Ontologies for Prosopography: workshop at DH 2014, Lausanne (July 8)

Digital Humanities 2014: Workshop
Lausanne, Switzerland
8th July, 2014

To register, go to the Digital Humanities 2014 website.

Ontologies for Prosopography: Who’s Who? or, Who was Who?

Linked data has become an increasingly popular fixture in digital humanities research because it offers a way to break out of the data silos that are constantly being created, and provides a framework for new ways of approaching research questions. Tim Berners-Lee’s four principles of linked data, however, remind us that global identifiers for entities – URIs – provide only a part of what is needed if linked data is to fulfil its promise.  As much as possible, we also need common semantic frameworks to better tie the data together – what are called “ontologies”.

In a seminal paper way back in 1993 Thomas Gruber defined an ontology as an “explicit specification of a shared conceptualisation”. We will be focusing on possibilities for an ontology for prosopography because, for historical data at least, people, places and textual sources are likely to be the three pillars upon which a structure of linked data can be constructed, and these three things are likely to be the primary entry point for a collection of linked historical data. While methodologies for dealing with textual sources are being continually refined, the success of the Pelagios project has demonstrated how historical geographic information, in this case classical, can be used to bring together a wide variety of projects. This workshop will address the issues of bringing linked data to the description of historical persons with the morning session devoted to exploring the question of whether there are sufficient common concepts – a shared conceptualisation – to enable for the practical and useful development of an ontology for historical persons, and the afternoon addressing the challenges of linking these descriptions together to create a shared resource.

In the morning we will be following up on Gruber’s recognition that the best way to define an ontology is to look for shared conceptualisations  by examining the practices of a range of existing, or emerging, projects that attempt to capture information about historical persons using structured models that are compatible with semantic web thinking.  We will present a detailed introduction to a number of the significant models currently in use including the data model behind the University of Virginia’s People of the Founding Era, the factoid model used for a number of prosopographical projects from King’s College London, the SNAP:DRGN relationship model, the prosopographical components in the well-known CIDOC-CRM and FRBRoo, and will explore the developing standards for archive data, starting with University of Virginia’s Social Network and Archival Context (SNAC) model (and its prototype site), to the standards emerging from the International Council on Archives Experts Group on Archival Description. Additionally, workshop participants will be encouraged to share any models they have used for digital prosopography, and their views about the models we present. This session aims to give those attendees who are new to question of linked data and prosopography an introduction to the subject while offering the opportunity for those with existing data to discuss and compare the approaches with a view towards identifying best practice and whether a standard model for describing historical persons is possible.

The afternoon portion of the workshop will focus on the publication and linkage of prosopographical data. The Quantified Authenticated Co-Reference (QuAC) data model being developed by the Standards for Networking Ancient Prosopography (SNAP) project for the sharing and linking of names, persons and person-like entities in historical data. The SNAP model is being tested with existing digital resources, including Prosopographia Imperii Romani, the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names, and Trismegistos People, and working with a wide range of other projects. One of the key aims of SNAP is to model the complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity inherent in true prosopography, in contrast to the sometimes simplistic approaches of modern social media. The aim of this session is to allow more indepth, directed discussion and the opportunity for hands-on data hacking sessions through the use of breakout groups. Attendees will have the opportunity to work with technical facilitators to apply the SNAP model to their own or example data. For those who are more interested in the theoretical framework, facilitators will lead discussions building on the mornings activities and standards for modelling historical persons and on developing specifications for what services, outcomes and requirements researchers would want in order to share and reuse historical person data.

This workshop is sponsored by two projects with different foci and covering very different historical periods:

People of the Founding Era (PFE), a Mellon-funded project at the University of Virginia, aims to apply a prosopographical approach to collecting and publishing the biographical content found in the correspondence of prominent and not-so-prominent individuals in the time of the founding of the United States. An important challenge in the project is identifying slaves who are not well represented in the documentary records. PFE is working with linked data as a means to establish identity and suggest connections between numerous anonymous or partially named people or for those who are known only by their occupation or owner.

SNAP.DRGN (Standards for Networking Ancient Prosopographies: Data and Relations in Greco-Roman Names), a project which aims to address the problem of linking together large collections of material (datasets) containing information about persons, names and person-like entities managed in heterogeneous systems and formats from the Ancient World.

What unites them is what unites many digital projects; the need to deal with historical data about people, their names, their attributes, and their relationships – one of the most common types of data to expose and one for which is falling behind other areas in the move to the digital data publication and exchange. The collaboration between these two projects clearly demonstrates the importance of this subject to a wide range of digital humanities researchers and we believe that this workshop will encourage vital cross-disciplinary discussion about prosopography that emerges from different periods and cultures.


Dr Gabriel Bodard (gabriel.bodard@kcl.ac.uk)

Bodard is the Principal Investigator of the SNAP:DRGN project. His research interests are in digital study, encoding and publication of classical texts, especially ancient Greek inscriptions. In 2004 he founded the Digital Classicist, a community of expertise in the application of Digital Humanities to the study of the ancient world, and is an administrator of the Stoa. He was on the steering committee of the British Epigraphy Society from 2007-2012, and was an elected member of the Technical Council of the TEI from 2008-2013, an academic group that makes decisions on guidelines and technical development. He is one of the lead authors of the EpiDoc Guidelines, and regularly organises and teaches training workshops in digital epigraphy and papyrology. He led the King’s team on the internationally collaborative Integrating Digital Papyrology project (2007-2011) to convert the DDbDP and other papyrological materials into EpiDoc XML in a new browse and editing platform.

John Bradley (john.bradley@kcl.ac.uk)

Bradley has for many years been involved in structured prosopography through seven prominent collaborative prosopographical projects including the Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England (PASE) and the Peoples of Medieval Scotland (PoMS), and (although not its original inventor) has promoted the factoid model as a way to think about structuring prosopographical data.  Recently he has taken up thinking about the place of prosopography in the context of global, open, linked data, and has given presentations on the idea at DH2013 and at the Culturecloud, Co-reference and Archive Workshop given at the National Archives in Stockholm in June 2013.

Dr K Faith Lawrence (faith.lawrence@kcl.ac.uk)

Lawrence is a Research Associate at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London where she works as a researcher and developer on a number of projects. Technical lead on the SNAP:DRGN project her research background centred around online communities, narrative and the semantic web. Her thesis, ‘The Web of Community Trust – Amateur Fiction Online: A Case Study in Community-Focused Design for the Semantic Web’, investigated user-centred design for emergent technologies through the case study of online fiction archives and author communities. This work focused on fan fiction communities, both in terms of how they currently interact with technology, and how that interaction may evolve in the future with the development of Web 2.0 and the semantic web. One important facet of of this work was an investigation into the description of narrative and content elements within textual, visual, aural and multimedia works.

Prof. Susan Perdue (ssh8a@eservices.virginia.edu): (PFE)

Perdue is a documentary editor who has worked primarily in the American Early Republic. Her focus on name authority work began with print indexes and evolved to XML indexing and markup in historical documents. Begun in 2008, People of the Founding Era is a prosopographical project that aggregates content from hundreds of American Founding Era documentary volumes, supplemented with research. The project draws on the expertise of editors and museum professionals to centralize their longstanding research, especially that related to slavery in the Early Republic. For the past year, PFE has worked with Bob DuCharme to implement an RDF model that queries PFE data and other related data sources, called LDES.

Sebastian Rahtz (sebastian.rahtz@it.ox.ac.uk)

Rahtz is Director of Academic IT at University of  Oxford University IT Services, where he oversees the teams responsible for research support and open source.  He has been closely associated with the Text Encoding Initiative for the last decade as a member of its Technical Council, and architect of its meta-schema system. Since 2008 he has been part of the team developing CLAROS (“the world of ancient art on the semantic web”) at Oxford, for which he leads the Metamorphoses sub-project to manage its place and name linking. He has worked with the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names at Oxford for the last 30 years, and maintains its experimental online service and data export.

Daniel Pitti (dpitti@virginia.edu)

Pitti is Associate Director of IATH (University of Virginia) and the chief technical architect of both the EAD and EAC-CPF standards, as well as being project director of the NEH and Mellon funded (Social Networks and Archival Context) SNAC project (2010-2015). SNAC is exploring the feasibility of extracting the descriptions of people that archivists routinely create when describing archival resources in order to maintain the descriptions independently though in relation to the records that are the evidence of the lives and work of the people described. As the chair of the International Council on Archives Experts Group on Archival Description, charged with developing a conceptual model for archival description, Pitti is also interested in how the descriptions of people created by archivists can be formalized and structured in such a manner that they can be shared with allied cultural heritage communities and scholars.

Dr Christian-Emil Ore (c.e.s.ore@iln.uio.no)

Ore is an associate professor in the Department of Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies at the University of Oslo and is the head of their Unit for Digital Documentation.  He has taken a keen interest in digital humanities for many years.  He has been an active player in the CIDOC-CRM community, one of the four current editors of the CIDOC-CRM standard and has explored methods to combine TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) encoded documents with CIDOC-CRM models.

Outline of Content:

Morning: Modelling the Person

Welcome and Introduction (15 mins)

Group Activity – Historical Speed Dating (30 mins)

Presentation and Discussion:

  • The conception of prosopography in the PFE project, and its representation in RDF (30 mins)
  • A Semantic Web understanding of the factoid prosopography model (30 mins)
  • Exploring prosopography in CIDOC-CRM/FRBRoo, SNAC, and in the emerging standards from the the International Council on Archives Experts Group on Archival Description (30 mins)
  • SNAP:DRGN: Going QuACers – the Qualified, Authenticated Co-reference model (30 mins)

Round up and open discussion (15 mins)

Afternoon: Linking the Person

Welcome Back (15 mins)

Breakout 1 (1 hour):

  • Breakout Group 1 – SNAP Services: Discussion and User Requirements
  • Breakout Group 2 – Data Exchange and Chop Shop: Data Preparation Tutorial
  • Breakout Group 3 – Data Exchange and Chop Shop: Data Hacking
  • Breakout Group 4 – The historical person model

Breakout 2 (1 hour):

  • Breakout Group 1 – SNAP Services: Discussion and User Requirements
  • Breakout Group 2 – Data Exchange and Chop Shop: Data Preparation Tutorial
  • Breakout Group 3 – Data Exchange and Chop Shop: Data Hacking
  • Breakout Group 4 – The historical person model

Reports and Discussion (30 mins)

Conclusion (15 mins)

To register, go to the Digital Humanities 2014 website.

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