Social Networks and Archival Context Releases Prototype History Research Tool & Receives Mellon Grant

August 5, 2014

Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC) is pleased to announce two major developments: the release of a redesigned web site and Prototype History Research Tool and a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

About SNAC

SNAC began as an R&D project in 2010 with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The project demonstrates the feasibility of separating the description of persons, families, and organizations—including their socio-historical contexts—from the description of the historical resources that are the primary evidence of their lives and work. A key objective is to provide researchers with convenient, integrated access to historical collections held by archives and libraries, large and small, around the world, while also setting the stage for a cooperative program for maintaining information about the people documented in the collections.

Initial tests made it clear that the potential power of the assembled data to transform research and improve the economy and effectiveness of archival descriptive practices required more than digital tools. The SNAC team therefore began planning a sustainable international cooperative that will enable archivists, librarians, scholars, and eventually “citizen archivists” to maintain and add biographical-historical data and to extend the scope of the people and historical resources covered.

Redesigned Website and Prototype Historical Research Tool

In addition to launching a revised web site, SNAC has substantially revised and improved the Prototype History Research Tool. The prototype is an aggregate of biographical information about people, both individuals and groups, who created or are documented in historical resources. Users can explore the lives of individual people, organizations, and families; browse featured descriptions; and discover and locate connected historical resources that document these lives.

This release of the prototype draws on more than 2.6 million (soon to grow to more than 3.5 million) descriptions of persons, organizations, and families. The descriptions in this release were derived from 2.2 million WorldCat archival descriptions and nearly 300,000 British Library authority records. Forthcoming releases will include descriptions derived from nearly 190,000 detailed descriptions of historical collections provided by a wide range of government and academic archives and libraries.

The persons, organizations, and families represented include the familiar (Thomas Jefferson and Guy Fawkes), the inspiring (Elizabeth Blackwell, Florence Kelley, and Eddie Mabo), and the perhaps less known (the 11th Bombardment Group Association and the Ohio Covered Bridge Committee).

Cooperative Program Planning

The SNAC team is also delighted to receive additional funding from the Mellon Foundation to support the final planning for an international archive description and access cooperative, to be hosted by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The Cooperative will enable archivists, librarians, and scholars to maintain the descriptive data and to extend the scope of the people and records included. It will improve the economy and quality of archival processing and description, and will address the longstanding research challenge of discovering, locating, and using distributed historical records. The current work will establish the legal, administrative, and technical structure of the Cooperative, in preparation for a pilot implementation in 2015.

SNAC is a collaboration among the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia, the California Digital Library, and the School for Information Science at the University of California, Berkeley.