Rowin VAN LANEN
(Netherlands Centre for Dendrochronology, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Outline: This paper focuses on the important role of IT-education for historians, who deal with the challenging nature of digitizing old historical data and creating uniformity within associated datasets.
Last decade the developments in digitizing historical data have been substantial. Current computer resources offer a lot more digitizing opportunities than before and can therefore be used in an increasing variety of historical projects. However this requires adequate IT-knowledge and IT-skills from historians, which must be provided by proper IT-education. This paper presents the case study of digitizing tree-ring data as an example of the important role IT-education plays in successfully combining computer science with historical data and choosing the right digital path within historical projects.
In the past decades, dendrochronological research in the Netherlands has become more and more imbedded in (cultural-)historical research. Dendrochronology is the discipline of scientific dating and provenance studies based on the analysis of tree growth patterns. In the pre-computer era, dendrochronologists recorded only limited tree-ring data, paper administration not being used to store extensive metadata. The first computers were capable of storing tree-ring growth patterns but were still limited in storing metadata. During the last two decades newly developed dendrochronological software were still not recording metadata. This software provided the basic analysis and registration of different ring patterns but limited the administration of metadata to simple or basic identifier coding. Hence, the initial digital limitations were followed by a period in which not all opportunities in digital recording were seized, which restricted the accessibility and extensive administration of metadata. The challenge is: (a) to administrate the (meta)data in addition to the tree-ring growth patterns, and (b) to maximize exchangeability among international datasets.
The challenge can be met by standardization of digital administration. The current Tree-Ring Data Standard (TRiDaS) initiative developed in the period 2007-2009 aims at meeting this challenge. TRiDaS insures the preservation and exchangeability of the (meta)data through the use of a pre-defined XML schema. This requires: (a) conversion of old (paper) data into a format that fits TRiDaS, and (b) IT-skilled and knowledgeable historians, who are aware of the existence and potential of TRiDaS, its requirements and limitations, and are able to convert their old data and feed new data into the data model.
Keywords: Tree-Ring data, (Access) Databases, Digitizing historical data, IT-education for Historians, TRiDaS