Linked [Places, Traces, Art, …]

This post aims to clarify the relationships between a few of the models now in development for various uses by members of the historical linked data community, particularly with regard to geography (place)—namely Linked Places, Linked Traces, and Linked Art. Figure 1 provides a conceptual overview (click to magnify).

Figure 1 – Place in Linked Places, Linked Art, and Linked Traces conceptual models


In several key respects the World Historical Gazetteer project (WHG; now in beta release 0.3) builds upon software and data development work produced by the Pelagios project—particularly the historical gazetteer infrastructure underlying its Peripleo and Recogito software applications.

Peripleo is a pilot application (no longer in active development) built to demonstrate a few key linked-data-for-history functions: a) search of a central index aggregating historical gazetteer records published as Linked Data, b) the annnotation of web-published records about historical objects with identifiers for relevant places (mostly coins and inscriptions in this case), and c) the display of search results for both in a map interface. WHG performs those functions also, along with some others.

Recogito is an annotation platform that among other things makes use of that historical gazetteer index by facilitating association of place references tagged in textual sources with the identifiers, coordinates, and name variants found in the indexed gazetteer records.

I have collaborated with Pelagios developer Rainer Simon and a few other interested folks to develop a Linked Places model and format particularly for contributions to the Pelagios and WHG platforms. The Pelagios and WHG indexes will have considerable overlap in coverage, but we anticipate that of WHG will over time become considerably broader in space and time—due primarily to its built-in semi-automated data development and contribution pipeline and stated goal of global breadth.

Because both projects have interest in annotations, we have also begun jointly developing a Linked Traces format—more precisely a set of implementation patterns using the W3C Web Annotation format standard for digital history and GLAM applications.

With that introduction, what follows are some details about Linked Places and Linked Traces, and thoughts about their immediate and potential uses. Also, given the concurrent development of the Linked Art model and ontology, some thoughts about how all of these might in time relate to each other in practice. Figure 1 above should provide useful reference.

Linked Places: model and data format

The Linked Places model and interconnection format (LPF) were developed to meet the particular requirements of the WHG and Pelagios platforms: a common data structure that both could ingest routinely without the need to accommodate on a case-by-case basis the enormous variety of data models in use by digital historical projects, large and small. LPF is a set of extensions to GeoJSON-LD, itself a Linked Data enabling extension to the most widely implmented test-based format for representing geographic features, GeoJSON (an IETF standard).

LPF also adds a standard means for adding time to GeoJSON features, introducing “when” objects to permit temporally scoping of a) an entire Feature, and/or b) its individual names, place types, geometry, and relations to other places, in any combination.

Uploads to WHG (and accessioning to both Pelagios and WHG indexes) require creating a serialization (i.e. transforming export) of place data from whatever form it is maintained in to LPF. We have also developed an abbreviated delimited text file format (LP-TSV) to meet the needs of contributors with relatively simple records.

Figure 1 summarizes the LPF conceptual model.

Linked Art: model and format

A global consortium of organizations involved in the domains of art, cultural heritage and archaeology—principally large museums and universities—are jointly developing Linked Art, a “shared model based on Linked Open Data to describe Art,” along with software implementations of it. The conceptual model is being formalized in an ontology with a subset of CIDOC-CRM entities and relations, and expressed as a data format using JSON-LD, a syntax of RDF.

From the perspective of WHG, Linked Art is a format many prospective users of our platform may adopt to describe objects in their collections. Both WHG and Pelagios are agnostic as to what formats our users and data partners use, and as mentioned above, users will have to perform a serialization to Linked Places format to interact with our platforms.

Figure 1 shows how Place appears in the Linked Art model. The points of contact with Linked Places are identifiers. One kind of identifier in Linked Art is a URI to a linked data gazetteer resource. A serialization of Places from a Linked Art dataset to LPF should include as many such identifiers as can be managed. WHG can aid discovery of those URIs via reconciliation services to Getty TGN and Wikidata.

All that said, place data from Linked Art collections are unlikely to be good candidates for contributions to WHG; the great majority of places will already be indexed. Rather, it is Linked Traces data that will be more relevant.

Linked Traces: model and format

WHG is following on from the Peripleo pilot in experimentally indexing not only place data, but what we are calling trace data: “annotations of web-published records about historical objects with identifiers for relevant places.” We say “experimentally” because it seems likely that the most useful web interfaces to trace data will be distinct from those for place data. Certainly there will be significant scaling issues.

In order to continue exploring the linking of places and associated traces, we (Rainer Simon and I) have also initiated development of a Linked Traces format, as a potential standard for use by the WHG and Recogito platforms. Linked Traces is turning out to be a set of implementation patterns for the W3C Web Annotation format (WA).

Annotating records of “anything” with URIs for web-published place records is but one use case for WA. For example, in Recogito, users annotate texts with references to not only places, but also people, events, and relations between all three.

Figure 1 indicates the way that a set of one or more place records can form the body of an annotation. The JSON form of the body in that example corresponds to an early draft of a “Linked Traces place pattern” in development. The working group’s activities are paused at the moment, but WHG is developing some exemplar data according to that draft, to be explored in our Version 1 release, slated for late spring 2020.

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