Linked Data and Ancient World Research: studying past projects from a user perspective

Sarah Middle (Open University)

Digital Classicist London seminar 2017

Friday June 2nd at 16:30, in room 234, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Livecast at Digital Classicist London YouTube channel.

While studying Archaeology, much of my time was spent sifting through excavation reports to identify objects of similar types from different sites. This process could have been more efficient and thorough, had there been an online facility to search multiple collections simultaneously. A possible solution is Linked Data, which connects digital objects based on their common features; however, it is still not widely used by Humanities researchers. The aim of my PhD is to explore why this is the case, what the potential benefits of Linked Data could be, and how better integration with existing research methodologies might be achieved, particularly in disciplines relating to the Ancient World. To investigate this topic, I will be using past projects as case studies – both those involving the use or production of Linked Data, and those handling data using other formats and techniques.

This paper will present my work to identify potential case studies from the 5349 projects funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) since 2006. Converting data about these projects to Linked Data has enabled detailed searches using SPARQL, the Linked Data query language, to find examples of data use or production. As part of this work, I evaluated the usability of various tools that have been developed for visualising SPARQL queries; the findings of this research will be included in the presentation.

When discussing the results of these queries, I will initially look at how projects relating to the Ancient World compare with trends in data use or production among Humanities projects in general, before concentrating on several Ancient World Linked Data projects:

  • Pelagios 4 (consumption of Linked Data relating to geospatial locations in ancient and historical texts)
  • SNAP:DRGN (production of Linked Data from existing databases to reconcile personal name data from ancient texts)
  • STAR, STELLAR and SENESCHAL (enhancement of archaeological data using ontologies)

I will explore the usability of the outputs from these projects, particularly any potential barriers for non-technical researchers. Similarly, I will evaluate the usability of the linked AHRC project data I have generated, the possibilities for developing a usable query interface, and methods of enhancing the data further.

Initial findings indicate that AHRC-funded projects are more likely to focus on production rather than consumption of Linked Data, and that in some cases there is little or no explicit evidence of consumption at all. This apparent funding bias towards production over consumption could have implications for the usability and long-term sustainability of project outputs, and may partially explain the relatively low uptake of these resources among Humanities researchers. My future work will focus in more detail on the case studies, and will aim to ascertain why particular choices were made regarding data use or production, including intentions for the life of the resource beyond the project. This research has the potential to transform the way that Linked Data is viewed within the Humanities, and will be used to inform recommendations to ensure that the outputs of future projects are successful and usable.