The CWG-K: Building an Intelligent Database, Serving Future Scholarship

Sunday, January 6, 2013: 9:10 AM
Southdown Room (Sheraton New Orleans)
R. Darrell Meadows, Kentucky Historical Society
The Kentucky Historical Society is creating a born-digital documentary edition of the papers and documents of the state’s five Civil War governors – a project we believe holds considerable promise for the future of historical documentary editing. The Civil War Governors of Kentucky (CWG-K) will not only provide scholars, educators, and the general public access to the 20-25 thousand documents in this collection, but aims to build a database that will allow users to search and to perform analysis on the entire collection.  As a “born digital” documentary edition, CWG-K editors believe we have both an opportunity and a responsibility to develop electronic interfaces that conform to the new ways scholars work in the digital age.

We have thought carefully about what prepublication editorial processes and what encoding strategies could lead to an “intelligent” database and a sophisticated reference work. To this end, CWG-K partnered with Documents Compass to further the development of DocTracker (DT) into an open-source, document-management application to serve the broader documentary editing community by streamlining the range of tasks that production of a digital edition requires.

This presentation offers an introduction to key technical issues we have faced as we seek to create a digital humanities product that serves future humanities research. To date, our collaboration has focused on several key technical issues—including the need to accommodate editorial processes and workflow of medium-to-large-scale projects with distributed staff; image uploading at several stages (and related data management); integration of a “ticketing” system for tracking and flow of work assignments; and the challenge of building useful, yet streamlined, data structures from multiple document types. Wrestling with and implementing these and other technical issues is both time consuming and labor intensive—but an essential prerequisite for structuring more intelligent databases that allow for a variety of data-rich investigations.