Neatline 101: Getting Started

Here at Commons Knowledge we love easy-to-use interactive map creation software! We’ve compared and contrasted different tools, and talked about StoryMap JS and Shanti Interactive. The Scholarly Commons is a great place to get help on GIS projects, from ArcGIS StoryMaps and beyond. But if you want something where you can have both a map and a timeline, and if you are willing to spend money on your own server, definitely consider using Neatline.

Neatline is a plugin created by Scholar’s Lab at University of Virginia that lets you create interactive maps and timelines in Omeka exhibits. My personal favorite example is the demo site by Paul Mawyer “‘I am it and it is I’: Lovecraft in Providence” with the map tiles from Stamen Design under CC-BY 3.0 license.

Screenshot of Lovecraft Neatline exhibit

*As far as the location of Lovecraft’s most famous creation, let’s just say “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”

Now one caveat — Neatline requires a server. I used Reclaim Hosting which is straightforward, and which I have used for Scalar and Mukurtu. The cheapest plan available on Reclaim Hosting was $32 a year. Once I signed up for the website and domain name, I took advantage of one nice feature of Reclaim Hosting, which lets you one-click install the content management system (CMS). The Omeka CMS is a popular choice for digital humanities users. Other popular content management systems include Wordpress and Scalar.

One click install of Omeka through Reclaim Hosting


Here at the Scholarly Commons we can set up an site for you. You can find more information on setting up an site through the Scholarly Commons here. This is a great option for people who want to create a regular Omeka exhibit. However, Neatline is only available as a plugin on, which needs a server to host. As far as I know, there is currently no Neatline plugin for and I don’t think that will be happening anytime soon. On Reclaim you can install Omeka on any LAMP server. And side advice from your very forgetful blogger, write down whatever username and password you make up when you set up your Omeka site, that will save you a lot of trouble later, especially considering how many accounts you end up with when you use a server to host a site.

Okay, I’m still interested, but what do I do once I have installed? 

So back to the demo. I used the instructions on the documentation page on Neatline, which were good for defining a lot of the terms but not so good at explaining exactly what to do. I am focusing on the original Neatline plugin but there are other Neatline plugins like NeatlineText depending on your needs. However all plugins are installed in a similar way. You can follow the official instructions here at Installing Neatline.

But I have also provided some because the official instructions just didn’t do it for me.

So first off, download the Neatline zip file.

Go to your Control Panel, cPanel in Reclaim Hosting, and click on “File Manager.”

File Manager circled on Reclaim Hosting

Sorry this looks so goofy, Windows snipping tool free form is only for those with a steady hand.

Navigate to the the Plugins folder.

arrow points at plugins folder in file manager

Double click to open the folder. Click Upload Files.

more arrows pointing at tiny upload option in Plugins folder


Upload the entire zip file

                      Plop it in!

Go back to the Plugins folder. Right click the Neatline zip file and click extract. Save extracted files in Plugins.

Extract Neatline files in File Manager

Sign into your Omeka site at [yourdomainname].[com/name/whatever]/admin if you aren’t already.

Omeka dashboard with arrows pointing at Plugins

Install Neatline for real.

Omeka Plugins page

Still confused or having trouble with setup?

Check out these tutorials as well!

Open Street Maps is great and all but what if I want to create a fancy historical map?

To create historical maps on Neatline you have two options, only one of which is included in the actual documentation for Neatline.

Officially, you are supposed to use GeoServer. GeoServer is an open source server application built in Java. Even if you have your own server, it has a lot more dependencies to run than what’s required for Omeka / Neatline.

If you want one-click Neatline installation with GeoServer and have money to spend you might want to check out AcuGIS Neatline Cloud Hosting which is recommended in the Neatline documentation and the lowest cost plan starts at $250 a year.

Unofficially, there is a tutorial for this available at Lincoln Mullen’s blog “The Backward Glance” specifically his 2015 post “How to Use Neatline with Map Warper Instead of Geoserver.”

Let us know about the ways you incorporate geospatial data in your research!  And stay tuned for Neatline 102: Creating a simple exhibit!

Works Cited:

Extending Omeka with Plugins. (2016, July 5). Retrieved May 23, 2017, from

Installing Neatline Neatline Documentation. (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2017, from

Mawyer, Paul. (n.d.). “I am it and it is I”: Lovecraft in Providence. Retrieved May 23, 2017, from

Mullen, Lincoln. (2015).  “How to Use Neatline with Map Warper Instead of Geoserver.” Retrieved May 23, 2017 from

Uploading Plugins to Omeka. (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2017, from

Working with Omeka. (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2017, from

Scholarly Smackdown: Scalar vs. Omeka

Scholarly Smackdown is the Scholarly Commons’ new review series comparing popular online research tools and resources. This week we’ll be taking a look at Scalar and Omeka, resources for presenting research digitally.

No scholars were harmed in the making of this column.


Scalar is a content management system for creating digital books of media scholarship from The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture, based out of University of Southern California. It features a WYSISWYG editor that allows you to edit different types of pages within a digital book. You choose how and in what way these pages connect. It’s free and you can create as many Scalar books as you want. It makes it easy to incorporate content from partner archives such as the Internet Archive and Critical Commons. The biggest selling point to Scalar, especially for media scholars, is that it lets you present media without having to host the media yourself, which is especially relevant for those analyzing media that is still under copyright. However, please do not let all of this potential power go to your head, and instead check out our copyright resources and feel free to contact the Copyright Librarian, Sara Benson with questions you may have.
In my opinion, Scalar is not as easy or intuitive to use as the people who created it seem to think it is, though USC provides some instructions for Scalar 2. The latest update has been buggy, and while ANVC/Scalar GitHub is very helpful, Scalar is clearly still a work in progress. If you do have any experience with web development, there is very limited customization, and I was not able to find specific instructions for CSS styling for Scalar 2. Finally, you cannot import  your own files larger than 2 MB, which can be frustrating if you want to use your own very high quality scans of items.

Omeka is a content management system designed for creating online exhibits from the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University and Corporation for Digital Scholarship, the people behind  Zotero and THAT Camp.
Omeka basic features a WYSIWYG Editor and 500MB of file storage. The biggest advantage of Omeka is that it makes it very easy to add a lot of metadata about items that you want to display in an exhibit and create and arrange collections of these items. It also features lots of plugins (such as a CSS editor and a PDF embedded documents viewer), and the website provides very clear and thorough instructions. However, you can create only one Omeka site per account on the free version. If you contact the Scholarly Commons we can set up an Omeka site for you through the library institutional account, and you can learn more information and request an Omeka site here. 
One major difference between Omeka and Scalar is that with more storage, comes more responsibility; specifically, making sure that you have the permission to use items so that your research does not get taken down. Once again — please check out our copyright resources. Other notable drawbacks include the fact that customization is limited and is not great at creating things that aren’t online exhibits or exhibit-like sites.

Omeka and Scalar are two options of many for creating digital humanities projects. For specific questions and to learn more about Scalar and Omeka and other digital humanities resources at Scholarly Commons email us, and don’t forget to join us for a Savvy Research workshop about Scalar October 17 from 1-2 pm.

Let us know in the comments about your Scalar and Omeka experiences! Which do you prefer and why?

Further Reading:
Omeka Libguide:
Scalar Libguide:


“Alliance for Networking Visual Culture » Overview.” Accessed October 12, 2016.
Marcotte, Alison and Alex Villanueva. “Red Cross Work on Mutilés, At Paris (1918).” SourceLab Prototype Series 1, no. 1 (2015).
“Image of Research” Accessed October 12, 2016.