State Library of New South Wales

The State Library of NSW is home to a collection of diaries and letters written during WW1 by Australian soldiers. Each original item is an authentic personal account of individual “digger’s’ journeys throughout the conflict from the small towns of Australia to the battlefields of Europe.

Of course, the best way to preserve such priceless artefacts and to make them generally available is digital. The Library had scanned and volunteers transcribed these diaries then published them to their main web site where they can be searched on by name. The challenge arises for those who want to find artefacts as they relate to specific places – whether it is Flanders or Flemington.

The solution: State Library has worked with Full Extents’ Text-To-Map to make these historic accounts more interactive and more widely accessible to a wider audience in a new way: instead of being read lineally or chronologically, diaries could now be browsed “spatially”, from a map. Click on a place and any diary or letter that mentions that place in its text becomes immediately accessible and can be read right there. We call it “mapping history”!

Text-to-Map changes how we interact with and understand unstructured content. Using the Full Extent software suite with Text-to-Map, integrated with the Library’s existing content management suite, maps and content combine. Unstructured digital content is analysed “semantically”, (we identify places based on the context of the text, not just because a particular word sounds like it might be a place). The digital document is “geo-tagged” and so can be linked to from an online map when relevant. At Library of NSW, clusters shown on maps link to diaries and letters that contain references specific to that location and these links can even point to the actual paragraph within each document related to that place.

So a person searching for references to her grandfather, born in Grafton and active in, say, Ypres, can find at all of the diaries that reference those places, and not just that of her relative himself. Who knows how many diaries will she now find that mentions him?

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