Freedom of Information Archive Receives Two-Year Grant from Arcadia

History Lab and Columbia University Libraries are pleased to announce that a new grant of $407,000 from Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. The grant will enable History Lab to partner with Columbia Libraries to continue building the Freedom of Information Archive (FOIA), which is already the world’s largest database of declassified documents.

The FOIA Archive was created to help researchers, journalists, and private citizens explore the ever-expanding universe of electronic records with state-of-the-art tools developed using data science. It now includes more than three million documents from seven different collections. No less important, it features unique metadata derived from techniques like topic modeling and named-entity recognition. Arcadia support will allow Columbia to continue growing the archive, preserve it permanently, and keep it freely accessible for the entire world.

In the first year, Arcadia support will help revamp the History Lab’s Application Programming Interface so researchers have direct access to the data, which will soon include hundreds of thousands of new documents recently made available by the Central Intelligence Agency. There will also be a new web interface developed with the help of Columbia Libraries, with a launch date set for June 2020. Columbia’s Vice Provost and University Librarian, Ann Thornton, will appoint an advisory board of stakeholders and partners.

Arcadia is a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. It supports charities and scholarly institutions that preserve cultural heritage and the environment. Arcadia also supports projects that promote open access and all of its awards are granted on the condition that any materials produced are made available for free online. Since 2002, Arcadia has awarded more than $500 million to projects around the world.

“It has never been more important to preserve once-secret records from the recent past, our last chance to ensure basic democratic accountability,” said History-Lab Principal Investigator Matthew Connelly. “But it is never easy to make sure these records are preserved permanently, especially when we are dealing with complex data, and not just documents. That’s why this partnership with Columbia Libraries, and this commitment from Arcadia, is absolutely crucial.”

“This project supports our efforts to make information as open and accessible as possible, particularly in an area of critical interest to scholars and citizens alike,” said Ann Thornton, Vice Provost and University Librarian at Columbia University Libraries. “Our involvement in this work furthers our goal to inspire an authentic and purposeful world view.”

History Lab also recently received a $150,000 grant from the American Council of Learned Societies to further extend the reach of the FOIA Archive and train scholars in how to use it. It has also benefited from grants obtained from the MacArthur Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, and Columbia’s Global Policy Initiative.