Two New Major Collaborative Grants to Enhance our Understanding of Web Archives

Thursday, November 19, 2015

How will historians study the 1990s or the 2000s? They'll need to use web archives: old websites, from garish GeoCities pages to academic sites to discussion boards, that form a major part of our cultural record. The question of how we can make sense of this sheer abundance of data rests at the heart of Professor Ian Milligan's two new Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grants, carried out in collaboration with researchers across a half dozen universities in Canada and the United States. Housed in the Web Archives for Historical Research Group in the Department of History, these two projects seek to build new links between historians, computer scientists, librarians, and archivists, and discover and tweak new ways of accessing web archives over long periods of time.

Traditionally historians had to scrounge for any information they could find and now, information is being preserved that never would’ve been in the past – this produces an overload of sources. This fundamental shift creates many barriers and historians have largely been left out of the big data discussion. This grant makes it possible for my research team to change that – to bring historians into the big data discussion, break down barriers to access web archives, and provide tools to enable all historians to revolutionize their own work.

-Ian Milligan

With co-applicants Nick Ruest (York University) and William J. Turkel (Western University), Milligan's five-year SSHRC Insight Grant ($257,541) links history and big data to give historians the tools required to find and interpret digital sources from web archives. How can we take the terabytes of Canadian web data generated and archives since 1996 and provide meaningful access to it? This grant supports graduate student researchers, computational infrastructure, and research dissemination. Since receiving the Insight award in June, the team has already launched the portal, which has received coverage in the national CBC. This grant is further supported by Milligan’s Ontario Early Researcher Award, which is being held during the same amount of time.

A second grant, with co-applicants Matthew Weber (Rutgers University), Jimmy Lin (University of Waterloo), Nathalie Casemajor (University of Québec in Outaouais), and Nicholas Worby (University of Toronto), will see the Web Archives for Historical Research Group hosting a web archives hackathon at the University of Toronto between March 3rd and 5th, 2016. 

This SSHRC Connection grant ($23,715) will provide travel grants for graduate students and researchers in contingent positions to attend the hackathon, which is further supported by the University of Toronto, Rutgers University, the University of Québec in Outaouais, Compute Canada, Library and Archives Canada, the University of Waterloo, and the Internet Archive. We'll be collaboratively developing new open-source tools and approaches to web archives, with the goal of converging on a shared vision of the future directions our community should take. Plus, we'll have all the food you can eat!  Visit the Call for Participation at