General information

For some time, archivists have been discussing the need for a standard structure for the recording and exchange of information about the creators of archival materials. Following up on these discussions, a group of archivists met in Toronto, Canada, in March 2001 to create a high-level model for such information and to draft a strategy for implementing that model and testing it. The group has termed the model "Encoded Archival Context – Corporate Bodies, Persons, and Families" (EAC-CPF) to emphasize its important role in archival description and its relationship with the Encoded Archival Description standard. During the development stages, the EACWG enjoyed generous support from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the IBC (Instituto per I beni artistici culturali e naturali) of the Regione Emilia-Romagna, and the Archivio di Stato di Bologna, OCLC Research, and the National Library of Australia. A three-day meeting in Bologna and companion conference – standards and exchange formats for interoperability among archival information systems – sponsored by the IBC and held at the Oratorio San Filippo Neri, on 8-9 May 2008 laid the foundation for the current schema. The EACWG is grateful for the support and gracious hospitality that we received.


Archival description includes information about the content, intellectual and physical attributes of the material, as well as information about the context of their creation and use. The context of the creation and use of material is complex and multi-layered and may involve individuals, families, organizations, societies, functions, activities, business processes, geographic places, events, and other entities. Primary among these entities are the agents responsible for the creation or use of material, usually organizations or persons. With information about these agents, users can understand and interpret the records more fully since they will know the context within which the agents operated and created and/or used the material. Contextual information about agents can be used either as a component within descriptive approaches that fully integrate contextual information into descriptive products, as archives have traditionally done, or as an independent system that is linked to other descriptive systems and products that focus on content.

Encoded Archival Context – Corporate bodies, Persons, and Families (EAC-CPF) primarily addresses the description of individuals, families and corporate bodies that create, preserve, use and are responsible for and/or associated with records in a variety of ways. Over time, other types of contextual entities may evolve under the larger EAC umbrella, but currently its primary purpose is to standardize the encoding of descriptions about agents to enable the sharing, discovery and display of this information in an electronic environment. It supports the linking of information about one agent to other agents to show/discover the relationships amongst record-creating entities, and the linking to descriptions of records and other contextual entities. EAC-CPF is a communication structure for archival contextual information for individuals, corporate bodies and families. It supports the exchange of ISAAR (CPF) compliant authority records.

The EAC-CPF Schema is a standard for encoding contextual information about persons, corporate bodies, and families related to archival materials using Extensible Markup Language (XML). The standard is maintained by the Society of American Archivists in partnership with the Berlin State Library.

For detailed information about the Technical Subcommittee on Encoded Archival Standards at the Society of American Archivists (SAA), its members, and latest information on the development of EAC-CPF, visit the SAA’s website.

Development of the EAC-CPF Standard

EAC began with a 1998 effort by Richard Szary, Wendy Duff, and Daniel Pitti to envision a standard for encoding and exchanging authoritative information about the context of archival materials. This standard would provide a communication standard for the exchange of authority records based on International Standard for Archival Authority Records – Corporate Bodies, Persons, Families (ISAAR(CPF)) and would parallel the standard for encoding archival record finding aids that was found in Encoded Archival Description (EAD). As EAD enabled the practical expression of General International Standard Archival Description (ISAD(G)), the new standard would enable the expression of ISAAR(CPF). A parallel standard would preserve and strengthen the essential duality that characterizes archival description when it is presented in archival finding aids.

A separate standard would pave the way to eliminating some practical problems found in the use of EAD, which had been developed as a comprehensive solution for encoding standalone finding aids—the dominant presentation model—which held all forms of descriptive data about archival records. Since materials by or about a single entity might be found in many fonds or many repositories, there is much redundant effort in recording information about the same entity. In addition, these duplicative efforts can result in great inconsistency, which bedevils both users, in finding and interpreting materials, and archivists, in creating accurate and complete references to such entities. Yale University hosted an international meeting in 1998. The meeting was organized by Richard Szary and funded by the Digital Library Federation. The goals of the meeting were to plan the funding and development of an encoding standard based on ISAAR(CPF).

In 2001, with financial assistance from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, a second international working group met in Toronto. This meeting produced the Toronto Tenets, the principles that gave shape to the proposed standard. The group also established goals for the standard, mapped out the broader parameters of the Document Type Definition (DTD), and established a working group to create a fully formed syntax. The DTD achieved its Beta distribution in 2004, beginning a long testing phase as it was applied in several European and U.S. projects. Informed by the results that emerged from this test bed, the Society of American Archivists Encoded Archival Context Working Group was formed in 2007 to carry this work forward to the creation of a standard version, and expression in a schema and Tag Library.

With the support of the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the IBC (Instituto per I beni artistici culturali e naturali) of the Regione Emilia-Romagna, the Archivio di Stato di Bologna, OCLC Research, and the National Library of Australia, the EAC Working Group met for three days in Bologna, Italy in May 2008 to lay the foundation of the existing EAC-CPF standard. Prior to that face-to-face meeting, early adopters were invited to submit comments on the Beta standard. Those comments as well as the advancements in XML and lessons from the development of EAD all contributed to the design of the schema. On-going work via electronic mail and conference calls continued the work started in Bologna. A review period of the final draft was offered in August to November 2009, and the completed schema was released in March 2010. The Working Group was indebted to archivists throughout the international community for their input, review, and testing of the schema during its development phase.

Members of the Original EAC Working Group:

  • Anila Angjeli, Bibliothèque nationale de France (National Library of France)
  • Lina (Vasiliki) Bountouri, Laboratory on Digital Libraries and Electronic Publishing, Ionian University
  • Karin Bredenberg, Riksarkivet (National Archives of Sweden)
  • Basil Dewhurst, National Library of Australia
  • Wendy Duff, University of Toronto, Faculty of Information
  • Wendy Duff, University of Toronto
  • Hans-Joerg Lieder, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin State Library, Germany)
  • Dennis Meissner, Minnesota Historical Society
  • Per-Gunnar Ottosson, Riksarkivet (Naitonal Archives of Sweden)
  • Victoria Peters, University of Strathclyde
  • Daniel Pitti, University of Virginia, Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities
  • Chris Prom, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Jennifer Schaffner, RLG Programs (OCLC Programs and Research)
  • Bill Stockting, British Library (UK)
  • Stefano Vitali, Soprintendenza archivistica per l’Emilia Romagna (Bologna)
  • Kathy Wisser, Simmons College, Graduate School of Library and Information Science (Chair)

The schema was submitted to SAA’s Council for consideration and was fully adopted by SAA in January 2011. At that time, the EAC Working Group was disbanded and the Standards Committee of SAA formed the Technical Subcommittee for EAC-CPF, responsible for maintenance and development of the standard going forward.

In 2016 the Technical Subcommittees on EAD and EAC-CPF were merged to the common Technical Subcommittee on Encoded Archival Standards (TS-EAS) responsible for the ongoing maintenance of EAD and EAC-CPF.