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Archaeological and Historical Event Modelling as Linked Data

Pelagios Network Event

Speaker: Dominic Oldman
Abstract: In I968 the French historian, Le Roy Ladurie, thought that, “the historian will be a programmer or he will be nothing”. But today, nothing could be further from the truth. Ladurie was quoted by Lawrence Stone in his own 1979 prophecy, ‘The Revival of the Narrative’, which has turned out to be more accurate – that Historians, after a period of significant quantitative work in the 60s and 70s, would ultimately return to a form of the narrative, despite the increasing complexity of the historical argument. Data either trivialised or confused a sophisticated position and, on balance, historians were better off crafting the information themselves. Stone declared that, “sampling by hand is preferable and quicker than, and just as reliable as, running the whole universe through a machine.” Modern information systems still fail to satisfy or even interest the historian. Thuller has pointed out that databases do not support qualitative, alongside quantitative, needs; they don’t address research questions with the right structures, language or context; and they take funds away from more progressive alternatives, something increasingly echoed by modern humanists. Modern, narrative based, History ‘web sites’ are a testament to this legacy. In an attempt to solve some of these problems, ontologies have been produced to provide a greater synergy between researcher and computer, but ontologies by themselves, often conceived wholly or partially outside their target knowledge domains, are not able to address the particular needs of historical abstraction, still creating relatively simplistic patterns with useful, but still marginal benefits compared to the time and costs involved. In this paper, we consider what are the essential qualities needed for a digital ‘data oriented’ research system able to provide historians with more than a useful data processing or reference tool, and illustrate some of the principles in a new type of digital research system – the Andrew W. Mellon funded, ResearchSpace, being developed at the British Museum. It will also introduce a new ontological extension to the CIDOC-CRM which is part of ‘work in progress’ to encourage a move away from an existentialist and substantialist viewpoint, and emphasise that it is this ‘human’ viewpoint that limits the CIDOC CRM’s use in creative epistemological applications.

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