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Lindquist, T., Viggio, A. (2016). Taking VIVO into the Past: Adapting the VIVO Researcher Profile System to Historical Persons. In Digital Humanities 2016: Conference Abstracts. Jagiellonian University & Pedagogical University, Kraków, pp. 833-834.
Taking VIVO into the Past: Adapting the VIVO Researcher Profile System to Historical Persons

Taking VIVO into the Past: Adapting the VIVO Researcher Profile System to Historical Persons

This poster will explain the concept behind and report preliminary results of an in-progress project, VIVO for Historical Persons (VIVO4HP). 1 This project is an experiment to reuse and extend the VIVO-Integrated Semantic Framework (ISF) ontology 2 to accommodate historical persons, using early Stuart diplomats (1603-1649) as a use case. VIVO4HP investigates whether VIVO 3 can be reasonably adapted to represent and facilitate discovery of structured biographical data about historical persons. It represents a foray into the adaptation of existing systems to historical purposes interesting to humanists, the VIVO user community, and semantic web researchers.

VIVO (Börner et al., 2012) is an open-source semantic application that represents modern academic research communities. VIVO’s purpose as a researcher profile system is to represent scholars, their interests, activities, and accomplishments, and the networks among them. The VIVO-ISF ontology interlinks researcher biographical data in meaningful ways to enable discovery, analysis, and visualization of scholarly networks. It does this, in part, by reusing and extending a number of established ontologies already integrated with the VIVO-ISF, such as Friend of a Friend (FOAF) and the Bibliographic Ontology (BIBO). Additionally, we are evaluating external ontologies relevant to the use case that could be imported into the system. Given VIVO’s origin in academia and active user community, a number of efforts are underway to extend the ontology in areas like aerospace and agriculture; however, little experimentation has occurred in the humanities let alone in the historical context.

Our investigation aims to assess whether VIVO can be reasonably adapted to represent and facilitate discovery of biographical data about historical persons, a humanities use case that corresponds closely to its original purpose. Our initial work focuses on historical persons belonging to a specific professional community – early Stuart diplomats, that is, the diplomats who served James I and Charles I of England in the first half of the seventeenth century. The test data is derived from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography ( ODNB) (Matthew and Harrison, 2004; Goldman, 2005-13), the standard British biographical source. They are supplemented by event data on the diplomats’ missions from A Handlist of British Diplomatic Representatives (Bell, 1990). VIVO4HP will make the data available as linked data, a flexible format that encourages data sharing and integration. Thus the data will lend themselves to a variety of projects and applications for subsequent analysis, evaluation, and visualization.

We are undertaking this work as a multi-stage, iterative process. The first step is to manually create profiles in VIVO for a limited number of diplomats to identify issues with the source data, default ontology, data mapping and transformation, and online display. The second is to make adjustments to the ontology and online display to address gaps. The third is to automatically ingest ODNB data into VIVO, using custom scripts where possible to address data mapping and transformation issues. The final step is to augment the profiles with other data sources, such as historical sources, other web sites, and linked data.

A variety of issues surface related to working with humanities data (Posner, 2015) in an environment that was not necessarily built to accommodate them. General issues with historical data include dealing with data ambiguity (e.g., dates, spelling variations), incomplete biographical information, individuals’ identities (e.g., using noble titles instead of their personal names), and historical geographies. The ODNB data was created with another purpose in mind and thus can be incomplete and either untagged or not tagged to the specificity necessary for certain types of data that might be desirable to represent for our use. Finally, since VIVO is meant to represent a researcher’s professional life, it does not incorporate some of the personal, political, or social aspects desirable for representing historical persons.

How we are able to deal with these issues, and the level of intervention required, will play an important role in our assessment of VIVO’s utility for the discovery and representation of historical persons and whether the outcome merits the investment required to further extend it for this purpose. We hope that VIVO4HP will provide a basis that others can build upon to represent, facilitate discovery of, and share data about historical persons in the online environment.

  1. Bell, G. M. (1990). A Handlist of British Diplomatic Representatives, 1509-1688. Royal Historical Society Guides and Handbooks, 16. London: Royal Historical Society.
  2. Börner, K., et al. (2012). VIVO: A Semantic Approach to Scholarly Networking and Discovery. Synthesis Lectures on the Semantic Web: Theory and Technology. [San Rafael, Calif.]: Morgan & Claypool.
  3. Goldman, L. (ed). (2005-13). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press. http://www.oxforddnb.com/. Accessed 28 February 2016.
  4. Matthew, H. C. G. and Harrison, B. (eds). (2004). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  5. Posner, M. (2015). Humanities data: a necessary contradiction. Miriam Posner’s Blog. 1 November. http://miriamposner.com/blog/humanities-data-a-necessary-contradiction/. Accessed 28 February 2016.