Being both a historian and a technologist, it is rare to have my main interests overlap in new ways. This sounds geeky, I know, but here goes: there’s this really cool new tool for historians doing archival work. It’s on the web and here’s the prototype:
Say you’re doing research on Jane Addams (19th century founder of Hull House). You know that her papers are at the Chicago History Museum and that many have been published. But type her name into the social archive and you’ll find nine archival collections you should also consult, her correspondents, and the books and articles she wrote. All of these are links, so if you follow one of the links to her correspondents, you’ll arrive at a biography and more archival links. No more guessing where archival material on your topic might be hiding!
The links are crucial: they are the breadcrumbs that will allow historians to find their source material. But they can also be visual: click the “radial graph demo” link in the upper right and your subject is placed on a web with all the people they are connected to. Their social networks are visualized and connected, allowing scholars to see what might take years to piece together by following references in archival sources.
Jennifer Howard has written a background article on the project, the Social Networks and Archival Context Project, a collaboration of UC Berkeley and the California Digital Library. It is worth reading to get an idea of the work that went into the project and where it is headed next.