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Trinity-led CENDARI platform goes live for historical researchers across Europe

Jennifer EdmondA new digital research infrastructure to transform how historians access resources on Medieval and Modern History was launched recently in Berlin. The Collaborative European Digital Archive Infrastructure (CENDARI) project brought together 14 partners across 8 countries over a four year period. It was funded by the European Union’s 7th Framework Programme for Research and led by Dr Jennifer Edmond and her team based in the Trinity Long Room Hub. We asked Dr Edmond to tell us about CENDARI, and how it can help historians. 

What is the CENDARI project?

The CENDARI project is a four year project funded by the European Commission to develop and prototype a new form of research infrastructure for Medieval and Modern History which integrates the resources that have already been created by cultural heritage institutions across Europe. Trinity instigated this project back in 2010-2011 by bringing the consortia together and developing the proposal with our 14 partners and we have acted as the central coordination for the project since its inception. We have had computer scientists working on cutting edge semantic reasoning agents to help the historical research project; we have had input from Trinity Library to help us understand the landscape in the cultural heritage institutions and overcome some of the barriers to working with them; and we have had input from the School of Histories and Humanities to ensure that our historical information was accurate.

How is CENDARI helping researchers?

CENDARI TeamWe see CENDARI as changing research in a number of ways. In general, the purpose of the Digital Humanities is to provide access to materials that would not be accessible otherwise. While we don’t believe that any project or infrastructure will ever eliminate the need for scholars to travel and have access to in- depth contact with their sources, we can help in making that travel more informed and intelligent. CENDARI can help people identify resources that are held in places that are not very well catalogued and not very visible on the web. We can also help people identify resources that may exist in languages they don’t actually have proficiency in. We have also harnessed a lot of new technologies that are going to make the work process for researchers more seamless above and beyond access issues – the note taking environment and the Archival Research Guides.

 

Tell us about the ‘note-taking environment’

We have a virtual research environment, which we call our note-taking environment. We discovered when speaking to historians that one of the enablers and support functions that historians use to bring together all the material and create new knowledge is through the process of note taking. So the note-taking environment is an environment that allows researchers to upload their own scans, to take their own notes, to indicate and resolve significant entities –people, places, and things – to an authoritative external source. They can keep their research histories and when their work is done or they feel like they have something they want to share, it’s a convenient platform for sharing aspects of their work before the full publication is done. Alternatively, they can share aspects of their work that they think will be useful for other historians but that they don’t intend to use. This note-taking environment was publicly launched to historians at the official launch of CENDARI on the 14th of January in Berlin.

What are Archival Research Guides?

Another instrument of research on CENDARI is our Archival Research Guides which are intended to provide an overview of both the scholarly argument about aspects of the source landscape but also intrinsically link those with both our anthologies, which will show the relationships of things in a hierarchical manner, but also to the sources themselves.

 

What other discoveries has the project made about this research landscape?

Above and beyond what we’ve produced through the CENDARI platform, we have also learned a lot about the current landscape of cultural heritage institutions and their resistance to federated access to sources. In order for historians to do transnational history, they must be able to view like for like – the disparity between trying to compare very well catalogued collections and hidden collections is a real challenge for the system. We’ve also learned a lot about the way scholars communicate and the way technologies are used. The Visiting Research Fellows as part of the CENDARI project have also been a real asset to us. They’ve kept us honest as we’ve developed the platform because these were real researchers coming to us with real research problems. They were looking to us to assist them to develop these research questions in ways that were relevant within the CENDARI timeframe – Medieval and Modern History – but also in terms of providing a digital element to their work. These scholars have also been important to us in making sure that in our technological developments, we don’t lose sight of what scholars really need.

What next for CENDARI?

The launch in Berlin was the culmination of the project and our opportunity to publicly present everything that we have learned as well as presenting the products of the CENDARI project, such as the note taking environment. While the CENDARI project officially came to an end on the 31st of January, we would hope that the ethos of CENDARI and the networks and communities of CENDARI will live on. We are hoping that they will live on as a working group under the Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities (DARIAH), so that we can continue to share the lessons that we’ve learned so that other projects and other infrastructures can benefit from what we’ve learned. The fact that Trinity was able to successfully lead a project of this scale and this importance had a huge signalling factor for showing that Trinity was really serious about doing Digital Humanities and able to do it well and in our own style.

To find out more about CENDARI and its tools please visit the website here.

Contact: Aoife King, Communications Officer |Trinity Long Room Hub | aoife.king@tcd.ie | 01 896 3895