When I first learned of the Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC) Project, I knew that we had to be involved and assume some leadership. Why? Because the driving force of SNAC is collaboration within the archival and library communities to improve discovery and access to archival materials. I am a huge proponent for collaboration and access – these are the central concepts that we have been incorporating into our strategic direction at NARA.
The National Archives has been a key partner with the SNAC project. Early on, we recognized the benefits and opportunities of the Cooperative, both for NARA and the international archival community. We were proud to recently announce the launch of the Pilot Phase of the project. 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. We will work with our Cooperative partners, the University of Virginia, and the California Digital Library, as well as a cross-section of U.S. archives, libraries, and museums. This phase of the Cooperative has both social and technological objectives. The social objectives include developing the administrative structure and developing a shared understanding and governance structure with the inaugural members for how we will set best practices for content input and maintenance, provide input into the development of the editing user interface, and maintain the description and access data. The primary technological objective will be transforming the SNAC prototype research tool into a platform that will support ongoing building and maintenance of the SNAC description and access data.
One of the great strengths of SNAC is the way that biographical and historical data can be used to provide researchers with convenient, integrated access to historical collections held by archives and libraries all over the world. This linking of people, their relationships, and the records that document their lives and work provides powerful research avenues — and some unexpected surprises. For example, take a look at the record for the great jazz musician, Lionel Hampton.
Under “Archival Collections” you’ll see a list of links to materials related to his 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 something about him that you may not expect, 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. From our Catalog, you can read the tape log for February 19, 1971, which records that Hampton met with Nixon at the White House and that they discussed Hampton’s upcoming tour of Eastern Europe, his band, and his support for the President. The technology and data standards that SNAC uses allows this rich, unprecedented access not only across archival collections, but into the social and biographical context of the people documented in these materials.
So I invite you to explore the resources available in the SNAC Research Tool. Whether you browse one of the featured individuals or do a specific search, you will find connections and resources about historical figures you may never have known about. You may find something really special, as I did when I found this record, which links to my little-known correspondence with several Presidents!