Center Staff Presents On EAC-CPF Project At Digital Humanities Open Office Hours

By , April 21, 2017

eac-cpftemplate2Center for the History of Medicine processing assistant, Betts Coup, recently completed a project related to the implementation of the archival standard, Encoded Archival Context – Corporate Bodies, Persons, and Families (EAD-CPF) as part of her final semester in the Simmons College School of Library and Information Science master’s program. The project centered on the creators of archival collections within the scope of a Boston School desegregation effort at Northeastern University, while Betts simultaneously led the development of an EAC-CPF template for the Center for the History of Medicine, working closely with the Center’s Collections Services Archivist, Jessica Sedgwick. The efforts to work with this standard at both institutions allowed for collaboration and critical considerations about what data elements should be included in a template for the Center’s collections.

As part of the project, Betts presented about the creation of EAC-CPF templates for both institutions at the Northeastern University Digital Humanities Working Group Open Office Hours, a regular meeting where members of the digital humanities community come together to present and discuss current trends and projects. She was joined for this presentation by Katherine Wisser, an Associate Professor at Simmons College, the advisor for the project, and also the co-chair for the Technical subcommittee for EAC-CPF. The discussion at the Open Office Hours included a description of the standard, as most members of the audience were not familiar with it, a walk-through of the ways EAC-CPF records describe entities, and a comparison of EAC-CPF to TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) Personographies.

EAC-CPF is a standard that was developed fairly recently to provide a method for describing the entities that create, or are the subject of, archival or bibliographic resources. Those entities can be individual persons, corporate bodies, or families, and each record describes one entity and its relationships to other entities and resources. In many ways, EAC-CPF looks similar to the finding aids that describe the Center’s collections, and can include portions of descriptive information borrowed directly from those finding aids, including biographical or historical notes that specifically describe the creating entity rather than the resources themselves. However, EAC-CPF records additionally include elements specific to the description of the entities, including occupations or functions terms, rather than subject terms, as well as an entire section regarding relationships.

The relations portion of the record describes the relationships between the entity and other entities, such as family members, coworkers, and institutions where a person was employed or educated, among others. There are a total of nine types of relationships that can be described, including identity, hierarchical, hierarchical-parent, hierarchical-child, temporal, temporal-earlier, temporal-later, family, and associative. Because many of the Center’s collections, and thus the creators or subjects of those collections, relate to professional careers in medicine, science, public health, dentistry, and similar topics, the vast majority of relationships found in EAC-CPF records are best described as associative. They are then defined in a descriptive note so that users may fully understand the relationship between the entities.

EAC-CPF records additionally describe the relationships between entities and resources. These relationships are defined by three attributes: subject of, creator of, or other, for non-specific relationships. For the Center, many of the resource relations described include the entity’s relationship specifically to archival resources in the collection, either as creator or subject. The relations portion of an EAC-CPF record allows connections to be made between the people or organizations which are responsible for or are the subjects of archival resources, and in turn will enable users to make new connections.

Betts’ presentation at Northeastern University’s Digital Humanities Open Office Hours gave attendees the chance to learn about EAC-CPF and how it is being applied both at the Center for the History of Medicine and the Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections. The discussion also related to TEI Personographies, which is a standard that organizes biographical information about writers, authors, and subjects into encoded texts. TEI personographies are being implemented at Northeastern as part of the Women Writers’ Project, and have some similarities to EAC-CPF in terms of content, but are less structured and defined. The conversation demonstrated the challenges of finding ways to encode and share information that might improve access to resources, and the ways both these standards provide connections and additional information that may improve paths to accessing materials.

Currently, working with the processing staff at the Center, Betts Coup and Jessica Sedgwick are in the final stages of implementing the EAC-CPF template developed over the fall of 2016. In time, these records will be made available to the public with the goal of enabling users to discover new connections between entities and archival resources.

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