Information Access Seminar

Bringing Lives to Light: The Biography Project

Friday, February 26, 2010
3:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Ray Larson

Cultural heritage, history, and the social sciences are fundamentally about human activity. Everyone is interested in what other people do and have done. Chronological, geographical and biographical data lend themselves naturally to being connected: an event is associated with a place, a time and potentially with particular people; places are associated with different events and people; and individual people are also associated (in a variety of ways) with different places and events.

Life-events in sequence constitute a narrative that can engage interest and spark inquiry. History, geography, and most other subjects can come alive in the travelogues, journeys of discovery, and the life-stories of those involved. Science can be explained through the work of scientists. Engineering is routinely explained through the heroic struggles of inventors. But mere narrative is not enough. Understanding the context of these life events differentiates education from memorizing.

It is understanding the circumstances of people's actions that illuminates their lives, but there is a significant gap in the infrastructure developed by libraries, museums, and publishers in this area. Our objective in this project was to design, demonstrate, and evaluate techniques that would bring lives to light by revealing them in their contexts.

Project website:
Final report:

Last updated:

March 26, 2015