New Technologies, New Strategies for Integrating Information and Knowledge: Forced Migration Online

  1. 1. Marilyn Deegan

    Oxford University

  2. 2. Harold Short

    King's College London

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New Technologies, New Strategies for Integrating
Information and Knowledge: Forced Migration Online


University of Oxford


King's College London


University of Georgia

Athens, Georgia




Kretzschmar, Jr.



The first ten years of the web have largely represented a triumph of
interconnectedness over functionality: in the late nineteen eighties and
early nineteen nineties information resources and teaching tools were being
developed that were highly sophisticated and interactive. The web, for all
its benefits of connectivity, actually resulted in a massive downturn in
functionality, and we are only now able to recover some of those functions
with newer developments. A paradigm example of this loss of functionality is
in the Oxford English Dictionary: the first version
of this, released in the late 1980s, with a DOS interface, represented a
revolution in data access. Version 2, released in 1992 with a Windows
interface added little in terms of functionality, but a great deal in terms
of access. However, OED Online, released in 1999, gave connectivity and
wider access at the cost of a huge loss of the functions that many users had
come to rely upon—so much so that many users have never made the transition
from CD. This is by no means the fault of the developers, but is a
consequence of the platform that we are all now using.
New resources are now being developed for data access and retrieval that take
full advantage of the benefits of interconnectedness, while giving us
enhanced functionality and also allowing us to integrate complex
technologies into an apparently seamless whole. This paper will discuss the
development of an advanced Internet resource, Forced Migration Online () that was launched in November

Forced migration is defined by the International Association for the Study of
Forced Migration as ‘a general term that refers to the movements of refugees
and internally displaced people (those displaced by conflicts) as well as
people displaced by natural or environmental disasters, chemical or nuclear
disasters, famine, or development projects’. Forced migration studies are
essentially interdisciplinary, drawing from anthropology, history, politics,
international law, sociology, psychology, and many other disciplines in the
humanities and social sciences. The documentary base of the subject has
grown rapidly over the last twenty years, and scholars and practitioners in
the field rely for their information and studies upon a diverse body of
work: conventional books and journals, but also largely ‘grey’ (unpublished
or semi-published) literature. This grey literature can be difficult to get
hold of, as it derives from so many different sources: government agencies,
non-governmental organizations, academic sources, etc.

The development of Forced Migration Online (FMO) began in 1997 at the Refugee
Studies Centre (RSC) at the University of Oxford. The RSC has the world’s
largest collection of grey literature on forced migration (some 15,000
items) and the Andrew W Mellon Foundation granted funding for a portion of
this to be digitized. In 2000, the Mellon Foundation and the European Union
gave further funding for the development of an integrated portal to be
developed on forced migration. The project to develop this portal has been
led by the RSC, but with technical and content partners from around the
world: the FMO team coordinates participants in some 10 institutions and is
working with many more than this to develop content further. FMO now
contains 100,000 pages of fully searchable grey literature, 30,000 pages of
full-text journal materials, a number of specially-commissioned research
guides, a web catalogue with c. 700 entries, an organizations database with
c. 800 records, and a prototype image database.

As anyone engaged in the development of digital libraries and portals knows
only too well, there is no one obvious tool or technology to implement such
complex information resources, though many are currently in development. In
FMO, there are a number of different technologies underlying the resource: a
complexity which is well hidden from the user, for whom access is relatively
simple. The full-text documents are presented using Olive Software’s Active
Paper Archive, which was originally developed for presentation of historic
newspaper content on the web, and which has proved an excellent choice for
the grey literature and journals. FMO is the first project that has used
this product in this way, and the development was a joint research project
between the FMO technical teams at the RSC and at the Centre for Computing
in the Humanities at King’s College London (CCH), and Olive Software. The
structured information resources and catalogues are delivered using Esprit
Soutron’s xdirectory content management system, and various research guides
and other documents are created and presented by means of XML/XSLT.
The core challenge is one of integration: integration of a wide variety of
information types, drawn from geographically separated repositories capable
of providing widely disparate levels of metadata; integration of materials
in numerous languages in a variety of scripts; integration of the multiple
technologies required to meet the differing information processing and
delivery functions; integration of academic analysis and advice for
practitioners, and of information and knowledge, to meet widely varying user
Delivering a coherent and integrated resource in a seamless way is a
non-trivial technical challenge. It involves visual design, architectural
design, development of DTDs and style sheets, and the implementation of
leading edge (and therefore constantly evolving) products. Managing the
input from so many people and places around the world represents another
layer of challenge.
This paper assesses the problems of developing and integrating these complex
technologies into a hybrid information environment, in particular looking a
metadata, cataloguing, preservation, delivery and accessibility issues. It
reports on the solutions and partial solutions developed so far, and
assesses the extent to which the solutions fall short of the ideal. It also
discusses a range of further challenges that the FMO team is now tackling:
automatic metadata extraction from journal cross-searching tools for
different products using advanced APIs; using focused crawlers as aids to
cataloguing; automatic categorization of documents for the creation of
regional and topical browse sets. The progress in meeting these challenges
will be discussed in the context of the more established work in the
The paper also places the project in a wider context: of past and current
work in the development and delivery of scholarly resources, including a
number of projects at IATH in Virginia, in CCH at King's College London, and
elsewhere; and of digital library research and development, including
projects such as the ‘hybrid library’ projects funded by the UK government
(including the Malibu project), the DSpace initiative of MIT and others, and
the Mellon-funded FEDORA project based at Virginia and Cornell.

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Conference Info

In review

"Web X: A Decade of the World Wide Web"

Hosted at University of Georgia

Athens, Georgia, United States

May 29, 2003 - June 2, 2003

83 works by 132 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double-checked.

Conference website:

Series: ACH/ICCH (23), ALLC/EADH (30), ACH/ALLC (15)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None