Why Build CENDARI?
Introduction to CENDARI by Dr Jennifer Edmond, Project Coordinator
As Humanities scholars, we love our libraries and archives.
However, while they are our richest resources, they are also our limitation. The physical locations of analogue records, and the requirement to organize them in a standardized way, determines to some extent what kind of research questions can be asked and answered by individual scholars. And what if our questions are not bounded to an individual, or discrete event or even a single country?
Much historical research, and humanities research generally, is characterized by a process known as chaining – iterative drawing of conclusions verified by the evidence discovered at the next logical step. The knowledge creation process of historical research is powerful, but cycling through a corpus of heterogeneous historical data takes time and that time increases exponentially if the records are located in different countries, written in different languages, scattered by conflict and shifting political borders over hundreds of years. Moreover, archival records are often flawed and utterly unscientific in the complicated human motivations that created them.
Historical research is not something merely entertaining and nice to have; it is something we need as citizens and neighbors in a connected world.
We need up-to-date historical research to drive forward our health and wealth, just as we need up-to-date medical and materials research. But being ‘up-to-date’ has a slightly different meaning for history than it does for the sciences. Because while the evidence base history uses may take in hundreds of years of data, “History” will always written from the interpretive perspective of the current cultural moment. Technology is a part of that moment for who we are today and the collective identities today’s historians need to connect with, in order to be understood.
Therefore, the potential for an infrastructure that integrates archival resources for historical research was enormous, to enable subtle connections to be explored between distant events and macro-level trends. We call this approach data mining and its power is widely recognized and has begun to be exploited. But to date, technologies have only been able to address small pieces of the research task, meaning a scholar looking to use all the tools available has to constantly switch platforms, standards and organizational structures.
This inefficiency was the inspiration for CENDARI and we are thrilled to open up this powerful new toolkit for historians everywhere.
A powerful digital toolkit for historians everywhere