Blog Post #5: Kindred Britain

For this blog post, I read the essay “Developing Kindred Britain” to gain a better understanding of the project Kindred Britain.

The authors of this essay, Elijah Meeks and Karl Grossner, provide vast insights into how they were able to develop the Kindred Britain site, including the model of the data structure, the design methods that present the data, as well as the coding components and overall structure of the site.

By reading this essay, I learned many things that I would not have known just by browsing Kindred Britain. First, there was a long process that took place in creating the data modeling system. The creators used a web-based content management system (CMS) called PHPGedView to illustrate the complex genealogy. PHPGedView has the ability to annotate individuals with events, place those events in the appropriate time and space, describe family relationships, examine paths between individuals, and change the perspective to geographic locations.

However, the creators found that PHPGedView was not able to do all that they wanted their site to be able to do, so they integrated their design into PostgreSQL. PostgreSQL has the capacity for sophisticated geospatial, network, and chronological queries. Using the PostgreSQL version of their database, they were able to store and represent the genealogical data through participation arrays, event periods, and network-based estimation of event dates.

Even this transition from PHPGedView to PostgreSQL does not complete the story of how the data modeling was developed. The authors also talk about GEDCOM and the conversion of GEDCOM into a relational database. The point being that the development of the Kindred Britain site was not one step process, it took the creators several iterations of the design to finally create an interface that they were looking for.

The second thing that I learned by reading this essay that I could not have gleaned by simply exploring Kindred Britain myself was how the group responded to certain challenges in designing the site. For instance, as with other historical work, they didn’t know the precise start and end of all of the people’s lives or the exact dates of the events that took place during their lives because of a lack of robust primary and secondary sources. In response to this, the team developed a lifespan algorithm to fill in the missing data. Their script proved reliable after they compared the results with updated records discovered after the function had been run.

Reading this essay did change the way that I view my own role in the course project. I am now realizing that we will not be able to produce a fantastic final project in just 10 days. However, we can begin the scholarship and produce something that can be built upon and further developed over the course of many months or years.

Thinking back to Blog Post #2: Exploring Scholarly Social Networks where I explored the King’s College London network, I can see that my understanding of social networks has changed quite a lot after learning from Professor Eastwood. One of the big things that has changed is that before I thought about it as the social network for King’s College. Now I understand that there is no such thing as “the” social network. There is only “a” social network. A given social network is simply a particular one in an extremely complex overlay of social networks.