By Tammy Peters, Supervisory Archivist, Smithsonian Institution Archives
When describing archival holdings, context is essential. For example, the Smithsonian has numerous items from the 1899 Harriman Alaska Expedition, but it is important to know that botanist Frederick Vernon Coville’s field books will have a different focus than paleontologist William Healey Dall’s. Describing the “who, what, when, where and why” is how we understand items cataloged within the Field Book Registry.
When the Field Book Project started, we gave a considerable amount of thought to descriptive standards that would form the framework for all the data we collect. Among those chosen was Encoded Archival Context – Corporate Bodies, Persons and Families. EAC-CPF is a standard that primarily addresses the description of individuals, families and corporate bodies that create, preserve, use, and are responsible for and/or associated with records in a variety of ways.
The details of the standard are probably only interesting to a select few who like discussing the minutiae of XML tags, coding and cataloging. While part of my job is to be involved with and implement those details, the most exciting part, to me, is how this standard can help researchers understand and find information in the Field Book Registry and beyond.
At the most basic level, creating a biography for a person who authored a field book allows one to see their personal and educational background, their research specialty, and where and when they conducted their work.
EAC-CPF also helps make cataloging more efficient, and can make virtual links to materials dispersed among various places. Even within the Registry, there are field books from the same person or expedition that “live” in various departments at the National Museum of Natural History and/or the Smithsonian Institution Archives. Creating one EAC-CPF record allows us to link one history to many field books, no matter where they are located. As the Field Book Registry grows beyond cataloging Smithsonian items, that one EAC-CPF record can also link to items from around the world. This has always been a driving goal for the project: helping a researcher interested in a particular person, expedition or other topic find primary resources from many repositories.
At a broader level, it also allows us to link a person’s biography to details about the places they worked, the expeditions in which they participated, and other individuals. EAC-CPF helps outline an historical social network. Not only can a researcher find links to materials from that one person for whom they started their search, but they can also find resources concerning the organizations and people associated with that person.
If I wanted to search for field books created by naturalist Edgar Alexander Mearns, I would find that his research is documented in various departments at the National Museum of Natural History, and in the Smithsonian Archives. The Registry can locate all the sites for those resources. Mearns’s biography links him to the Smithsonian-Theodore Roosevelt African Expedition, which in turn has its own expedition history, which links to other personnel on the trip. Now I can look into his “network,” which includes mammalogist Edmund Heller, Theodore Roosevelt, and Roosevelt’s son Kermit, and naturalist John Alden Loring. While my search started with a specific focus, I can now see if following Mearns’ network will lead me to related materials that answer my research questions. It can offer quite valuable leads with relative ease, and that’s what we hope EAC-CPF records will offer to those who use the Field Book Registry.
In the near future the Registry will share EAC-CPF records with the Social Networks and Archival Context Project (SNAC), a prototype for a national registry of records that will point to hundreds of thousands of collections and resources in field book repositories around the world.
Tammy Peters is the Supervisory Archivist at Smithsonian Institution Archives. She serves as a collaborator and advisor to the Field Book Project.
http://socialarchive.iath.virginia.edu/ [Social Networks and Archival Context Project]
http://eac.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/ [EAC-CPF Home Page]