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Category: ArchivesZ

NEH Digital Humanities Startup Grant News: Visualizing Archival Collections

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As of August 22nd, 2008 it was official. There is even a blog post over on the NEH Office of Digital Humanities updates page to prove it. The University of Maryland was granted a Level I NEH Digital Humanities Startup Grant to fund work on the ‘Visualizing Archival Collections’ project. The official one liner is that the project will support “The development of visualization tools for assessing information contained in electronic archival finding aids created with Encoded Archival Description (EAD)”. Why did I wait so long to announce this on the blog? I wanted to have something fun to announce at the end of my SAA presentation out in San Francisco!

The project director is Dr. Jennifer Golbeck. I also have the support of University of Maryland’s Jennie Levine, Dr. Bruce Ambacher, and Dr. Doug Oard. This amazing set collaborators should help me stay on the right track and make sure I keep the sometimes competing issues relating to archives, information retrieval and interface design in balance.

I will be collecting EAD encoded finding aids over the next few months. My goal is to gather a broad sample of English language finding aids from a wide range of institutions and work on the script that extracts this data into a database. Once we have the data extracted I get to look at what we have, do some data cleanup and start thinking about what sorts of visualizations might work with our real world data. During the spring term we will design and build a 2nd generation prototype of ArchivesZ.

Want your data to be part of this? If you would like to contribute EAD finding aids in XML format to the project, please send me the following information:

  1. Archives Name
  2. Archives Parent Institution (if applicable)
  3. Archives Location
  4. Contact at Archives for questions about the finding aids (name, email and phone number)
  5. Estimate of # of finding aids being offered
  6. Controlled Vocabulary or Thesaurus used for Subject values (as many as are used)
  7. Method of finding aid delivery (sending me a zip file? pointing me at a directory online? some other way?)
  8. Do I have your permission to post a discussion of the data issues I may find in your finding aids here on Spellbound Blog? (Please see the OSU Archives post as an example of they types of issues I discuss)

You can either put this into the form on my Contact Page or send email directly to jeanne AT spellboundblog dot com.

Thank you to everyone for their enthusiasm about the ArchivesZ project. It is very exciting to have the opportunity to take all these shiny ideas to the next level.

SAA2008 Here I Come! After the Revolution: Unleashing the Power of EAD

SAA2008 I got the word just before the holidays – the panel proposal of which I was a part has been accepted for SAA 2008 in San Francisco . The title of the panel is ‘After the Revolution: Unleashing the Power of EAD’ and the working title for my paper/presentation is ‘Visualizing Archival Collections: Leveraging the Power of EAD’.

My co-presenters are Max Evans (currently of the NHPRC, soon to be of the LDS Church Historical Department) and Elizabeth Yakel (of University of Michigan, School of Information). Jodi Allison-Bunnell from Northwest Digital Archives, Orbis Cascade Alliance is our panel Chair.

This is the description of our panel that we submitted with our proposal:

Encoded Archival Description (EAD) was created in 1995 to increase uniformity and interoperability of data about archival collections to facilitate discovery. It has yet to realize that goal: most online finding aids merely recreate paper documents. Speakers will demonstrate how the structured, standardized nature of EAD can form the basis of user-friendly interfaces and finding aids that can accommodate multiple perspectives and utilize graphical and visual interfaces–while faithfully recording and presenting the context, structure, and content of the collection. Panelists will also address the challenges of unleashing the power of EAD, including normalizing XML, the lack of standard values for cross-institutional aggregation of data, and different approaches to subject terms, with a discussion of the technological and practical issues that surround them. The session relates to the SAA strategic priorities of technology and public awareness and engages elemental questions of revolutionary and evolutionary change.

My portion of the panel will focus on my ArchivesZ information visualization project. I will be discussing both the power of this type of graphical interface to archival collections as well as addressing the roadblocks to their practical implementation. My plan is to continue the work I started last Spring over the course of this Spring and Summer – and show off a new version of ArchivesZ in San Francisco (as well as online here of course!).

Here are the descriptions of Max, Elizabeth and Jodi’s planned contributions (cribbed from our proposal submission):

  • Max Evans will explore the fundamental purposes of finding aids and explore what can be done to leverage EAD’s structure to render graphical, informative, and elegant finding aids online.
  • Elizabeth Yakel will discuss usability test findings and how these were incorporated into the EAD-based Polar Bear Expedition Digital Collections to allow communities to engage with collections in new ways.
  • Jodi Allison-Bunnell brings a lively interest in user-centered presentations of finding aids that emerge from her work as manager of a five-state EAD consortium.

I am so pleased and excited. So – who is planning on going to San Fransisco in August? I hope to see you there.

Image Credit: Society of American Archivists, ARCHIVES 2008: Archival R/Evolution & Identities web page.