IRCN-CAS: International Research Collaboration Network in Computational Archival Science

King’s College London’s Department of Digital Humanities, together with the University of Maryland iSchool Digital Curation Innovation Center (US), the Maryland State Archives (US), and The National Archives (UK), were awarded a 1-year International Research Networking grant for UK-US Collaborations in Digital Scholarship in Cultural Institutions, running from 1 February 2019 to 31 January 2020. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), this major new transatlantic programme responds to the technological shift taking place in cultural organisations and explores how collections can be made available in digital form for large-scale computational research. The goal is to open new research frontiers and questions and advance collections-based research methods for the 21st century.

The large-scale digitisation of analogue archives, the emerging diverse forms of born-digital archives, and the new ways in which researchers across disciplines (as well as the public) wish to engage with archival material, are disrupting traditional archival theories and practices, and are presenting challenges for practitioners and researchers who work with archival material. They also offer enhanced possibilities for scholarship, through the application of computational methods and tools to the archival problem space, and, more fundamentally, through the integration of ‘computational thinking’ with ‘archival thinking’. This potential has led the collaborators in this proposal to identify Computational Archival Science (CAS) as a new field of study,

The context of a record is key for understanding its value as historical evidence, and the ability to map out and provide access to that context is key for conferring value on what would otherwise be (relatively) disconnected pieces of information, enabling them to be used effectively – found, understood and re-purposed – by historians and other archive-centric scholars drawing on the archival evidence base.

The increasingly digital nature of the archive provides opportunities as well as challenges for addressing this question, by using a range of computational methods for meeting the increasingly complex demands of both archival users and practitioners. While much of the digital data currently held by institutions is the result of digitization, born-digital archives are also in scope for the Network, given their anticipated growth, the typical loss of inherent structure when these collections are captured into the archive and the great potential of automation for re-contextualisation and access to such records.

This Network will organise a series of events to explore this question of contextualisation, whether through capturing metadata, enhancing records by semantic tagging, or indeed contextualising records with other records, and thus connecting up previously disconnected information into ‘knowledge graphs’. We will not focus on specific technologies, but rather examine a range of technologies with potential for meeting this challenge, including natural language processing, graph technologies, machine learning, probabilistic approaches, and other methods from the broad field of data science and AI. The focus will thus be on the research question rather than the technology.

The Network will specifically address the application of computational methods to the contextualization of records within archival collections, both digitized and born-digital, transforming disconnected records into annotated ‘knowledge graphs’ that integrate historical context and connections. The Network will host a series of interconnected events:

  • Research Symposium at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, and  the University of Maryland (US), April 4-5, 2019
  • Datathon at The National Archives (UK), June 20-21, 2019
  • Datathon at the Maryland State Archives (US), October 28-29, 2019
  • Research Symposium at King’s College London (UK), in January 2020

This  award will support the development of an international network of researchers and practitioners across the UK and US focused on the development of digital scholarship in cultural institutions in both countries. The network partners include:

  • UK:
    • King’s College London, Department of Digital Humanities (KCL):
      • Dr. Mark Hedges, Senior Lecturer and IRCN-CAS PI
    • The National Archives (TNA):
      • Dr. Eirini Goudarouli, Digital and Technology Research Lead, Research and Collections (Co-I)
      • Dr. Sonia Ranade, Head of Digital Archiving
  • US:
    • University of Maryland iSchool Digital Curation Innovation Center (DCIC):
      • Dr. Richard Marciano, Professor and DCIC Director (Co-I)
      • Dr. Michael Kurtz, DCIC Director Emeritus
      • Dr. Bill Underwood, Affiliate Faculty
      • Greg Jansen, Research Software Architect
    • Maryland State Archives (MSA):
      • Ryan Cox, Research Archivist

Header Photo :The National Archives, FO 850/234