Evolution of Early Modern Collections at Harvard Library

Evolution of Early Modern Collections at Harvard Library

Posted by Christina Powers on August 13, 2012 in Blog.

The first of more visualization projects in the works, “Evolution of Early Modern Collections at Harvard Library,” created by Harvard University’s metaLAB, uses data from publicly accessible DPLA APIs for over twelve million Harvard library records to trace the development of early modern print works at Harvard by their place of publication from 1400-1500.

Designer Travis Bost created the animation to supplement Library Observatory, a larger project at Harvard’s metaLAB that encompasses an independent research initiative and supports Harvard courses taught by metaLAB faculty. “Fragments of a Material History of Literature,” a course debuting this fall at the college, served as the launching point for Bost’s animation. The course explores how the development of early type, progression between formats of books, and other elements of literature and literature production not only change over time, but also vary among geography, subject, genres, and taste.

“While we have other points of investigation at the object-level,” Bost says, “we realized that the DPLA API was an excellent opportunity to do investigative research on this topic at a huge, macro-scale given Harvard’s large, representative collection, especially in early modern printing.”

After familiarizing himself with both API documentation and MARC bibliographic documentation, Bost created a map that illustrated existing fields for place of publication in the MARC record. He then translated the code from a previous project on the evolution of oil and gas exploration in Louisiana into the project, and used Google’s Geolocator API to determine the latitude and longitude for each of the place names. Ulitmately, Bost says, the importance of the DPLA APIs rests in the broad scope of its content: “[T]he API is allowing us to do research from a perspective that would not be possible otherwise, given there are no other easy access points for large sets of bibliographic metadata, and certainly because of the incredible breadth of the Harvard collection as well.”

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