History of SNAC

History and Overview 


SNAC is addressing a longstanding research challenge: discovering, locating, and using distributed historical records. Scholars use these records as primary evidence for understanding the lives and work of historical persons and events in which they participated. These records are held in archives and manuscript libraries, large and small, around the world. Scholars may need to search scores of different archives one by one, following clues, hunches, and leads to find the records relevant to their topic. Furthermore, descriptive practices can differ from one institution to another. The research is time consuming and inefficient: clues and leads may be easily overlooked and important resources undiscovered.

The data needed to address this research challenge already exists in the guides, catalogs, and finding aids that archivists and librarians create to document and provide access to archival resources. However, it is largely buried in guides and finding aids that are stored in different, isolated systems

SNAC seeks to meet this challenge by separating the description of persons, families, and organizations—including their socio-historical contexts—from the description of the historical resources that are the primary evidence of their lives and work. By separating this description and making these descriptions available in one online database location, SNAC provides researchers with convenient, integrated access to historical collections held by multiple private and public archives and libraries around the world, while also setting the stage for a cooperative program for maintaining information about the people documented in the collections.


Establishing a Framework: Phase 1

In 2010, with funding from the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities, SNAC began to explore the value of extracting the biographical and historical data about the individuals who created or are documented in archival records from online record descriptions. This data was then assembled into a collection of descriptions showing the individuals, families, and organizations and how they are interrelated with one another and with the archival resources that document their lives. SNAC next used the collection of descriptions to build a History Research Tool that 1) integrates and simplifies access to the dispersed resources and 2) provides unprecedented access to the biographical-historical contexts of the people documented in the resources, including the social-professional-intellectual networks within which they lived.

It quickly became apparent to the SNAC team that, while it was quite feasible to extract the data and use it to build a research tool, computational techniques alone would not fully realize the potential power of the assembled data to both transform research and improve the economy and effectiveness of archival descriptive practices. To accomplish these complementary objectives, Iit would also be necessary to develop an ongoing, sustainable international cooperative that would enable archivists, librarians, scholars, and, eventually, content specialists to maintain and add biographical-historical data and to extend the scope of the people and historical resources covered.


Establishing a Framework: Phase 2

With additional funding from the U.S. Institute for Museum and Library Services and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, SNAC continued its research and development work through 2015, increasing the quantity and diversity of the data sources and improving the technical methods. 

In 2015, the core team, which included the University of Virginia, Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities; the University of California, Berkeley School of Information; and the California Digital Library, (part of the University of California), transformed this research into an international cooperative hosted by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Thus the cooperative program was begun, focusing on the development of a governance infrastructure, technical infrastructure and sustainability, and the end-user experience.