UT Libraries project organizes historical data

Brendalys Lebron

Historical dates and periods can now be more easily analyzed thanks to a web project developed by UT researchers in collaboration with the University of Texas Libraries. 

According to its website, Periods, Organized — or PeriodO for short — is a geographical index “of scholarly definitions of historical, art-historical, and archaeological periods.” Led by classics associate professor Adam Rabinowitz, the project’s purpose is to link, organize and visualize historical data to help scholars and students see time period definitions and overlaps more clearly.

“[PeriodO] is meant to make it easier for people to find information on the web that has been described using the terms that we often use to refer to chunks of time in the past, [such as] historical, art-historical, archaeological periods,” Rabinowitz said. “In some ways, it’s like a social network for data … this is all about making it easier for people to find information that is connected.”

The project received multi-thousand dollar grant awards from the Office of Digital Humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2014 and from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences (IMLS) this year.

“[The IMLS grant] is going to allow us to expand our reach in terms of disciplines beyond archaeology and art history,” Rabinowitz said. “We’re going to be able expand our partnerships to work with other aggregators of data, people who are pulling together lots of different data from different places on the web, [such as] the Digital Public Library of America.” 

Eric Kansa, a researcher at UC Berkeley who worked on the project, said the grants make the development of software and information models for public use possible.

“All the software and all of the models that we’re sharing, all of that is open source — it’s free for anybody to use, and reuse, and adapt to whatever they need,” Kansa said. “The kinds of software and the kinds of information that we’re creating with the project are going to be used by museums. They’re going to be used by libraries. One can imagine even commercial re-use of this stuff.”

Travis Willmann, communications officer at UT Libraries, said the impact of this project extends beyond the University.

“I think this is another example of how the libraries can work with faculty, both here and nationwide, to bring these great digital resources to both our communities and the world,” Willmann said.