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Introducing: Dictionary of Mormon Biography

By: Tod R. - July 12, 2012

I want to start off this post by thanking you for your kindness since my first post. The feedback and general excitement I received via comments and email was palpable and kind of amazing.

The announcement I am now making is closely related to my work on the Saints of Alberta Project (SAP), which is still taking shape thanks to your comments. The Dictionary of Mormon Biography (DMB) is a new site, which will shortly become a platform like unto a Wikipedia, for Mormon biography. Currently, the site is a mockup of the kind of database I’d like to and am assembling though the next iteration will run on a similar software to Wikipedia: Semantic Mediawiki.

The current person view for DMB

I hope the title of the project is self evident as it will primarily be about people: the notable, the not-so-notable, and the forgotten. The first phase of the project has been the conversion of biographies from Andrew Jenson’s Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia to digital format. This includes doing verification of the OCR text, extracting the scanned photos from biographies and documenting the location of each biography via citation/hyperlinking of the Internet Archive and BYU scans of the volumes.[1] We may also document the histories of geographical units (stakes, wards, branches) and built works. I want to frame my vision for the project through a few anecdotal experiences that have been catalysts for me:

  • Wikipedia — Wikipedia has become quite a useful database. In fact, I love it so much I want to model DMB after it. It’s open source, collaborative, iterative, and social. I understand there will be those among you who have issues with the lay person contributing along side the PhD, but I am a strong believer in the ubiquitous nature of data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. We can build a community that is built upon transparency, respect, and mentorship (with hobbyists and professional researchers teaching each other about the lives of our people). There will be frustrations ahead, but ultimately we should come away with a extremely useful reference resource for researchers across the world.
  • Joseph Smith Papers — Through my work as an intern on the George Q. Cannon Journals at the CHL and my subsequent exposure to the excellent online resources at josephsmithpapers.org of People of the Time, and my most recent studies in authority files and the like, the need for a one-stop-reference resource of persons in Mormon history has become an obvious need in my mind for the expansion and evolution of Mormon studies. Wikipedia’s notability guidelines [2] unfortunately prevent that resource from being a repository for good biography on Mormon subjects outside of those considered significant to the “enduring historical record.”[3] I think we can do more and should do more to make a record of our people.
  • Linked Data — I could, and others could, speak indefinitely about this subject, but linked data is becoming the centerpiece in the emerging web of data on the Internet. If you heard about Google’s recent update to Google Search with the addition of the Knowledge Graph, then you’ve been introduced to linked data (see my screen capture of a search for Joseph Smith). Linked data is all about metadata connecting the aboutness of one resource to the aboutness of another. It’s all about links, hyperlinks, that are persistent (can be relied on to stick around) and are related to other links. It’s all about triples, as they are now called, subject+verb+predicate triples that describe the relationships of billions of entities found on the Web. For example: Joseph Smith + friend of + Brigham Young. Or: Charles Ora Card + settled + Cardston, Alberta. These triples, represented as metadata embedded in web pages, allow search engines to reason and find the resource you’re looking for. Thus, libraries, museums, and archives, are putting their shoulders to the wheel in making use of this shift in representing resources on the Web and likewise myself. DMB will have a foundation built upon linked data. We’ll be able to link persons to digitized books about their lives, photos in archives, locations on Google Maps, other people, and the most recent research on and off the Web. It’s really exciting.

I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you with the above, but presented a vision within Mormon Studies that is invigorating. DMB has the potential to be a centerpiece for Mormon biography and Mormon studies on the Web. There are so many aspects that remain unorganized or undetermined, including: authorship of articles (Andrew Jenson, the crowd, etc), licensing (I want to push for Creative Commons or other open licenses), and non-profit status for supporting the growing database (can we build a sustainable model for keeping the database online?).

I will hopefully be returning to update you on the Dictionary of Mormon Biography soon as we move forward. Lastly, let’s continue the discussion about digital humanities within Mormon Studies here on Juvenile Instructor. Thank you again for your interest and support!

 

Notes:
[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Jenson#Published_works
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Notability
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Notability_(people)#Any_biography


12 Comments

  1. I am now convinced that Tod is a wizard. My hat is off!

    Comment by J Stuart — July 12, 2012 @ 8:38 pm

  2. Ha! Thanks Joseph.

    Comment by Tod R. — July 12, 2012 @ 9:22 pm

  3. I second that.

    Comment by Saskia — July 13, 2012 @ 11:20 am

  4. Great stuff, Tod. I’m very excited about this project in particular and think it could really be a useful resource.

    Comment by Christopher — July 13, 2012 @ 2:13 pm

  5. This really does look fantastic.

    Comment by David G. — July 13, 2012 @ 2:40 pm

  6. This looks cool and useful.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — July 13, 2012 @ 4:31 pm

  7. Great stuff coming here. Thanks Tod.

    Comment by WVS — July 13, 2012 @ 5:52 pm

  8. I read this piece of writing fully concerning the comparison of hottest and previous
    technologies, it’s amazing article.

    Comment by aforismi — July 16, 2012 @ 5:55 am

  9. I’ve discussed this subject a number of times with my extended family — how to aggregate family biographical information in one place. I’m currently aggregating information on Blogger, but that has some real limitations. There are genealogical sites that aggregate information such as Ancestry, myfamily, Findagrave, Family Tree, etc., but they also have real limitations.

    The general consensus from the computer professionals in the family is always to set up a wiki, but we’ve never gotten around to it, primarily due to pesky details including the ones you mention in your second-to-the-last paragraph.

    This does sound like it will be a great resource. I’ll be happy to add content when you have it up and running.

    Comment by Amy T — July 16, 2012 @ 7:51 am

  10. […] we ever listened of a “Dictionary of Mormon Biography”? It’s only now removing off a ground, though looks to be amazing. Project personality Tod […]

    Pingback by LDS tech news you can use | Electronic Staff — July 17, 2012 @ 4:00 pm

  11. Tod, I think this is a great idea. Of course, it really needs a lot more data to become useful — but I’m sure everyone realizes that. Are you looking for others to help you add the data?

    I’m fairly sure that Anderson’s biographical dictionary is already available in text — on Deseret Books Gospelink and on Google, although the latter does need to be reviewed for ocr errors. Is that review what you mean when you say you have to verify the ocr text?

    FWIW, I’ve been working on a somewhat similar, but more limited project (http://wiki.nycldshistory.com/w/Main_Page) covering the history of Mormonism in New York City and environs (up to Boston and Albany and south west to Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania). That experience makes me wonder if it is really possible to simply restrict your coverage to biography. As you hint, you expect that pages on local units will then be forthcoming. I’m not at all sure how you can stop there!

    Could you please make clear what, if anything, you hope to get from the rest of us? Do you want help? How?

    Comment by Kent Larsen — July 19, 2012 @ 6:39 am

  12. Kent,

    First of all: BAM! You are exactly what we need in Mormon Studies. I’d love your help or anyone else who would like plunking in details about any Mormon. Join the Google Group if you want to be in the loop about standards discussions and edithons and the like: https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!forum/mormon-biography

    Since DMB is a wiki now (I just got it up and running), http://todrobbins.com/projects/dmb/wiki, don’t worry how sparse or unpolished an entry may look, let’s get the data in.

    So beyond my rambling: yes, I/we want whoever wants to be involved, in whatever ways.

    Comment by Tod R. — July 19, 2012 @ 2:43 pm