Historical Social Research

Edwin Klijn: From Paper to Digital Trail: Collections on the Semantic Web. [Abstract]

Historical research on World War II and the impact of large-scale violence largely depends on the availability of source materials: diaries, newspapers, eyewitness accounts, archival documents, photographs and videos, etc. Currently, these resources are held by a large number of memory institutions, often in analogue formats. For scholars, it can be challenging to find out which collections are relevant for their research and also what information can be found in these collections. In this article it is argued that Semantic Web technologies, together with new digital tooling to automatically open up collections and interlink their contents, have the potential to revolutionize future access and use. By making the contents of collections machine-readable and enriching them with links to reference data, a shift can be made from a “web of documents” to a “web of data.” By publishing all contents as linked open data, domain experts in research infrastructures (RIs) and thematic aggregators (TAs) are enabled to add their own “thematic” layers to the data, thus empowering themselves and others to explore the data in new, more sophisticated ways. Since we are only at the start of this development, the author advocates a close cooperation between archives, libraries, and museums (ALMs) and domain experts.

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