Conference “Europa baut auf Biographien”, Vienna 6-8 October 2015

This blog posts highlights just a few aspects from the conference “Europa baut auf Biographien”, especially those which are particularly close to my field. I was there to talk about networks.

National Library of Vienna

National Biography projects are seen as trusted repositories for information on selected personalities in a nation’s history. In most cases, three conditions need to be met in order to be considered for an entry: significant accomplishments, death and – since these projects typically ran/run for very long periods of time and move alphabetically: having a surname which starts with the right letter. This procedure is of course pragmatic in the pre-digital world but it also meant that Konrad Bloch, a biochemist and nobel prize winner who died in the year 2000, never made it to the German national biography.

Apart from these selection biases and sometimes outdated information the biographies remain a valuable resource for scholars and the public. It was great to see how keen national and regional biographies projects in Germany, Austria and Switzerland were to interlink their entries by means of VIAF and GND ids.

Growth and enrichment of national biographies were of particular interest: Paul Arthur’s keynote referred to a recent change in biography-scholarship: A move towards a biography understood as a network of intersecting lives and activities. His own efforts in this domain for example seeks to aggregate biographical data from different parts of the population, all branded similarly: there is Indigenous Australia, Obituaries Australia, People Australia, Indigenous Australia, Women Australia, Labour Australia as well as a crowd-based project HuNI which lets the public add relations between objects from Australia’s cultural heritage.

Piek Vossen presented their work in BiographyNet and focused on the automated extraction of additional metadata by means of text analysis. Their accomplishments are impressive and a short video on the site describes the project in detail.

In my interpretation and tightly knit to the current wave of networking thinking, a number of talks circled around the idea that biographies should no longer be thought of as isolated depictions of the great but reinterpreted as collective, explicitly European efforts. This is a big, great and most of all: fundable idea.

Making histoGraph open source

As many of you already know, histoGraph is a web platform designed to help researchers to explore large multimedia archives akin to what we have here at the CVCE. The histoGraph tool has two main goals:

  1. To enable users to find and identify the most relevant documents for research
  2. To discover  document connections between persons.

In the last few months our designer/developer Daniele Guido, has started the redesign and development of the tool: this screencast shows some of the new features of Histograph as well as identifying the benefits and limitations of the new design.

We can now explore the “neighborhood” of a person in terms of other co-occurring people and documents, follow the paths that connect one person to one another; or simply search for resources and pose questions related to the person or the document.

Still under development, the open source version of Histograph starts from this assumption and basically serves as recommendation system. The original database has been enriched with CVCE text documents and been transposed to a graph database in order to speed up all network related computation. Moreover, a simple and powerful text extraction chain has been added:  thanks to the powerful Yago disambiguation engine, all text captions, titles and abstracts have been annotated with Named Entities in at least two languages.

Additionally, dates of both pictures and text documents have been reconciled to ISO standard; geographical places to latitude and longitude by using Geonames and Google Geocoding API; finally, person entities have been enriched with related dbpedia information. We will shortly be updating the data curation workflow to  assess and validate the quality of the automatic extraction of these entities and we plan further develop our concept of expert crowdsourcing techniques.

We will use the blog to update you on progress so watch this space.

Sneak Preview of the new histoGraph at Sunbelt 2015

We presented the first screenshots of the all-new histoGraph during the poster session at this year’s INSNA Sunbelt conference on Social Network Analysis in Brighton. histoGraph facilitates the crowdbased indexation and exploration of multimedia cultural heritage materials. Click on the poster to get an idea of how this works and looks like.

We have outlined our ideas for the future development of histoGraph in this short article titled Interactive Networks for Digital Cultural Heritage Collections – Scoping the Future of HistoGraph (Cite).