School of Information Sciences

Digital Libraries Colloquium Series

Sponsored by the School of Computer Science-Carnegie Mellon University, the School of Information Sciences-University of Pittsburgh, the University Library System-University of Pittsburgh, the University Libraries-Carnegie Mellon University and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Patrick Manning

Director, World History Center, University of Pittsburgh


“The World-Historical Dataverse: Design and problem-solving for a large-scale, heterogeneous, historical dataset”


Abstract:The World-Historical Dataverse project (“the universe of world-historical data” –  is intended to lay the groundwork for creating consistent historical data for localities worldwide so that they may be aggregated into global totals. Data are to address economic, social, health, and environmental issues for about the last four centuries. The existence of such a dataset ought to get beyond current historical knowledge, at local and regional levels, to reveal historical patterns and dynamics at the global level; such information would help policy-makers set plans for the global future that account for past patterns rather than ignoring or speculating about the global past. The two co-directors – Patrick Manning of the World History Center and by Siddharth Chandra of Michigan State University – are both economic historians by training and have worked on this project since 2007.

The opening section of the presentation provides an overview of the main projected steps in the project, along with problems likely to arise at each step. Design and creation of a universal dataset must proceed along iterative steps, both to address the many problems entailed in such a task and to gain the confidence of funders. Project directors have so far identified six “departments” for carrying out the succeeding steps of project work: a portal with links to a large number of online data portals and datasets; a blog to discuss issues in creating large-scale historical datasets; a campaign to collect relevant datasets from scholars, agencies, and publications; an archive to store and display original and transformed versions of historical datasets; federation of archived datasets to create larger and more extensive datasets; and  design and ultimate construction of a universal dataset.

The second and more detailed portion of  the talk centers on the interplay between building the archive and federating archived datasets.  The federation of datasets through an online interface will be the project’s first substantial step, as it goes beyond mere collection of data and into creation of enlarged datasets. Preparation of datasets for federation will require preparation of extensive metadata; full specification of spatial, temporal, and topical coordinates; and conversion of weights and measures into consistent dimensions. The project has just received funding from the Pitt School of Arts & Sciences for a three-year Postdoctoral Associate for this work. The appointee is to have advanced  IT skills in design and programming, to focus on the work of federating archived datasets. Once a candidate is selected, work will begin in September 2010

Bio: Patrick Manning is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of World History at the University of Pittsburgh. He is director of the World History Center, located in the Department of History and affiliated with the Global Studies Program and the University Center of International Studies. Trained as a specialist in the economic history of Africa, he has become a specialist in world history. His research has focused on demographic history (African slave trade), social and cultural history of francophone Africa, global migration, the African diaspora as a dimension of global history, and an overview of the field of world history. He was educated at the California Institute of Technology (BS in Chemistry, 1963) and the University of Wisconsin - Madison (MS in History and Economics, PhD in History 1969). He served as Vice President of the Teaching Division of the American Historical Association, 2004-2006. Before moving to the University of Pittsburgh in 2006, Manning was at Northeastern University for two decades. There he directed the World History Center, 1994-2004, and directed PhD students writing world historical dissertations. Manning now serves as President of the World History Network, Inc., a nonprofit corporation fostering research in world history. His current research centers on global social movements 1989-1992, African population 1650-1950, an interdisciplinary history of early humanity in collaboration with Christopher Ehret, and the World-Historical Dataverse.

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