The Boston Research Center (BRC), based in the Northeastern University Library, is a digital community history lab where Boston’s deep neighborhood and community histories are brought to light through the creation and use of new technology. Through this, residents can share a more nuanced and complex understanding of Boston’s present.
The BRC helps provide a fuller picture of the history of Boston by bringing together historical materials—photos, maps, letters, newspaper articles, recordings, charts and tables, and more—and digitizing them so they can be remixed and re-combined with current data to tell the story of essential but underrepresented groups in Boston’s neighborhoods. The BRC also builds computer and technical systems that will make it easier to safely and permanently house digital history projects, repeat similar projects in the future, and make connections between them as they grow.
The Northeastern University Library’s Digital Scholarship Group is currently engaged in an intensive preliminary planning and design process for the BRC. Generously funded by a planning grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, this design process involves the development of prototypes, design plans, and technical specifications that will guide the development of a full-scale suite of tools, data, and staff. The BRC is hosted at Northeastern but is designed to be a collaborative effort among many organizations in Boston—civic, research, teaching, and cultural heritage—with intensive planning devoted to developing institutional partnerships and fostering community engagement.
The planning phase focuses on a set of pilot projects that represent a range of disciplines, research questions, and data sources. Each pilot will develop a detailed specification and prototype that includes sample data, data analyses and visualizations, and usage scenarios that will in turn shape the horizons of the larger BRC.
In its full form, the Boston Research Center (BRC) will unify, for the first time, unique special collections related to Boston, data generated by the government, citizen groups, social media, digital modes of scholarship, and a wide array of researchers to offer scholars a seamless environment for studying the city’s history, communities, and cultures.
The BRC will be a dynamic research center that will enable scholars and communities to generate and operate on an array of archival materials and data in new ways, to draw upon a wide range of digitized resources and data sets, and to analyze multiple sources together through new services. The BRC will connect research collections of images, maps, texts, audio and video files, as well as spatial, temporal, and statistical/numeric data collections.