Modeling Account Books for Comparative Analysis

Sunday, January 10, 2016: 11:40 AM
Room A706 (Atlanta Marriott Marquis)
Kathryn Tomasek, Wheaton College, Massachusetts
Social and economic historian Mark Spoerer has noted that after over a half century of exploring computational models that employ data sets developed for the social sciences, no uniform infrastructure has yet been developed to allow scholars to compare raw data on financial records over time and space. Since much of this data is recorded in local units and people purchased different staple commodities in different places, assembling comparable data over space and time presented considerable though not insurmountable challenges before the advent of the Semantic Web and the Linked Open Data movement.

Numerous historians outside the United States are interested in finding ways to present digital versions of account books that would open the locally specific information on items exchanged, their prices, and the people involved in these exchanges to comparison across space and time. Developing recommendations for standard markup of accounts would make possible, for example, comparison of a series of exchanges in a New England town with a mixed agricultural and manufacturing economy over forty years to similar exchanges in a town in the Hudson River Valley for the same period.

This paper reports on the MEDEA Project (Modeling Semantically Enriched Digital Editions of Accounts), which seeks to contribute to the development of broad standards for marking up digital editions of account books. A joint project of historians in Europe and the United States, MEDEA builds on the Guidelines of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). Since the project seeks to facilitate conversion of local measures, looks for ways to provide interconnecting commodities information, and aims to enhance the usability of local accounting sources, the long-range products should make possible new answers to historical questions about the exchanges of goods and services that are part of everyday life in most human communities.