This post originally appeared on Pelagios Commons at http://commons.pelagios.org/2017/05/linked-pasts-15-16-december-2016/

On 15-16 December 2016, I attended the Second International Linked Pasts conference, hosted by UNED (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia) in Madrid, and organised by the Pelagios team. This was the first international conference I have attended that has focused specifically on the application of Linked Data to research topics in the Humanities, and it gave me the opportunity to find out about current projects, learn from others’ work, and meet people currently working in this subject area. I also presented a poster on my work linking data about projects funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), which resulted in some interesting feedback and questions.

The first day took more of a standard conference format, with a series of presentations on current research, whereas the second day involved forming breakout groups on different topics and issues, discussing the challenges and possible solutions, and feeding the results back to the other attendees.

My PhD topic is ‘How can Linked Data resources be integrated with existing research methodologies in Classics and related disciplines?’. I am particularly interested in the data structures used in digital resources produced by Humanities projects, and the impact various approaches have on the usability and sustainability of these resources, as well as the particular benefits that a Linked Data approach could provide.

As such, I found it hugely positive that usability was a theme that continued throughout the event – from Rainer Simon’s (Austrian Institute of Technology / Pelagios Commons) demonstration of the user-centred development of annotation platform Recogito, to Rob Sanderson’s (J.Paul Getty Trust) call to action for ‘LOUD’ (Linked Open Reusable Data), and Gretchen Gueguen’s (Digital Public Library of America – DPLA) presentation on the usability and usefulness of Linked Data resources and search interfaces more generally.

One idea I particularly took away with me was Rob Sanderson’s recommendation that if a resource has issues with accuracy, completeness and usability, the usability aspect should be tackled first.  If a platform is usable, the user community will then be able to assist with the other two issues by adding their own data, or providing feedback on the existing data in order to improve its quality. Many projects seem to focus largely on making as much data available as possible, which can result in the resource’s usability being neglected – when actually concentrating on the usability as a priority may reap more rewards.

Usability was also a central topic of the breakout group discussions I participated in on the second day. In the first discussion, on ‘End users and pedagogy’, we spoke about the importance of dividing up user tasks into manageable ‘chunks’, as well as having a supportive atmosphere where non-technical people feel comfortable asking questions of the user community. In the subsequent discussion sessions, we focused specifically on documentation and tutorials, where we talked about creating a model for Linked Data resource documentation, and building this into the reporting component of future projects. We also thought about different learning styles, to include e.g. screencasts and illustrations alongside written tutorials. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to contribute to these discussions and listen to everyone else’s ideas about a topic that is so central to the development of Linked Data resources.

With the idea of place being intrinsic to Pelagios Commons, many of the talks centred on projects that involve linking data relating to place for different geographical areas and time periods. These included Maxim Romanov (Leipzig) on linking places in the Islamic world; Nina Cengic (Zagreb) on identifying place names in Latin texts from 16th century Croatia; Valeria Vitale (KCL) on linking place names from Arabic texts to Pleiades records; Glauco Mantegari and Sinai Rusinek (VLJI) on developing a Hebrew gazetteer; Karl Grossner on linking place and time data for historical journeys, and Gimena del Rio Riande (CONICET) on using Recogito for annotating places in medieval Iberian texts. The issues these projects encountered were often similar – including several references to the importance of disambiguating real / fictional and current / historical places, as well as identifying words in different languages that refer to the same location. Although these issues can be a cause of concern while developing a resource, they also demonstrate why applying a Linked Data approach to this material can be of benefit to future researchers in the subject areas concerned.

As well as listening to talks and participating in discussions, I also presented a poster on my work during the first term of my PhD.  This involved converting the data about AHRC-funded projects available via Research Councils UK’s Gateway to Research to Linked Data. Having the data in this format facilitates more complex queries, which will allow me to identify past projects that might be suitable to use as case studies in my research. I had been a bit concerned that I might be asked some difficult questions, but fortunately the few questions I was asked led to some interesting discussions. I also enjoyed looking at the posters from the other attendees, which gave me some ideas about how I might improve my posters in future, as well as providing an insight into the different projects that are currently ongoing.

I really enjoyed my time at Linked Pasts 2 – it was stimulating to meet other people with similar academic interests to mine, and to gain some valuable insights into the subject area that could benefit my PhD research. As well as learning from others, I also had the opportunity to provide my own input to the discussions on the second day, and really felt that I was able to make a valued contribution despite being relatively new to the topics discussed. Thank you to UNED for hosting, and to Pelagios Commons for organising and providing me with a bursary that made my attendance possible – I look forward to the next Linked Pasts event.

Linked Pasts, 15-16 December 2016

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