New Funding for the Social Networks and Archival Context Project

Daniel Pitti, associate director of the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH), in collaboration with Ray Larson at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, and Adrian Turner and Brian Tingle at the California Digital Library, has received a grant from the Mellon Foundation to vastly expand Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC), a research and demonstration project (

The SNAC project is addressing a longstanding research challenge: discovering, locating, and using distributed historical records. Scholars use these records as primary evidence for the lives and work of historical persons and the events in which they participated. These records are held in archives and manuscript libraries, large and small, around the world, and scholars may need to search scores of different archives, following clues, hunches, and leads to find the records relevant to their topic (and it is likely that at least some records will remain undiscovered). SNAC aims to not only make the records more easily discovered and accessed but also, and at the same time, build an unprecedented resource that provides access to the socio-historical contexts (which includes people, families, and corporate bodies) in which the records were created.

The project uses a recently released Society of American Archivists communication standard for encoding information about persons, corporate bodies, and families, Encoded Archival Context-Corporate Bodies, Persons, and Families (EAC-CPF). EAC-CPF standardizes descriptions of people and groups who are documented in archival records.

The pilot stage of the project was funded by a 2010 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which supported development of a prototype historical research and access system ( This next stage encompasses a range of tasks: the project team will vastly expand the source data employed in the project; develop new methods and tools for extracting and assembling archival authority descriptions; enhance methods for matching and combining records describing the same entity; develop methods for accommodating descriptive data in languages other than English; add geographic coordinates to place names; develop timeline-map rendering of chronological biographies or histories (lists of dates, places, and events); enable scholarly users of the prototype to query social-professional networks; develop graphical displays of complex, dense networks; and develop graphical displays of organizational charts, and sequential displays of organizations merging or dividing.

Thirteen consortia and over thirty-five leading research repositories in the U.S., U.K., and France are contributing source data, either finding aids or archival authority records. Among the contributing repositories are the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Smithsonian Institution, Library of Congress, British Library (BL), Archives nationales (France), and the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF). OCLC WorldCat is contributing over one million MARC archival descriptions. OCLC VIAF (Virtual International Authority File) and the Getty Vocabulary Program are contributing authority records to be used in match processing. By expanding the quantity and diversity of the data, the project will be able to further develop its processing, indexing, and display methods, public interface design, as well as address the challenge of scale.

For more information, please visit the SNAC web site (