The Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC) Project is addressing a longstanding research challenge: discovering, locating, and using distributed historical records. Scholars use these records as primary evidence for understanding the lives and work of historical persons and the events in which they participated.
SNAC focuses mostly on the lives of historical persons, not on the general public. It may not help find the farmers, craftsmen, merchants, housewives, and other “common folk” in our family trees. However, if your ancestor was a person of some fame, SNAC could provide a lot of information about his or her life and work.
For example, take a look at the record for the great jazz musician, Lionel Hampton at http://socialarchive.iath.virginia.edu/ark:/99166/w6z60vg6. That page lists Hampton’s work as a musician, as well as a link to the finding aid for the Lionel Hampton Papers held at the University of Idaho. And you’ll also find a link to the National Archives Catalog and the record for the collection of sound recordings of meetings and telephone conversations from the Nixon administration.
The records being collected and catalogued are held in archives and manuscript libraries, large and small, around the world. Scholars previously needed to search scores of different archives one by one, following clues, hunches, and leads to find the records relevant to their topic. Furthermore, descriptive practices may differ from one archive or library to another. The research is time consuming and inefficient: clues and leads may be easily overlooked and important resources undiscovered. SNAC hopes to make the process more efficient, reducing the time required for scholars to find the information they seek.
The two-year pilot phase of the Cooperative is generously funded by a $1 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to the University of Virginia. Other partners are also contributing information and expertise, including the National Archives and Records Administration, the University of Virginia, and the California Digital Library, as well as a cross-section of U.S. archives, libraries, and museums.
SNAC is in its formative stages today. There is not a lot of material available yet. However, the collection promises to grow and grow so it may become a valuable addition to a genealogist’s toolkit.
The Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC) Project may be found at http://socialarchive.iath.virginia.edu.