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.
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. 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  unfortunately prevent that resource from being a repository for good biography on Mormon subjects outside of those considered significant to the “enduring historical record.” 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!