Beyond the space: the LoCloud historical place names service

The Faculty of Communication of Vilnius University in cooperation with the Digital Curation Unit of the Institute for the Management of Information Systems of Athena Research and Innovation Centre in Information Communication & Knowledge Technologies, Angewandte Informationstechnik Forschungsgesellschaft mbH, Universidad del País Vasco and Javni Zavod Republike Slovenije za Varstvo Kulturne Dediscine,  building on the results of the CARARE project, are developing an application to enable local cultural institutions to collaborate in the development of an historical place name microservice.

Why historical place names?

Nowadays, space and time are considered to be the most important dimensions of reality. Much attention is paid to their scientific analysis in Physics and Astronomy. Moreover, these dimensions are very important in the research of cultural heritage,  the understanding of its role in contemporary society and its use  in cultural industries. Historical space and time are important aspects of the life cycle of a cultural heritage object since they help to identify, interpret and communicate that object and [or] attached ideas. Moreover,  the dating of sources and their association with certain geographical spaces allow for further historical interpretations.

Historical place names (HPN) are the point, where past time and space meet. HPN are place names, which exist in history (not contemporary place names) and are fixed in historical sources. An HPN is considered to be a place appellation, which is used to refer to several places, because its application may change over time (similarly to E48 in CIDOC-CRM). On the other hand, the place as an object (similarly to E53 in CIDOC-CRM, excluding movable objects) is determined as GIS defined immovable geographic object: point, polygon or line (such as landscape, inhabited places, buildings, natural objects (mountains, river, etc, administrative areas, etc.)). A place name can be understood as an historical identifier for several places (with the same meaning   of E4 in CIDOC-CRM) and (or) as a kind of immovable heritage (“non-material products of our minds”, e.g. E28 Conceptual Object in CIDOC-CRM).

The transcoding of reality from analogue to digital system performed during the heritage digitisation affects the application of HPN used in the real world to artificial system. This  way HPN becomes a link between reality and virtuality ensuring quality of digitisation, interoperability of reality and virtuality, internal interoperability within the information system and external interoperability of several systems, as well as efficient communication of digital data.

On the other hand, while interpreting and using the space of a certain period, it is important to take into account the invisible “human factor” – the people who lived in  particular historical periods – which we can call “historical or cultural multilingualism”.  Thus can be defined as terminological differences of the common language determined by cultural differences of various nations. According to the communicative model of the pioneer of the American trend of semiotics, C. S. Peirce, a term (in our case HPN) is a conventional sign, which is developed by the interpretant in his mind perceiving the object of reality. So, in terms of communication of meanings, HPN is a piece of work of different human groups intended to name the same object of reality (the place). On the contrary, miscommunication and non-interoperability occurs at the level of signs (words) rather than objects. Scientists and politicians from the 19th,20th century brought additional confusion into the understanding of the historical space through nationalistic historical narratives, thus having a huge impact on history and social geography. Computing technology based on algorithms and binary code, provides possibilities for maximising objectivity in the geographical representation of reality. Paradoxically, the comprehension of space based on historical narratives is much stronger than that based on the ICT discourse. When digitising cultural heritage, we link it less to modern geographical space realities, than to the historical space of the 19th century that was marked with the myths and narratives of nationalism.

What does the HPN thesaurus contain?

Two methodological models can be employed for the digitisation of historical geographical and chronological data: the “text oriented” model and the “object oriented” model. The “text oriented” model was created at the early stage of the computerisation of cultural heritage. It is based on a “hierarchical” paradigm and usually describes the world via hierarchically organised controlled vocabularies of proper names. Despite the evident significance of the “text oriented” model for the development of digitisation of cultural heritage, it is also necessary to note the essential limitations of this model. The actual world (reality) is continuous and is composed of interconnected objects (not  concepts) that are organised according to  a non-hierarchical structure.  The “object oriented” model proposes a different point of view. This model was created during the modern stage of the computerisation of cultural heritage. It is based on a “network” paradigm and usually describes the world via network-organised object’s ontology. The ontological “object oriented” model is more connected with reality: real place-time and place-time appellations are described as separate classes of reality.

The HPN microservice will be developed on the basis of HPN Thesaurus, which is intended for aggregation, storage and long-term preservation of historical geo-information. The principal schema of the HPN microservice is presented in Fig. 1.

The HPN Thesaurus is a controlled vocabulary that can be used to aggregate, preserve and improve the interoperability and semantics  amongst historical geo-information, between historical geo-information and contemporary geo-data and historical geo-information in access to information about cultural heritage. The HPN thesaurus can be used as data standard at the point of documentation or cataloguing (as a controlled vocabulary or authority by the cataloguer or indexer, preferred names/terms and synonyms for places, structure and classification schemes); as browsing assistants in CARARE, LoCloud databases and in Europeana (knowledge base that show semantic links and paths between historical and contemporary places); as research tools (information and contextual knowledge about historical place names and places).

The HPN Thesaurus is a qualification of the CARARE metadata schema at the conceptual level (“Heritage Asset Identification Set”- global type “Spatial” – “Historical name”). The strength of the HPN Thesaurus lies with its ability to collect the full range of historical geo-information about digitised cultural heritage, born-digital objects, related events, their representations and to support the full range of HPN micro-services and user’s cases. The implementation of the HPN Thesaurus and the HPN micro-services is closely connected with the creation and implementation of the LoCloud Geolocation enrichment services (D3.3) and Vocabulary services (D3.4.), due to be released in Autumn

How will it work?

The HPN shall perform the following functions:

1. Reliably transfer historical geo-data from a series of local and international databases, information systems and (or) providers to the HPN Thesaurus, including the possibility of providing historical geo-data manually, via a user’s interface. The system  will connect with the semantic mapping and transfer of historic geo-data from local systems to the LoCloud HPN Thesaurus. The HPN geo-data will be imported in the GeoJSON,  JSON, CSV, SQL, TXT  formats. They will then be matched with other historical geo-data at HPN Thesaurus, using an automatic HPN data Import tool.. After the matching,  a manual quality check will be carried out and new HPN will be added to the HPN Thesaurus. A similar procedure is used for  other enrichment scenarios. . The scenarios for the enrichment of the HPN Thesaurus are presented in Fig. 2. On the one hand,  this process will ensure interoperability between different historical geo-data sets. On the other hand, it will create tools for enabling  crowd-sourcing and wiki paradigm in the HPN field.

2. Analyse and enrich the HPN data in the metadata sets of provided objects.  Created Analysis and enrichment tool will be based on the integrated algorithm that will normalise and reconcile similar place names, estimating similarities between names and geographic coordinates (it could rank accuracy by special algorithm. e.g. if a names and relevant coordinates are exact, it is ranked by 100%; if the name is exact, but the coordinates deviate by 50% , it would be 75%. If the name is not exact and the coordinates do not match the allowed deviation, it would be 0%). A user interface for each  LoCloud partner will enable to see, correct and quality check the results of the reconciliation algorithm. Each partner will be able to log in and visualise a list with different colours (from green to red) with the percentage of accuracy.

Rimvydas Laužikas
Ingrida Vosyliūtė
Faculty of Communication. Vilnius University, Lithuania

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