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Pelagios: Linking together the places of our past through the documents that refer to them
Being able to link—to go from one document to another—is one of the great facilitating features of the World Wide Web. It is how you are able to find out more about or get a different perspective on something that interests you at the click of a mouse. But how are these linkages enabled? Since 2011 Pelagios has been developing the means of linking independently created and curated online resources together via their common references to place. Introducing some Linked Open Data goodness into online resources, Pelagios is developing the infrastructure through which online material about the ancient world can be brought together. By developing a common schema and providing community guidelines for referring to place data, whether archaeological, literary or visual, Pelagios makes it easy for people or groups (whether academic or not) to join the network, thereby rendering their own resources more discoverable and, therefore, more valuable. In turn, the Pelagios network empowers both professionals (e.g. teachers, curators, librarians) and the general enthusiast to discover the cities of antiquity and explore the rich interconnections between them, breaking down barriers between disciplines and releases data from otherwise closed silos of information.
The research output by Pelagios is having a significant impact in the development of ancient world web-infrastructure for academic and non-academic data providers alike. The open data service technology it has championed is now the de facto international standard for open linked geospatial data concerning the ancient world, and is being used by other Web and linked data projects (e.g. Standards for Networking Ancient Prosopographies; PeriodO: a gazetteer for period assertions). Impact is measured not just by the growing number of partners whom Pelagios has attracted but also by the process that each group undertakes to become a partner: by aligning their data to the Pelagios network, each partner changes the way they hold their data. This means that Pelagios’s research is transforming both the nature of these data and the way in which these organisations work or even conceptualise their activity. The spectrum of organisations extends beyond the academic research community to include: museums (the British Museum, the Ure museum), a national database (Arachne), a national library (the British Library), a specialist learned society (nomisma), a digital open access library (Perseus), an aggregator service (CLAROS), a government agency (Portable Antiquities Scheme), a collaborative global online knowledge base (Wikidata), and an equally diverse array of voluntary partners and interest groups (e.g. the Ancient History Encyclopedia or http://vici.org/).
In the latest phase of the project, we are extending the reach of our network beyond the ancient world to encompass different mapping traditions, including early Christian Mappae Mundi and pilgrimages, Portolan charts, and Islamic and Chinese maps. Since this is largely unchartered territory, we have developed a web-based platform, Recogito, by means of which users of these documents—both ancient / mediaeval texts and old maps—can annotate them in order to: (i) identify place names in them; and (ii) match those places to a central gazetteer entry. This process makes it possible to see those places in a web map and conduct all kinds of interesting analysis on them, while at the same time bringing those documents into the Pelagios network. Hand-in-hand with developing this user-friendly annotation interface, we are experimenting with crowd sourcing editing among students and the general public. With funding from the Open Knowledge Foundation, we are trialling different aspects of collaborative geo-annotation, to ascertain their consequences in terms of data quality, resources required and participant motivation. Most importantly, however, this is an exciting means of engaging with a wider audience and, ultimately, building a community of citizen geographers.
Developing an agile and responsive infrastructure, the Pelagios network links data from international archives and museums to transform the cultural capital of the ancient world online, the way that information about the ancient world is found and can be used, and how the past is conceived. By these means, Pelagios is creating a World Wide Web of antiquity, whereby scholars, students, cultural heritage providers or general enthusiasts can not only make their resources more discoverable and usable, but also enable others to find out about the cities of antiquity and explore the rich interconnections between them.
Arachne, the British Museum, the British Library, CLAROS, Fasti Online, GAP, Inscriptions of Israel/Palestine, nomisma.org, Open Context, Oracc, Papyri.info, Perseus Digital Library, Pleiades, Ports Antiques, PtolemyMachine, Regnum Francorum Online, SPQR, Ure Museum