From an internal working tool to an online research infrastructure: The ARH-Portal Persons and Institutions

What was conceived in the beginning as an internal working tool by the Archives of rural History to bring the rich information on people and institutions that accumulates during the indexing of archive holdings into a structured form has become an open-access research resource. The entries are primarily based on information from source holdings, systematic evaluations of newspapers, journals, annual and anniversary reports, and the growing literature on agrarian and rural history. The entries are continuously expanded, regardless of whether they contain only rudimentary data or already detailed information. Because the entries on the people and the institutions are continuously supplemented and revised, thanks to the information acquired in new archive holdings, we do not strive for definitive articles, which cannot be updated. "Definitive" entries in the sense of classic encyclopaedia entries do not exist in the ARH portal People and Institutions.

Which people and institutions receive an entry?

In principle, all people and institutions that have played a role in the development of rural societies, in general, or in the development of the agricultural sector, in particular, can be included in the portal. The entries aim to reflect the social diversity of the actors who shaped the agrarian world, and, for example, feature beekeepers and farmers as well as associations, authorities and journals. A prerequisite for the inclusion of a person in the portal is that he or she is clearly identifiable, i.e. that his or her name, and at least one activity about them, are known. Because different people sometimes have the same names, and institutions often change their names, each person or institution listed is given a sequential number in the title of their entry so as to make the entry readily identifiable. Although this portal is primarily a portal with historical reference entries, many living, professionally active people and institutions also receive an entry. One reason for this is that some of these people could become historically relevant figures tomorrow and it therefore makes sense to locate them in the network of actors in good time, when precise information about their activities is available. In addition, it is a matter of creating a connection between history and the present.

Structure, language and keywords

Entries for institutions consist of an organizational history, if possible, and a note indicating whether the institution has an indexed archival collection and where it is located. If the institution is still active, the entry also includes a link to its website. The entries for the institutions are concluded with a list of their prominent personnel (managing directors, editors, directors, etc.) and include their terms of office. This makes it possible to see at a glance who held what functions in the respective organization, and for how long, and who was the predecessor and successor in the relevant office. Links make it possible to go directly to the entries for the institutions and people mentioned with the single click of a mouse.

In the case of personal entries, a distinction must be made between the standardized sections on the person and their professional and public activities, and the open section "biographical sketch". In the standardized fields, the aim is to make clear specific details such as dates of birth and death, education and profession. In the section about the activities of the person, links are made to predecessors and successors in the corresponding role. In the case of biographical sketches, though, there is the possibility to present the life and work of the person in greater detail or to show cross-reference connections that are not obvious at first glance. If the entry contains a more detailed biographical sketch, the name of the author is listed. Whenever possible, entries are supplemented with a portrait photograph. These, too, are usually taken from publications and archival holdings that are accessible at the ARH. In the section "Sources and Literature", publications of the recorded person are listed, or references are made to where their publications are listed. However, the compilation, and open-access publication, of a complete bibliography is not aimed at. If the information on individual contributions comes from a variety of sources, these are referred to summarily.

For many of the persons listed in the portal, more information is available in the ARH. If this information is, like for example film material, accessible online via another ARH portal, it is linked directly. Otherwise a reference is made to the location where the relevant sources can be found and consulted, as can be seen, for instance, in the entry on Bielser, Alice (1925-2017)--DB335, advisor and teacher of home economics.

The entry for Alice Bielser is written in German, because German was her native language. The decisive factor for the choice of language (German, French or English) for an entry is the native language of the person and/or the language area in which they were mainly active. Because entries on persons and institutions from ever new sub-areas of agrarian life are constantly being created, indexing by content is not practicable. The indexing of the entries is therefore limited to the geographical areas (countries, cantons, etc.) in which the actors were active and the institutions that have their own entry in the portal (in which the actors were active or with which they maintained contacts).

Internal and published versions of the entries

The portal consists of two versions of each entry. In the internal wiki version, the entries are continuously supplemented, expanded and, if necessary, corrected. Periodically – usually two to three times a year – the latest status of the wiki version is put online. Therefore, in many cases, the online version does not reflect the most current status. If necessary, researchers can consult the most current version on site as well as the personal dossiers available in paper form or electronically.


The entry for a particular person or institution can be found in the following ways:

  • Via the alphabetical list
  • Via links within another entry
  • Via full text search in the search field

Potential and perspectives on expansion

The concept of the ARH portal ‘People and Institutions’, implemented with the open source software MediaWiki, can be expanded in different ways. In addition to the ongoing supplementation of existing entries, new persons and institutions can be added. Most of the people and institutions listed so far (about 95%), were - or are - primarily active in Switzerland. But we are open and interested in expanding the inclusion of people and institutions that were active at the international level or in other countries.

Feedback, Contact

We are grateful to attentive readers of the ARH portal ‘People and Institutions’ for additions, corrections and proposals for new entries. The ARH decides on the integration of additional information, taking into account the editorial guidelines of the online portal. Feedback can be submitted via the forms available online for each entry..

Financial support

Maintenance and expansion of the ARH portal People and Institutions costs money. Since the Archives of Rural History is not supported by the authorities, we are dependent on contributions from private individuals, foundations and organizations. By making a contribution to the Supporting Association of the ARH (PC account 60-209365-6), you make it possible to maintain and expand this encyclopaedia.