What is metadata and why does it matter when studying history? 1101

The following video (which is short) explains metadata in pictures: https://youtu.be/L0vOg18ncWE

In words, metada is information (data) about other information (data). For example, the location that you took a picture on your phone, will be attached the picture file.

There are a couple different sub-types of metadata, but we will work with descriptive meta-data and structural metadata.

To understand this terms, I’m going to use a mix of world history examples.

1. A short example using our reading on South America.

In this article, which is a secondary source, we have a variety of metadata, including:

  1. Author

  2. Location of the people studied in the article

  3. Period

  4. Different types of information (text and map)

  5. Other sources related to this article.

A short example using our reading on South America.
A short example using our reading on South America.

2. Metadata: descriptive, structural, or both.

Descriptive metadata tells us about the data itself, what it is. In this example, it tells us more about the letter. Structural metadata tells us how the data relates to other information (data). So, if we were to attach metadata value of “16th century BCE” and “South America” to this letter, you could then also search for all the other 15,000s articles about South America in the Gale Virtual Reference Library.

Technically speaking, the value “16th century BCE” is descriptive and the value “century” is structural as “century” would be the organizing label for all different centuries about which there are articles.

3. Why does this matter?

For history, all of your digital sources are organized by metadata. When you can’t find what your are looking for, often it is because metadata hasn’t been set up correctly, making your search engine look for specific words within the source itself, otherwise known as full-text search.

In your wider world, all the digital world is organized by metadata, including your computer and phone. Consider this section of my music library. The specific name, time, and artist are all descriptive metadata, telling me what the actual data is. The Genre and Album are structural metadata, telling me how these songs relate to each other and to other songs in my music library.

Imagine if the name to all the songs was (Track 1, Track 2, Track 3). The music would all be there (the data) but figuring out what song I was about to hear would be challenging.

This is why we call metadata “a love letter to the future.” When something is created, the creator knows what it is. But without proper metadata, finding it for future generations is challenging.

Why does this matter?
Why does this matter?

4. Experiment 3: To do

Learning goals:

  1. Student will choose an article from the Gale eBooks through our library web page http://www.normandale.edu/library/find-resources/article-databases-and-more/databases—g that addresses a pre–200 BCE topic.

  2. Student will create a list of metadata values to describe and structure the reading they chose. There should be at least eight metada and those should not be the same metadata that the reading lists.

  3. Students will write a paragraph describing why they chose the metadata they did and how their article relates to their metadata.

5. FAQ

Q. What should I do if I’m having a hard time navigating the library website?
A. Book a time with me, talk with a reference librarian or email me. Recognize that I cannot respond immediately, but the library help desk can.

Q. What are some keywords I could use? -
A. “Ancient,” and “classical” are terms historians often use to describe pre–200 socieities. You can also chose a government, region, or city. For example “ancient” and “Meroe” willl yield articles on ancient Nubia. The term “medieval” should be avoided as it is mostly used to designate a period after the 5th century BCE.

Q. Should I use the metadata that is listed, or my own?
A. Use metadata that you find useful. For example, if you are interested in how ancient Nubians used water, then including metadata to water containers is useful, but including the publisher of the article is not.

Q. The world is big. If I don’t have a specific region that I’m interested in, do you have suggestions?
A. Your background readings contain numerous places that you could use as search keywords. You might start from what you’ve already read.