May 13th, 2010 | Douglas Knox
Chronicling America is a brilliantly engineered digital collection of historically important material that, because of its API, and because of the understanding that “the Web is the API,” could be an exemplary part of an open digital infrastructure for American history. But for the API to matter the rest of us have to actually build on it. The scale of what is already digitized and accessible is enough to make it a major new resource for American history. So how do we follow through on that, in a distributed way, at large and small scales? I have played with making network graphs of newspaper business genealogies from the bibliographic data, without trying to do much of anything yet with the images and OCR text, and could share bits of that exercise to get some modest hackery into the mix, but there’s a lot more that could be done. Certainly we could speculate about text mining and high-performance computing, but I would hope we could also brainstorm where the opportunities for consequential innovation are as much social as technological. Even with the methods and technologies available now and yesterday, Chronicling America is finished enough to start changing history already. They flipped the switch on the API. So what? If we think it matters, then how do we start hacking the interface between the API and the world to demonstrate how it matters?