AnthroDataDPA Report

Anthropological Data Digital Preservation and Access (AnthroDataDPA)
Report from an NSF/Wenner-Gren supported workshop, May 18-20, 2009

For more than a century, anthropologists and other observers have been collecting data about the human experience. These data include the details of human history, the characteristics and evolution of the human species and other primates, the variety of languages spoken and written, and the cultural features of the world’s societies. Unfortunately, many data already have been lost to us and will not be available to future generations. Failure to record data properly, failure to store it appropriately, and failure to sustain our ability to “read” the data with changing technological platforms are the principal causes of data becoming compromised or lost. The profession is concerned with the possibilities of using new digital and Internet technologies to save anthropological data – in archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, and linguistics. If we are successful in this great enterprise, we can stop such information about our cultural heritage and human biodiversity from being destroyed, lost, or so poorly maintained as to be worthless to future generations of scholars and communities in the U.S. and around the world.

On May 18-20, 2009, a workshop was held in Arlington, Virginia to evaluate and potentially decide on the basics of a strategic integrated four-field plan for digital preservation of and access (DPA) to anthropological research materials (AnthroDataDPA for short). The workshop was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Wenner-Gren Foundation in a grant to the Human Relations Area Files at Yale University1. The principal investigators, Carol R. Ember, Eric Delson, Jeff Good, and Dean Snow, each respectively represented one of the four traditional subfields of anthropology—cultural anthropology, physical anthropology, linguistics, and archaeology. Three groups of people participated: 1) individuals actively involved in and/or planning the creation of digital object repositories for anthropological data; 2) individuals from institutions involved in the creation of relevant international standards and metadata to enhance interoperability and long-term preservation; and 3) representatives of organizations that represent the various fields of anthropology in the United States. Also attending were observers from political science, NSF, NEH, and Wenner-Gren (view attendees). We had nine breakout groups at the workshop. Each breakout group was charged with discussing key issues and then their discussion was summarized by the breakout chairs. After incorporating points raised in the discussion period, the chairs put together reports of their breakout groups . The following is a summary report of the workshop put together by the PIs.

This overview lays out our vision, goals (both long and short term), general principles (or strategic decisions), as well as more specific issues and concerns. The report concludes with some possible next steps for the anthropological community to begin to comprehensively address DPA issues. The PIs are moving forward on applying for grants to continue this effort. In the meantime, we encourage those of you who want to digitize your data to follow some of the guidelines in this report.

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  1. NSF # BCS-0823404; Wenner-Gren HAP-93. []

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