Linking Placename Authorities



Putting together a proposal for JISC call 02/10 based on a suggestion from Paul Ell at CDDA in Belfast. Why post it here? I think there’s value in working on these things in a more public way, and I’d like to know who else would find the work useful.

Summary

Generating a gazetteer of historic UK placenames, linked to documents and authority files in Linked Data form. Both working with existing placename authority files, and generating new authority files by extracting geographic names from text documents. Using the Edinburgh Geoparser to “georesolve” placenames and link them to widely-used geographic entities on the Linked Data web.

Background

GeoDigRef was a JISC project to extract references to people and places from several very large digitised collections, to make them easier to search. The Edinburgh Geoparser was adapted to extract place references from large collections.

One roadblock in this and other projects has been the lack of open historic placename gazetteer for the UK.

Placenames in authority files, and placenames text-mined from documents, can be turned into geographic links that connect items in collections with each other and with the Linked Data web; a historic gazetteer for the UK can be built as a byproduct.

Proposal

Firstly, working with placename authority files from existing collections, starting with the existing digitised volumes from the English Place Name Survey as a basis.

Where place names are found, they can be linked to the corresponding Linked Data entity in geonames.org, the motherlode of place name links on the Linked Data web, using the georesolver component of the Edinburgh Geoparser.

Secondly, using the geoparser to extract placename references from documents and using those placenames to seed an authority file, which can then be resolved in the same way.

An open source web-based tool will help users link places to one another, remove false positives found by the geoparser, and publish the results as RDF using an open data license.

Historic names will be imported back into the Unlock place search service.

Context

This will leave behind a toolset for others to use, as well as creating new reference data.

Building on work done at the Open Knowledge Foundation to convert MARC/MADS bibliographic resources to RDF and add geographic links.

Making re-use of existing digitised resources from CDDA to help make them discoverable, provide a path in to researchers.

Geonames.org has some historic coverage, but it is hit and miss (E.g. “London” has “Londinium” as an alternate name, but at the contemporary location). The new OS OpenData sources are all contemporary.

Once a placename is found in a text, it may not be found in a gazetteer. The more places correctly located, the higher the likelihood that other places mentioned in a document will also be correctly located. More historic coverage means better georeferencing for more archival collections.

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