IATH Receives NEH Award to Explore Historical Social Networks

April 13, 2010

Daniel Pitti, Co-Director of IATH, has been awarded a two-year $348,000 grant by the NEH Preservation & Access, Research & Development Program. The grant funds the Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC) Project, which begins in May 2010. SNAC is a collaborative effort by IATH, the California Digital Library, and the School of Information, University of California, Berkeley, to address the ongoing challenge of transforming description of and improving access to primary humanities resources through the use of advanced technologies.

Archivists have a long history of describing the people who—acting individually, in families, or in formally organized groups—create and collect primary sources. They research and describe the artists, political leaders, scientists, government agencies, soldiers, universities, businesses, families, and others who create and are represented in the items that are now part of our shared cultural legacy. However, because archivists have traditionally described records and their creators together, this information is tied to specific resources and institutions.

Leveraging the recently released Encoded Archival Context-Corporate Bodies, Persons, and Families (EAC-CPF) standard, the SNAC Project will use digital technology to "unlock" descriptions of people from descriptions of their records and link them together in new ways. It will create an efficient open-source tool that allows archivists to separate the process of describing people from that of describing records, meaning that it will pave the way to improving the quality of description and the quantity of resources described. It will also create a prototype historical resource and access system based on the descriptions, which will be linked to one another and to resource descriptions in archives, libraries and museums, online biographical and historical databases, and other diverse resources. This will provide a more robust historical context for a broad array of humanities materials.

The SNAC collaborators will establish a project web site in the next few weeks. The web site will provide detailed information on the project and, by the end of the grant period, distribute software developed for this project.

Data for this research are being provided by a variety of organizations, including the Library of Congress, Getty Vocabulary Program, Virginia Heritage, Northwest Digital Archives, Online Archive of California, OCLC, and VIAF (Virtual International Authority File).