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Enabling better data discovery of records across archives, institutions and libraries

Enabling better data discovery of records across archives, institutions and libraries

Professor Mark Finnane1, Ms Sarah Nisbet2

1 Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia, m.finnane@griffith.edu.au

2 eRSA, Adelaide, Australia, sarah.nisbet@ersa.edu.au



Making use of a purpose-built structured database with the flexibility to capture data from a variety of different sources and jurisdictions, and enabling a productive partnership between researchers and volunteer transcribers, the Prosecution Project is a platform for revolutionising our understanding of criminal justice histories. We have extended the functionality of this database by operationalising a national, sustainable and scalable API standard that allows data (and metadata) sharing and transfer between archives, institutions and research projects (such as Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office, The Prosecution Project, Trove, Queensland State Archives, and the ALA).


Criminal justice history is a substantial research field, with a vital international community of scholars among whom Australia holds special interest given the convict origins of European settlement, as well as the impact of colonisation on the contemporary challenges of Indigenous crime and incarceration rates. The research field has significant inter-disciplinary connections to a range of other humanities areas including criminology, gender studies, law and psychology.

The Prosecution Project is a major initiative in this research field. The project is digitising large-scale criminal justice record sets in Australian jurisdictions to enable new research, quantitative and qualitative, in the history of prosecution and the criminal trial.

Historically, archival records have been hidden away in different archives across the country. To access them you need to physically visit the archives, copy the original records and then transcribe the data. With the advances in digitisation and digital archiving solutions, data can be made accessible to the national and international community, and related records can be linked across multiple institutional repositories

In this presentation we will discuss how the Prosecution Project and Griffith University are working collaboratively with archival institutions such as the Queensland State Archives and the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office to enable better access to archival data. The Open API project has produced a standardised method of accessing archival data. For example, this API enables access to the Prosecution Project’s transcription of court records alongside the Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Offices’ digitised records. This method of providing data as service, will be able to be exploited by discovery services such as the National Library of Australia (NLA), national and state archives.

In this presentation we will discuss the project and its outcome in detail. We will also talk about how the connectivity work has been supplemented by community building and user support and training activities to increase the uptake of the API.



Mark Finnane, Professor, Griffith University

Mark Finnane is ARC Laureate Fellow and Professor of History at Griffith University, where he works as a researcher in the Griffith Criminology Institute. Mark’s doctoral research on mental illness is the foundation for his later work on the history of policing, punishment and criminal justice. His most recent book is (with Heather Douglas) Indigenous Crime and Settler Law: White Sovereignty after Empire (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), a study of the criminal law’s response to Aboriginal crimes of violence over the last two centuries. In 2013 he was awarded an ARC Laureate Fellowship (2013-18) to research the history of prosecution and the criminal trial in Australia.

Sarah Nisbet, COO, eRSA

Sarah Nisbet is eRSA’s Chief Operating Officer. Sarah began her career delivering communications solutions in the health care sector where she mastered the art of working across institutions, departments and organisational silos.

Sarah has a Bachelor of Media from the University of Adelaide and an Industry Certificate (Festival & Event Design & Management), she is also a member of the Australian Science Communicators and the Public Relations Institute of Australia.

Sarah is currently the Project Manager of the RDS Cultures and Community Project, which is looking to enable better data sharing and discoverability between researchers and archives. Alongside stakeholders, such as National Library of Australia, National Australian Archives, Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office (TAHO) and Queensland State Archives, we’re developing an Open API to test the concept that if a research adds value (transcription, metadata, annotation) to a dataset from a cultural institution, how can that be shared back to the source institution (API, catalogue record, linked records, machine to machine capabilities)? This pilot project aims to operationalise a national, sustainable and scalable API standard that will allow data (and metadata) sharing and transfer between the Prosecution Project, TAHO and QSA.

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