: Presenting the Peries Project


Yesterday the seminar I’ve been teaching at Penn finished their digital project: an online edition of John Leyden’s “Tales of the Peries,” a handwritten manuscript in the archives of the National Library of Scotland. Leyden was a romantic poet as well as close collaborator of Walter Scott’s, before traveling to Southeast Asia as a functionary of the East India Company. Once there, Leyden established himself as an Orientalist and specialist in Asian languages, and the Tales of the Peries is an example from this fruitful period before his early death in 1811.

As part of a larger class on historical fiction, fantasy, and the influence of empire, my students built an Omeka site that includes digital facsimiles of the manuscript, transcriptions using Scripto, a plugin for Omeka, and a “readerly edition” that incorporates their research into editorial practices and critical editions and links to supporting materials and entries in the Omeka collection and on the wiki. In addition, they built a host of supporting materials for the site, from critical evaluations of the Tales, its verse, and the influence of Urdu and Arabic literature, to information about Leyden, his involvement with the EIC, even an animated Flash map that walks the reader through the geography of the tale and details the main transformations of Melech Mahommed, the main character, over the course of the narrative.

Working in groups, they finished all of this work in about nine weeks, including four days of in-class workshops. I’m tremendously impressed with what they managed to accomplish. It’s a credit to the students at Penn, to the English department, which provided funding and technical support for the class, and to the Ben Franklin Scholars program, which coordinates the seminars that this formed a part of. I believe the site is the most comprehensive resource on Leyden and his time in Southeast Asia currently on the web. Unfortunately, it won’t be hosted in its current version for long, so please take a look before the great migration begins (both to the Penn library and, hopefully, to a later incarnation on a permanent server).