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Civil War Letters Archive Rehumanizes “Big Data”

08 November on Announcements, Big Data, Digitization, Multimedia & Digital Archives, Project Highlights  

In October 2012, the Michigan State University’s Archives & Historical Collections, in collaboration with MATRIX, launched a new website entitled the Civil War Archives at http://civilwar.archives.msu.edu/. This website contains an online digital archive of hand-written letters and photographs sent from and to Michigan soldiers who participated in the Civil War. This website’s goal is to educate students and citizens about the Civil War and re-humanize the individuals who fought and died during the conflict.

The Civil War Archive is built using KORA, an open-source, browser-based content management system created and produced by MATRIX that allows organizations to build digital repositories that preserve both digital objects and their related metadata. KORA has a flexible and customizable metadata scheme, which allows it to be used with any data set. KORA also contains a record associator which gives MATRIX the capability to link a digital object with it’s corresponding metadata and/or related objects (i.e. letters and photographs from the same individual). This allows for the creation of complex digital objects that tell stories and continue MATRIX’s goal of re-humanizing big data.

Beginning in the spring of 2010, researchers at Michigan State University’s Archives & Historical Collections began digitizing their collection of hand-written letters and photographs sent to and from Michigan soldiers in the Civil War. The letters are addressed to soldiers’ friends, family, and sweethearts and describe some major battles (including the Battle of Gettysburg) from the soldiers’ perspectives.

The presentation of information in this archive is unique in that it displays both the digitized copy of the letter and a typed transcript of the document side-by-side. Having both views appear simultaneously on the screen allows users to toggle seamlessly between the two documents. The collections in this archive are grouped by both donating family and Michigan regiment to allow for the quick location of interested records.

To learn more about the archive and its creation , read this article by MSU News. Similarly, if you’re interested in learning more about MATRIX’s efforts to re-humanize big data, browse a recent blog post describing a Ethan Watrall’s talk on Big Data, Small Stories: Community, Collaboration, and User Experience in the Age of Digital Cultural Heritage or read about MATRIX’s participation in the Slave Biographies and Digging into Data projects.