Most people have used a library but very few will have visited historical archives. Unlike libraries, archives are primarily concerned with conserving records rather than being accessible to visitors. Even with online search facilities, locating archival material is an art best left to specialist researchers who know their way around.
“Archival structures are complex,” says Fredrik Palm of Umeå University, assistant coordinator of the QVIZ project co-funded by the EU. “Archivists have a duty to maintain the provenance of their records – this is the most important thing they do. And if you keep that structure it doesn’t make it easy to find the right information.”
In Europe, researchers have the added headache of dealing with dozens of national archives, not to speak of thousands of private collections all over the continent. And shifting borders over the centuries make it even harder to track down all records about a person or event.
QVIZ was launched in 2006 to find ways to make Europe’s digital archives more accessible. Collaborators in five countries have created an online portal that makes it easier than ever to find documents quickly and accurately.
Searching in space and time
The QVIZ portal brings two main innovations to the task of searching archives. First, it uses a graphical interface with a map and a timeline to let users home in on the place and time they are interested in.
Archives are normally filed under the name of the institution that assembled the records, such as a local authority, church or tax office, each associated with a geographical area. Within the collections, records are usually organised by place and date.
“So we use space and time as common entry points to a lot of different resources,” Palm explains. “Archivists traditionally ask about ‘where’ and ‘when’, so these two entry points help to limit the search dramatically.”
The prototype portal allows users to search more than 75,000 archival files containing 16-18 million digital images in the national archives of Sweden and Estonia. Although the two archives are quite separate, and use different indexing systems, QVIZ can search both simultaneously and return a single set of results.
The key to locating the correct records is a complex ‘ontology’ that describes how the hierarchy of administrative units has changed over time. It is based on an ontology devised for the United Kingdom by the University of Portsmouth and used in their extensive ‘Vision of Britain’ website. Although focused on Sweden and Estonia, QVIZ has extended the ontology to include 71,000 units covering the whole of Europe.
Estonia was ruled by Sweden from 1561 to 1721 and the overlapping archives are a test of how well QVIZ can cope with changing borders. Because the ontology does not rely on precise geographical coordinates it can even cope with older administrative units whose boundaries may be poorly known.
Many archives use online ‘finding aids’ to help locate resources but they all require knowledge of the host language. QVIZ allows researchers to find what they need without being able to read either Swedish or Estonian.
A second innovative feature of QVIZ is the use of ‘social bookmarks’ to allow users to create a trail that others can follow.
“We want to involve the user communities so they can share knowledge and add information to the archival description,” Palm says.
Visitors can tag information that is of particular interest in much the same way as users of sites, such as Delicious or other social networking software, so helping other people to find the same material.
Palm stresses that the information to support social bookmarking is held within the QVIZ platform itself and not in the archival source material. “We will never change the original records, this is on top of everything and outside the archival system.”
The QVIZ project, which was supported by the Sixth Framework Programme for research, came to an end in April 2008.
The platform is a working prototype but it is not hard to see how the principles could be extended to include archives from many other countries. The long-term dream is a single portal that will allow users to search all the archives in Europe, but that is still many years away.
One step in that direction is another EU-funded project, Europeana, which is launching a portal to provide access to two million items selected from museums, libraries, archives and audiovisual collections across Europe. The know-how from QVIZ will feed into it.
“I think they will be inspired by what we have done and we are willing to help them get it right,” says Palm. “Mixing libraries, archives and museums together is always a challenge.”
Christian Nielsen | alfa
Drones that drive
27.06.2017 | Massachusetts Institute of Technology, CSAIL
Ahead of the Curve
27.06.2017 | Institute of Science and Technology Austria
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
27.06.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
27.06.2017 | Information Technology
27.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy