The Baltic Biographical Lexicon – digitization project of the Baltic History Commission

Based on the printed German-Baltic Biographical Lexicon the Baltic History Commission conducted the buildup of a database which contains all OCR-processed texts and scanned images from the lexicon as well as detailed metadata: 

http://bbl-digital.de

While the original lexicon1 was reserved to  ethnic Germans living or closely connected to the Baltic region, the digitization project aims at extending the database by collecting biographical information also on the other population groups and providing a broader perspective on the cultural diversity on the territory of today’s Baltic states. Interested researchers are kindly invited to submit emendations, updates or completely new contributions in order to transform this German lexicon into a Baltic one.

The project is exemplary for demonstrating the high importance of printed peer-reviewed publications for starting the digital preservation of the cultural memory of a minority: by providing the referenced information of a lexicon in combination with crowdsourcing, it is possible for researchers to considerably enhance in relatively short time the original knowledge base qualitatively as well as quantatively. This makes it possible to equalize and even overtake the overall dominant and determinant Wikipedia regarding its scientific level and to pave the way for other undertakings.

Nevertheless one may ask if the concept of integrating also non-Germans into the lexicon is the best possible decision: should a platform with data on a minority invest its resources in documenting the majority culture(s)? Majority population groups have anyway their own lexica and therefore no imminent need for a duplicated documentation (or tripled: Wikipedia). It would therefore be more profitable to invest all the effort into collecting additional data on the minorities than to have minority members help contributing to the documentation of the majority. This as well as other questions highlight the need of a broader discussion on the strategy of digitizing minority heritage.

For information on other digitization projects and online publications on the Baltic Germans please visit the website of the Baltic History Commission: http://www.balt-hiko.de

  1. Deutschbaltisches Biographisches Lexikon 1710-1960. Ed. by Wilhelm Lenz in collaboration with Olaf Welding, Erik Amburger and Georg Krusenstjern. Köln, Wien 1970 []

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