[HASN logo] No. 33, August-September 1994 ISSN 0811-4757
Edited and published by Tim Sherratt (Tim.Sherratt@asap.unimelb.edu.au) for ASAP.

[Features logo] Bright SPARCS

[BSparcs logo]

ASAP has undertaken an ambitious program to make information about Australian scientists available free-of-charge, internationally, through the Internet. The project is known as Bright SPARCS (Scientists Present in Australia's history Resource Collection Strategy). Already data on over two thousand scientists, from the 18th century to the present has been published electronically. ASAP invites you to use, enjoy and contribute to Bright SPARCS.

What is Bright SPARCS?

Bright SPARCS is not a static directory or database. As part of the World Wide Web, Bright SPARCS uses hypertext links to connect data, documents, even images into a biographical network. From a biographical summary of a particular scientist you might be able to go to an illustrated article about them, examine a guide to their archival records, or view a portrait photograph. You can choose to browse scientist by scientist, or search for a specific individual. You can follow up on your research by accessing the contact details of repositories holding relevant archival sources. Bright SPARCS is not just a query-and-answer system, it encourages exploration.

History of the project

In 1987, ASAP undertook development of RASA, the Register of the Archives of Science in Australia. This is a database containing brief biographical notes and summaries of archival holdings relating to Australian scientists. A selection of records from RASA was published as the Guide to the Archives of Science in Australia, and provided on-line through the National Library of Australia's OZLINE facility. However, after the initial development, we were faced with the problem of funding RASA's maintenance. At the same time, we became aware of the growing demand for information on Australian scientists, particularly in the education sector. RASA offered a basis for a comprehensive biographical resource, but how could it be made more accessible? The concept of Bright SPARCS was born.

Originally, Bright SPARCS was envisaged as a multimedia CD-ROM. However, as we began to publish material on the Internet, we realised that using the WWW we could achieve virtually everything we had planned for the CD-ROM in a much more budget-friendly way. Working closely with the Coombs Computing Unit of the ANU, the ASAP Canberra Office mounted the first experimental version of Bright SPARCS in July this year. By early September, Bright SPARCS had gone public.

How Bright SPARCS works

Currently Bright SPARCS includes all the data from RASA concerning individual scientists, with a small number of linked hypertext documents and images. In some cases the data is incomplete or inconsistent - remember, this comes straight from our working database! The whole thing is stamped 'Version 1', but it is expected that many small updates and additions will be made between 'versions'. All comments, additions and corrections are welcomed (see below).

At the heart of Bright SPARCS are three data sets: Biographical Summaries; Archival Sources; and Repositories. You can move easily between the three, or browse alphabetically through a particular set using 'Next record' and 'Previous Record' buttons.

Where additional biographical or archival information is available, hypertext links take you directly to it. You just click on a piece of highlighted text to go to the new document. For example, Macfarlane Burnet's entry includes a link to the electronic version of the Guide to his records.

There is virtually no limit to the number and type of links that can be made. Around these central data sets will be woven a web of historical articles, obituaries, memoirs, and photographs.

How to access Bright SPARCS

You can start using Bright SPARCS right now. There are no registration fees or subscription procedures. All you need is access to AARNet. If you have a networked computer in a university or other organisation linked to AARNet, you probably just need to set up the correct WWW browser software - Mosaic, for example, is available for free on the 'Net and comes in Mac, Windows and Unix flavours. If you have a dial-up line it might be trickier, but it's certainly still possible. In fact, all the development and testing of Bright SPARCS has been done over a normal telephone line! Those of you outside of the AARNet establishment (yes there are historians outside of universities) can arrange a SLIP account with one of the many Internet providers now springing up.

Once you're set up, just tell your browser to go to the following address (or URL):
From there it's just a matter of following the hypertext links wherever you want to go.

Future plans

This is just the beginning (he writes with a megalomanic glint in his eye). The development of Bright SPARCS will continue for as long as there is an ASAP to continue it. Our current plans include a comprehensive on-line bibliography of the history of Australian science and technology. From a biographical summary of a particular scientist you will be able to view a list of relevant archival and published sources.

We also intend to add data to the biographical summaries, to provide a standard set of details for every scientist, including important dates, positions and awards. To these will be linked an ever growing web of biographical articles, memoirs and photographs.

Bright SPARCS will provide a comprehensive resource for researchers, students and teachers, as well as the casual browser.

What you can do

The successful development of Bright SPARCS will require the co-operation of a wide range of individuals and institutions with an interest in the history of science and technology in Australia. That means you!

To discuss any of these, or for more information please contact:

Tim Sherratt
ASAP Canberra Office
GPO Box 783
Canberra ACT 2601

Ph: (06) 257 7985
Email: Tim.Sherratt@asap.unimelb.edu.au

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