An introduction to Encoded Archival Context - Corporate Bodies, Persons and Families (EAC-CPF)[1]

In 1992, in the Statement of Principles Regarding Archival Description by the International Council on Archives (ICA), point 1.2 defines the purpose of archival description as: “identify and explain the context and content of archival material in order to promote its accessibility”.[2]

Information about the archival context is something specific to the archival theory and practice. The knowledge of creators (in its broadest concept, such as authors, compilers, accumulators or creators of fonds) is one of the pillars of the archives, the expression of the principles of provenance and Respect des fonds. Records cannot be understood very well without knowing the context of their creation: who created the record, what kind of functions caused these records to be created or their association activities.

The name of the creator was considered by the International Council on Archives Ad Hoc Commission on Descriptive Standards (ICA/DDS) as the primary key for the international exchange. The commission’s decision to take on a standard description for creator of archival fonds tackles at the same time the topic of authority control, as yet unfamiliar with the archivists, for the names of those creators.[3]

In the current international environment, archival authority control, based on the analysis of the context of creation of fonds and the formalisation of the name of the creator, is regulated in four standardised ways:

  • Content standards
  • Structure standards
  • Encoding standards
  • Data value standards

The International Standard Archival Authority Record for Corporate Bodies, Persons and Families (ISAAR (CPF)) is a structure standard, developed by the ICA and was first released in 1996, with its latest version in 2004.

Encoding standards are developed to facilitate data exchange. They are based on XML interchange formats. In this process, the recognition of the importance of the context of the production of the documents was one of the most significant steps. The 1994 edition of the General International Standard Archival Description (ISAD(G)), in the description of area's context, as well as the 1996 ISAAR (CPF), point I.2 acknowledged that although the context information could be integrated into the description of the archival unit, it could also be treated independently by combining it with other elements of the description. In this case, information on the context, if done separately from the units of description, has more value for the exchange of information. Thus different holdings - national or international - sharing fonds with the same creator can exchange information more easily, establishing relationships among them. The name of the creator happens to be considered the main access point to retrieve context information. This exchange can be conducted only if the name of the producer is controlled under authority control.

These new ideas started developing in the 1980s; the second version of the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR) was being reviewed. Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom have worked towards this direction by publishing their archival description standards, such as the Canadian Rules for Archival Descriptions (RAD) or the Manual for Archival Descriptions (MAD)[4], in 1986. All these works seek to be both content standards and structure, but the English MAD also was a proposing standard for structuring finding aids.

The RAD, as the American Describing archives: a Content Standard (DACS) as we see later, include a statement of principle for the description at the beginning of the rules. In this case the P.04 reads “Creators of archival material must be described. A description of the functions and activities of the creator(s) […] is important to understanding the context in which they were created”. The standards contain rules for presenting access point in chapter 21: provenance access point (at different levels of descriptions), author access point and other non-subjects access points.[5]

Between 1990 and 1996 the ICA/DDS produced three documents that need to be combined in order to be understood:

  1. the Statement of Principles regarding Archival Description (1993),
  2. the ISAD(G) (General International Standard Archival Description) (1994)
  3. the ISAAR (CPF) (International Standard Archival Authority Record for Corporate Bodies, Persons and Families) (1995).

The most innovative aspect included the adoption of concepts borrowed from the library environment such as access points and authority control, although initially these were not widely accepted.[6] Between 1996 and 2004, a process of revision of ISAAR (CPF) was undertaken in order to give consistency to the standard.[7] There has been a major change in the second and final version of ISAAR (CPF) regarding the introduction of concepts taken from entity-relationship[8]; that is, accepting the principle that there is no “one-to-one relationship” anymore between creators when associated with a single fond only but more of a “many-to-many relationships” between the creator and its fonds.[9]

ISAAR (CPF) is mainly a tool for the authority control of the names of the creator of archives, and therefore a tool to standardize as an “authorized form of the name”. It simply refers to the national rules of the subjects (already existence in libraries) or to create them ex-novo. As a tool to optimize access and search, ISAAR (CPF) has similarities and concurrences with the authority control of authors in library catalogues, but looking more broadly than the single author of a work, or demonstration purpose and the requirements and information required to document the context of creation. The area of identity caters for the archival authorities’ needs of dates of existence, institutional history, functions and activities, mandates and legal sources, internal structure or historical context.

The “Relationship area” is without doubt, the most powerful tool of the standard, and includes the influence of the fledgling EAC-CPF standard. It implies the possibility of relationships between creators, as well as widens the scope of relations with other sources (museums, libraries, and other resources), as well as forms of the name standard with other rules. The field of rules, standards and sources become essential for the exchange of information.

While ICA was in the process of reviewing the rules of structure, the Society of American Archivists began developing encoded data standards. At the same time that ICA was developing ISAAR (CPF), there was an American effort to develop an SGML-based prototype standard for archival record description. In 1998, after its first release, the Encoded Archival Description (EAD) was extended to complement the needs or archival community for creator and context description, towards the Encoded Archival Context – Corporate Bodies, Persons and Families (EAC-CPF).[10] Between 1999 and 2004, a beta version of this standard was developed.

In parallel with the process of review of the first ISAAR (CPF), other projects that have been the key to understand the further process of the rules of structure, content and exchange, arose. Considering its subsequent impact in the EAC development, the most important project was the project called CUSTARD (Canadian-U.S. Task force on Archival Description). As envisaged, the project would produce a content standard that would replace APPM and possibly the RAD, accommodate all the elements of ISAD(G) and ISAAR (CPF) and be applicable to all types of archival descriptions.[11] After a two-year work, a draft of rules was developed which has been the starting point of two important works of reference on the content of descriptions: a second version of the Canadian RAD (RAD2) was created in 2008. The Americans published the DACS in 2004.
The DACS rule 6, in contrast with the Anglo-Saxon and European traditions that did not consider as “records” those not generated by public institutions, leaving out those generated or created by individuals or families, says: “The principles of archival description apply equally to records created by corporate bodies, individuals or families”. From 2005 to 2009, while DACS has being discussed, librarians were working in parallel to by reviewing and adapting AACR2 towards Resource Description and Access (RDA) standards.

The end result was the development of EAC-CPF, its adoption by the SAA as an encoding standard and the need to provide guidance on the creation of the archival authority records.

The ICA has a strategic plan for the years 2012 to 2016, include the Expert Group on Archival Description (EGAD). A strategy of trying to unify as far as possible in a single standard four exists standards of the ICA, ISAD(G), ISAAR (CPF), ISDF and ISDIAH, is to be developed. Secondly, work on models of semantic web technologies, in particular conceptual models (or ontologies) and Linked Open Data (LOD) is to be carried out. Finally, EGAD is mandated to develop a conceptual data model for archival description that identifies and defines the essential components of archival description and their interrelations.

EAC-CPF in the Archives Portal Europe

A great range of information which involve the maintenance of the EAC-CPF standard, the usage of standards in the Archives Portal Europe, the development of the apeEAC-CPF profile and, last but not least, the archival context information in the portal can be found throughout the following text.

As described above, the ICA defines the descriptive standard ISAAR (CPF). The technical specifications for data modelling are developed and maintained by the SAA in partnership with the Berlin State Library.[12] A Technical Subcommittee (TS-EAC-CPF) was established under the SAA's Standards Committee and adapted the descriptive standard to turn it into a technical encoding using the Extensible Markup Language (XML).[13] Members of the Technical Subcommittee are international professionals from both, archives and libraries. They meet several times a year to discuss change requests by users and further developments.

The XML schema defines the way how a file must be structured in order to exchange information about corporate bodies, persons and families in a common data format. The current XML schema was developed in 2011 and is going to have a review in 2015.

Usage of standards in the Archives Portal Europe

The APEx project as best practise network for European archives aims to inherent and include as much information from archival descriptions as possible and furthermore to implement state of the art technologies, which are useful for users of cultural heritage portals. The Archives Portal Europe already uses the international archival standard EAD and the exchange format EAG to ingest data from content providers in the portal. To provide also content information alongside the archival descriptions the project members decided to implement EAC-CPF as format to exchange context information, as well.

In order to handle the backend of the Archives Portal Europe and to ensure a smooth performance for different kinds of access to the information, like search and browsing, all data standards have to be profiled for the specific purposes of the Archives Portal Europe. These standards profiling is undertaken by the projects Work Packages 4 (WP4). In fact, profiling an archival standard means a restriction of the current available standard for own purposes. The usage of some of the general available elements is partly newly defined, for example for the occurrence or the mandatory or optional usage. Some typecasts for elements are also defined with their own profile. In this case, the available attributes for elements gain defined terms.

Nevertheless, a file created according to one of the Archives Portal Europe defined profiles is always still valid according to the general standard.

Development of the apeEAC-CPF profile

As you can imagine, to rule the information which must be or must not be given by an archive in a portal which aims to collect content from all over Europe, is a question of negotiation and diplomacy. In the APEx project, a workflow turned out to be successful for EAD and EAG so far and was adapted again for EAC-CPF. First all partners of the portal where asked for their experiences, usage and plans for further usage of EAC-CPF. Partners which answered positively, which means, they are using EAC-CPF or at least plan to do so, where invited to join the discussions and work on the EAC-CPF profile for the Archives Portal Europe. Furthermore, eight from 28 requested partners were able to send profiles and example files for the process. WP4 defines a core group consisting from WP4 members in order to work on the profile.

First of all, all available specifications and example files of the eight partners were compared for the usage of elements and attributes. It turned out, that some elements and attributes were never or hardly used by partners. These elements were excluded from the profile at first. Only elements which were used by at least half of the partners, by four of them, were discussed within the group. Furthermore the usage of terms and vocabularies was discussed. For some attributes and elements, the profile defines limited vocabularies. For example, is the type of the text in the name element limited to first name, surname, title, prefix etc? Thus, it is not possible to declare the text in a name element as the name for the divorced situation. It is simply because the Archives Portal Europe cannot and does not want to cover each case which is possible in the different languages and traditions all over Europe.

During the process of profiling some issues appeared with the general EAC-CPF definition, which were reported to the TS-EAC-CPF for further discussion.

A three days face-to-face meeting of the WP4 EAC-CPF core group and a comprehensive discussion via email and phone meeting were necessary to come up with a draft for the apeEAC-CPF profile. This draft was proved by the APEx project partners and any feedback was considered for the next draft version. Next to the requirements of European archivists, of course, the expected functions around archival context information in the Archives Portal Europe were taken in account for the data structure. The potential expectations from portal users were discussed by archivists and technicians of the project. Scenarios for information display, for possible and useful relations between information and for different possibilities to search for information were designed. Here it turned out, that the encoding of language information is crucial for a multilingual portal like the Archives Portal Europe. With language attributes in the XML files, each data provider can declare explicitly the specific language of single information and the portal will be able to display accordingly.

Archival context information in the Archives Portal Europe

Until summer 2014 the APEnet project and its successor, the APEx project developed and published a gateway to more than 600 archives from 29 European countries. Over 400 of these archives published their archival descriptions in the portal. The holding guides and finding aids, which describe the archival fonds and collections, are accessible within a full text search and in a more structure way through the European archival landscape.

Whereas the portal indeed can show the relations between an archive and its fonds and of course, the relations and hierarchial coherences within a fond, so far it is not possible to link fonds from different archives directly. An accepted way to visualize relations between fonds, is the reference to common context information, like the creators or provenance of the material. The idea is, to link different fonds or collections from one or more institutions to the same corporate body, person or family, which is the creator of the material or is otherwise related to this. This corporate body, person or family, which can be called entity, is a connecting point between fonds and could be linked to other related entities. The archival descriptions in the Archives Portal Europe would not exist next to each other anymore, but would be related. For users, especially users, which have no broad experience with archives and the unique access to archival information, it would be much more easier to find specific information. A search could be started or extended for names instead just for archival descriptions. Depending on the implemented functions, the access to information might be made by places of interest, by a time span or even through alphabetical browsing.

In order to offer these linked archival information, it is necessary to provide an as easy as possible way for archival institutions to deliver these context information. Some of the APEx project partners already work with the international technical standard to describe archival context information, EAC-CPF. As soon as they can export this XML format from their own system, it can be uploaded to the portal with the provided tools. Like finding aids, the file is uploaded in the Dashboard of the Archives Portal Europe and can be processed here. EAC-CPF files can be converted to apeEAC-CPF and validated through this schema. The files can be published and downloaded, as well. More functions, like delivery to Europeana and edition of apeEAC-CPF files are already planned.

Content providers, who cannot export EAC-CPF files from their own system, can create these files in the Dashboard with a form. The form does not cover all possible elements of apeEAC-CPF, but provides entering the key information about an entity. The created files can be processed like uploaded files. The same functions are available in the standalone tool of the Archives Portal Europe, the Data Preparation Tool (DPT).

After hopefully a lot of content providers uploaded or created a number of EAC-CPF files, it will be necessary to maintain the files in respect to the links. As of course, no human can link a high number of files with each other. Therefore the portal will create relations between entities and fonds automatically with defined parameters. Even the automatically creation of EAC-CPF files, out of EAD files, is under discussion and could become a solution.

In order to see the current progress of implementation of EAC-CPF in the Archives Portal Europe, open the portal and discover archival fonds and their creators!


This text is partly based on the article “Archival authority control: an introduction to Encoded Archival Context for Corporate Bodies, Persons and Families (EAC-CPF) by Aranzazu Lafuente Urién, member of the APEx project team. The full article text can be read on the APEx project homepage ( (viewed 29 September 2014). 
International Council on Archives (ed.), "Statement of Principles Regarding Archival Description" in Archivaria, 34 (summer 1992), p. 13 ( (viewed 11 March 2014). 
Hugo L. P. Stibbe: "Standardising Description: the experience of using ISAD(G)" in LLigall: revista catalana d’arxivistica, 12 (1998), pp. 132-152. 
Michael Cook and Margaret Procter, A manual of archival description (2nd ed., Aldershot, 1989). 
Bureau of Canadian Archivists (ed.): Rules for Archival Description (RAD) (Ottawa, 1990, Revised version, July 2008) ( (viewed 17 March 2014). 
See Stibbe (1998) for more information about works, decisions and results of this group. 
Parer, Dagmar and Fox, Michael: The Internal Standard Archival Authority Record for Corporate Bodies, Persons and Families (ICA) and the essential Data Elements for Internationally Shared Resource Authority Record (IFLA): A comparison an Report. (1998). ( (viewed 18 March 2014). 
The entity-relationship model is based on the most widespread tools for creating representation models by computer scientific. 
Stefano Vitali, "The second edition of ISAAR (CPF) and authority control in system for archival descriptive system" (2004) (" (viewed 6 march 2014). 
Pitti, Daniel: Creator description: encoded archival context. (2004), p. 3. ( (viewed 18 March 2014). 
Society of American Archivists (ed.): Describing archives: a content standards [DACS]. (Chicago, 2004), preface.
( (viewed 29 September 2014). 
Cf. SAA, “Encoded Archival Context - Corporate bodies, Persons, and Families (EAC-CPF)” ( (viewed 07.03.2014) 
The schema file for EAC-CPF is available for download. ( (viewed 30 September 2014). 

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