TimeMapping Time Travels: The Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative Infrastructure for Collaborative Research

Readers of the ADS conference list will have noted some pretty unusual destinations in the last 2 years,followed by the cryptic letters "ECAI" - the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative. In this article, Dr Caverlee Cary explains the thinking behind ECAI and describes how ECAI, AHDS and ADS are collaborating to their mutual benefit.

Mankind may be separated by the boundaries of time and space, but for the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative (ECAI), time and space do not divide but unite. Specifically, time and space are the crucial metadata elements by which ECAI is cataloguing the work of several hundred affiliates working on digital humanities and social science research projects.

The last issue of this newsletter featured an item on "point-and-click" mapping and linked resources. ECAI adopts a similar approach. Users can seek resources through the intuitive immediacy of a clickable map.

ECAI is working to take this one step further: to "drill down" to the data level across globally distributed databases. ECAI allows users to locate any resource linked through registered spatio-temporal metadata and visualize query results on a map-based interface. This infrastructure for data sharing allows collaboration across boundaries of time, place, and discipline.

Archaeologist Ian Johnson, of the Archaeological Computing Laboratory, University of Sydney, is author of the core elements of ECAI's technical architecture: the ECAI Metadata Clearinghouse and ECAI's time-enabled GIS software, TimeMap. TimeMap functional metadata, the key to interoperability across datasets, allows users to query remote servers and extract selected data, enabling users creatively to author customized maps.

The Archaeology Data Service - with its partners in the Arts and Humanities Data Service - is working with ECAI on issues of data interoperability. ADS has played an increasingly important role in ECAI since its initial participation in the semi-annual ECAI meeting at the British Library in June 2000. Not only ADS standards and good practice guides, but ADS participation in training programs featuring ECAI technology are current areas of shared interest.

ECAI, based at the University of California, Berkeley, under the direction of Professor Lewis Lancaster, has a worldwide membership of several hundred scholars and information technology specialists.

A screenshot of TimeMap in action

A screen shot of ECAI in action: Map included in ECAI Electronic Publication on the Sasanian empire, showing TimeMap data layers.

Dr Caverlee Cary, The Electronic Culutral Atlas Initiative. For enquiries about ECAI contact: ecai@socrates.berkeley.edu or visit the ECAI web site at http://www.ecai.org/

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