Checking in on the state of the art for Linked Open Data and Cultural Heritage


ARIADNE partners University of South Wales and the Archaeology Data Service were very pleased to be invited to present at Linked Pasts, a two-day event bringing together ‘leading exponents of Linked Data from across the Humanities and Cultural Heritage sector’. This event took place at King’s College London at the end of July and was organised under the auspices of Pelagios, a collective of some of the most successful and effective Linked Open Data (LOD) projects in cultural heritage and the humanities.

Pelagios LOD Welcome speech

​ Leif Isaksen starting things off with a view of our LOD ecosystem (which apparently includes adorable felines). Photo courtesy Elton Barker.

The day began with a welcome from Pelagiosproject director, Leif Isaksen, from the University of Southampton, where he set out the ‘linked pasts ecosystem’ within which we are trying navigate and collaborate. This was followed by a keynote by Sebastian Heath from the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. The keynote focussed on a topic that is as important as it is difficult, and certainly of significance to projects like ARIADNE: ‘Does a Linked Future Mean Past Understanding?’ The keynote was the perfect frame for the rest of Linked Pasts; examining how the distributed work by many people comes together and may or may not produce new understanding that would not be possible otherwise. Of course the focus was on Linked Data, but the ideas are applicable to many open data projects in cultural heritage.

The first session set out projects working in the ecosystems of periods, places and people. First was Ryan Shaw from the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, presenting the progress of PeriodO; a project developing a gazetteer of period definitions for linking and visualising data (to which several ARIADNE partners have contributed), which can now be better understood through their new Period Browser. PeriodO is an innovative initiative trying to tackle the difficult problem of dealing with the many ways researchers use temporal terminology, within its spatially specific context, and it was good to see how the project is moving forward. This was followed by Ruth Mostern from the University of California at Merced speaking about places, specifically, the realm of gazetteers. This included a wide range of issues, including the usefulness of linking via names (rather than geometry) for understanding many kinds of information, and the challenges of developing international standards (which was resonant for ARIADNE). Third in the session was Gabriel Bodard from the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London, outlining the pilot Standards for Networking Ancient Prosopographies: Data and Relations in Greco-Roman Names (resulting in the excellent acronym SNAP:DRGN or SNAP for short). SNAP is building an authority list, linking together existing datasets which include references to ancient people and names. This is currently under development, but there are plans to create an API and visualisations, so watch this space!

The second session featured Mia Ridge from the Open University, presenting current trends and practice regarding open data in cultural heritage. The talk was wide-ranging and included issues around releasing data with open licenses, crowdsourcing, and the importance of showing the benefits of working with LOD.

Reception at Poster session

Lots of great posters to see and new people to meet at the end of the first day…and wine! Photo courtesy of Elton Barker.

Of most interest to ARIADNE were the reasons Classics has been more successful than other cultural heritage domains (i.e. archaeology generally) at successfully implementing LOD. This was stated as primarily down to a lack of resources, heterogeneity of data, and (therefore) difficulty demonstrating clear benefits. The final paper of the day was from Antoine Isaac from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, who is Scientific Coordinator for Europeana. The paper touched on many issues around dealing with classification schemes, including the difficulties of  incorporating and aligning vocabularies in order to enrich the metadata within Europeana. The use of Runar Bergheim’s example of trying to align vocabularies describing Vikings from the Norwegian perspective and the Irish perspective was a big hit with everyone! The day ended with a poster session and chance to enjoy a glass of wine and a chat. There were too many of us to have dinner together, so we all headed out to partake of the of the various pubs in the area and continue to discuss the many interesting topics from the day.

The second day started with a session on infrastructures, including ARIADNE. First there was a presentation by Rainer Simon from the Austrian Institute of Technology on Recogito, an annotation platform to verify and correct the text-to-map conversions used in Pelagios, and then bravely moved into a live demo of Peripleo, a new and impressive search and visualisation interface for Pelagios. This was followed by Humphrey Southallfrom the University of Portsmouth on PastPlace, a global gazetteer API. Interestingly for ARIADNE, this project is also using a central mapping spine, though they have chosen Wikidata, rather than GeoNames, as they feel it is cleaner and more stable. This was followed by a presentation by Guenther Goerz from the Digital Humanities Research Group at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg on the WissKI project. WissKI is a scientific communication infrastructure that allows researchers to use a simple interface, while creating sufficiently complex data, resulting in the ability to better understand how that data can answer new research questions. Learning from wikis, this novel approach linked back well to the keynote question set out at the start. An ARIADNE presentation rounded out the session, with Holly Wright (Archaeology Data Service) presenting an overview of the project, including the LOD work of most interest to Linked Pasts. Doug TudhopeCeri Binding and Paul Cripps from the Hypermedia Research Unit at the University of South Wales were all in attendance, along with Keith May from Historic England (who is also a Visiting Researcher at the University of South Wales). Doug made an invitation to all to join the ARIADNE Linked Data SIG, and Ceri gave a presentation on recent work mapping multilingual vocabularies used by ARIADNE partners to the Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus, and using it as a central spine.

The afternoon was spent in two breakout sessions. For the first, attendees could choose to talk about LOD with regard to space, time or people, where we were tasked with answering the following four questions:

Breakout Sessions

Good and productive discussions were had in the breakout sessions. Photo courtesy of Elton Barker.

  • What does the community need most to increase connectivity between projects?
  • What can we achieve today, this month, in one year?
  • How can your work contribute to a LOD ecosystem?
  • What should the community invest in?

This was a chance for all attendees to get involved and make decisions about how best to move forward. Each group worked together on a shared document to answer the questions (read them here: PlacesPeriodsPeople). This was then reported back to the whole group for comment, and will form strategy documents for the community going forward. The second breakout session was more informal and attendees could choose to discuss Open Data, Classification or Infrastructure, which was a chance to meet with different people and discuss new ideas.

At the end Leif did a wrap up, and asked if we would like a Linked Pasts 2016?

The answer was a resounding yes!