Pilot Summary: Encyclopedia of Greater Boston
Faculty and graduate students in Northeastern’s public history program have collaborated on a prototype for a digital encyclopedia of Boston. This historical atlas will provide entries for the people, institutions, locations, and events that have shaped the city, building upon and supporting the work of other BRC projects. This project draws on other similarly localized encyclopedia projects, such as the New Georgia Encyclopedia, the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, the Colorado Encyclopedia, and Madison Historical, all of which combine digitized collections with narrative summaries of important events, locations, and people in their areas of focus.
The goals of this prototype have been to explore the possibilities of the digital encyclopedia format to contextualize and link to the extensive historical archives, maps, and datasets that the BRC will bring together. During the summer and fall of 2018, the project team conducted an environmental scan to better understand the components of projects like those mentioned above. Drawing on content and layout recommendations generated by this environmental scan, the project team created several mockups for the encyclopedia. Initial entry topics were selected to connect with current research and teaching at Northeastern on the public executions of Native Americans on Boston Common in 1676 during King Philip’s War. The team also authored sample entries about the Morgan v. Hennigan 1974 court decision and the fight for integrated education in boston through bussing desegregation, linking with the NuLawLab’s BRC prototype and existing collection strengths in the Northeastern Archives and Special Collections.
The Encyclopedia of Greater Boston has helped the project team to think through the design considerations and data modeling that are necessary to build a full digital encyclopedia of greater Boston, one that emphasizes mobility, accessibility, and iterative research. In developing the prototype entries, the project team will produce a specification with platform requirements, requisite metadata structures, mechanisms for including community-contributed content, possibilities for algorithmically curating materials such as historical photographs, best practices for modeling historical data, and so on. In the future, the project team envisions expanding on this initial prototyping work to launch a comprehensive digital encyclopedia of greater Boston, with increased interconnections between Northeastern archival collections and data created or assembled through other BRC projects.