Why the BRC?

Boston is a place with complex and deeply layered history. The BRC:

  • Focuses on the history of underrepresented groups, expanding our understanding of Boston’s long history through the eyes of its residents, past and present.
  • Expands on Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections’ existing commitment to activating archives—making them as useful as possible to the neighborhoods and underrepresented groups they originate from
  • Builds on the strength of scholars across Northeastern and expertise within the Library to interlink digital historical materials (maps, photos, texts) with data (census information, commercial records) with narrative (analytic writing to pull out important themes)
  • Connects collections across Boston through both information infrastructures and partnerships with other Boston organizations
  • Unlocks historical analog and paper data (charts, tables, maps, finding aids, books, articles) through scanning and reformatting for large-scale analysis, robust, deep searching, and computation of older data previously only on paper
  • Focuses on long-term, sustainable, inclusive information infrastructures to create a safe place to build community-based histories in freely-available and non-commercial systems.

History of the BRC

In 2018, the Northeastern University Library’s Digital Scholarship Group led an intensive preliminary planning and design process for the Boston Research Center, a model research center focused on the city of Boston allowing deeply integrative study of urban history, communities, systems, and culture. Generously funded by a planning grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, this initial design process involved the development of prototypes, design plans, and technical specifications to capture the suite of tools, data, and staff needed for Boston-focused research projects on campus. Through this process, the Library gained a clear understanding of how to best fit the BRC into the campus and city research environments.

Using information from the prototyping process as a foundation, in 2019 the Northeastern University Library’s Digital Scholarship Group will begin partnerships with a cohort of Boston-area organizations to co-create working systems focused on the needs of community historians. The combined knowledge from developing projects with these two groups—campus researchers and Boston-area community organizations—will allow the BRC to develop systems that serve both, and continue to build resources for combining complex historical materials with current big data techniques. This two-year process of community software development is also generously funded by an implementation grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Combining emergent work in “smart cities” with library-based research collections and services, the BRC will provide a physical and digital research environment that draws together archival materials, civic data sets, linked data resources, and standard reference frameworks. In contrast with research efforts more narrowly focused on numeric datasets, the BRC seeks to integrate and connect research collections of images, maps, texts, audio and video files, as well as spatial and statistical/numeric data collections.

About the DSG

The Digital Scholarship Group offers services ranging from grant-writing support to GIS, data visualization, and grant-writing consultations. The DSG also conducts research on subjects like diverse interface design, digital repository systems, and text encoding. Working as an applied research team within the library, the DSG seeks out new tools and methods, tests them on real-world projects, and makes them available to the Northeastern community. The DSG supports a wide range of projects, including projects from the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks and the CERES Exhibit Toolkit projects.

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Funded in part by generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.