By Michael Pearson
The Ivan Allen Archive Project at the Georgia Institute of Technology has received a two-year, $99,991 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund the integration of large-scale text processing and data visualization capabilities into the open-source Omeka platform.
The grant, announced Jan. 14 by the NEH, will fund further refinement of an existing suite of plug-ins developed by Georgia Tech faculty and students that enables machine-assisted data analysis and social network graphing. The eventual goal is to release the extended toolkit for use by academic and community researchers free of charge.
“When completed, this tool will provide not just researchers, but communities themselves, with innovative methods for preserving and exploring history,” said Brad Rittenhouse, project director and coordinator of the Digital Integrative Liberal Arts Center (DILAC) in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication.
The Georgia Tech tool has been under development since 2016, with the papers of former Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. serving as a test case. The late Allen, a 1933 graduate of Georgia Tech, served as mayor of Atlanta from 1962 to 1970 — an era of dramatic social and economic change for the city. The Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts is named for Allen, who provided pivotal testimony in Congress for what became the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Archive Tool ‘Could Benefit Knowledge-Seekers Far Beyond Georgia Tech’
The archive tool is based on Omeka, an open source content management system designed to display and interact with digital collections online. It allows users to map connections among the 30,000 pages in the collection, particularly among named entities such as people, organizations, and places. It gives people a low-cost, easy-to-use tool to analyze a wide range of archival materials that are capable of being digitized, such as texts, images, audio, and video, in a variety of ways, said Todd Michney, assistant professor in the School of History and Sociology and principal investigator on the grant.
“What we are developing could benefit knowledge-seekers far beyond Georgia Tech as a general way to organize digitized archival content, or indeed any digital content in ways that promote instant access and encourage interpretation,” said Michney, who recently won a Georgia Historical Records Advisory Council Award for Excellence for his work on the project. “Developing these tools on a widely-used, existing open-source platform should help to make them immediately relevant and readily adopted.”
“Whereas traditional archival research has been the preserve of specially-trained academics, our cutting-edge technology will enable ordinary citizens to find the information suiting their particular needs and interests, and to infer relationships in data by leveraging the power of an algorithm that automatically tags and categorizes content,” he said.
VIP Team Launched for Archive Project
Wendy Hagenmaier, digital collections archivist for the Georgia Tech Library and project advisor on the Ivan Allen Archive Project, said the tool holds promise for libraries, as well.
“I am excited to serve as advisor on this initiative that will expand access to novel ways of navigating and analyzing archival collections using open source tools. Insights from the project will enrich the Library's efforts to curate collections and create open pathways to knowledge,” Hagenmaier said.
DILAC has provided support and meeting space for the work, and the tool’s interface was developed by a Computer Science Junior Design Capstone team during the 2017-2018 academic year. This year, Michney, Rittenhouse, and Hagenmaier launched a VIP team to work on the project.
Development work under the grant is expected to continue through July 2021, when the researchers hope to have completed refinement of the language processing component and the tool’s ability to handle multimedia content. They plan to distribute the resulting package through Omeka and the software development and distribution site GitHub. They are also planning a presentation at this year’s Atlanta Studies Symposium and at the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations conference in 2021.
The School of History and Sociology and the School of Literature, Media, and Communication are units of Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts