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Digitizing local history in Manitoba

U of M led project to create historical database of local history

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The Rural Municipality of Rosser will be part of the first phase of a University of Manitoba-led project aimed at making historical research of rural Manitoba easier.


A book on Rosser’s history, The First Hundred Years: 1893-1993, will be included in the historical digitization project, which is being spearheaded by the U of M’s archives and special collections, the Manitoba Historical Society, the Manitoba Libraries Association and the Manitoba Legislative Library.


Reeve Frances Smee said she hopes digitizing Rosser’s history will make it easier for researchers to learn more about the municipality.


"This project sounds great," Smee said. "Anything that allows easier access to our history and the history of other communities is a good thing."


Gordon Goldsborough, the historical society’s webmaster and a U of M biology professor, said the intent of the project is to create a large-scale database of local history.


"We began noticing that it would be really handy to have digital version of local history books," he said.


"We had a few digitized about a year ago and it was very convenient and very popular. So after some consideration we thought it would be good to do this on a more widespread basis."


Goldsborough said that digitizing local history books will make historical resear­ch far more convenient and efficient.


"The problem with these local history books is they are usually never indexed so if you are looking for a particular place or person, good luck," he said.


"Our hope is that the website will become the default way that people research these books."


The digitized text will be made available online at www.manitobia.ca and will include approximately a quarter of the 1,200 local historical tomes that the historical society knows about.


"This first phase is not comprehensive, but the long-term plan is to do all of them," Goldsborough said.

"When the first phase is done we will immediately start beating the bushes for more funding."


The first phase of the project is expected to be completed in the next couple of months. The exact date will depend on how well the software for the project functions, according to Goldsborough.


"The U of M has a number of programmers that they have retained to help us customize the database so that it works well," he said.


"They are currently rewriting the program to allow for global searches of all the digitized texts at once. We would eventually like to globally search all the local history books for key terms, locations (and) historical figures."


Goldsborough said that he hopes that the database will eventually provide a model for other provinces to follow.

prescott.james@canstarnews.com

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