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Adding GeoNames to Wikidata for reconciliation

In the upcoming Version 3 beta of World Historical Gazetteer (early June 2024), we have added about 10 million GeoNames place records to the 3.6 million Wikidata records in the index we have been using for reconciliation. This means that for geocoding purposes (one of the main reasons for using the WHG reconciliation service) the will be a higher likelihood of finding prospective matches for your records.

It also adds some complexity to the review of hits (see the screen below) and we are looking for feedback on how this will work. During the beta phase we can refine or even discard this feature – up to our users!

So…how it will work:

  • When you create a new reconciliation task you have the option to exclude GeoNames records; if you do, they will be skipped in the search for matches
  • If you don’t exclude them, hits from GeoNames will be returned along with those from Wikidata, but…
    • If there were were both Wikidata and GeoNames hits, the GeoNames ones would be hidden initially, but displayed on click of a toggle button
    • If there were no Wikidata hits but there were GeoNames hits, those would display right away.
  • As usual, you can select zero or more of these hits as close matches, press Save and move on to the next.

Below you can see the before and after choosing to display GeoNames hits.

Wikidata hit shown, GeoNames hidden until requested
GeoNames hits displayed on request

Version 3 due in June!

We have been busy, with both software and content development. Version 3 of the World Historical Gazetteer has been in development since February 2023, and a beta version will be available mid-2024. What follows is a brief outline of what we have been working on, much of which came as suggestions from our user community. Details will follow in the coming weeks and months, on this blog and on Twitter. We do expect to establish a Mastodon account soon as well.

Version 3 (alpha) home page

New “Gazetteer Builder” feature

  • Link multiple datasets in a single collection, e.g. for a group or individual to assemble a “Historical Gazetteer of {x}”
  • Merge multiple datasets into new dataset

Home page

  • A map(!), with search and advanced search
  • ‘Carousels’ of published datasets and collections, with extents previewed on the map
  • Improved explanation of what the WHG offers
  • News and announcements

Maps

  • All 14 maps on the site significantly upgraded
  • Most maps now have temporal controls: a timespan ‘slider’ and/or a sequence ‘player’
  • Faster display of large datasets and collections, thanks to WHG’s own new “tileboss” server

Search

  • Search now across all published records-the confusing “search the index or database” choice is gone!
  • Options for ‘starts with”, “contains”, “similar to” (aka fuzzy) as well as ‘exact’
  • Spatial filter on search results
  • More information returned in search result items

Place Portal pages

  • Complete makeover of its design
  • Physical geographic context: ecoregions, watersheds, rivers, boundaries
  • Nearby places
  • Preview of annotated collections that include the place

Publication and editorial workflow

  • We are now especially highlighting three types of publications: Datasets, annotated Place Collections, and Dataset Collections
  • Expanded Managing Editor role
  • Improved tracking of contributors and data, from ‘interested’ to full accessioning
  • DOIs for data publications, enhanced metadata, significantly enhanced presentation pages
  • Improved download options

Annotated place collections for teaching

  • Support for class and workshop group scenarios
  • Optional image per annotation
  • Order places sequentially with or without dates
  • Enhanced display and temporal control options
  • Optional gallery per class
  • Site-wide student gallery

“My Data” dashboard and profile

  • Single page, simpler

Study Areas

  • Discontiguous areas, e.g. Iberian peninsula and S. America as a single area

API and data dumps

  • More endpoints, better documented
  • Regular dumps of published data in multiple formats

Codebase

  • Improved file upload validation and error reporting
  • The codebase is now “dockerized,” making it much easier to contribute to the platform’s development
  • Upgraded versions of all major components: Django, PostgreSQL, Elasticsearch, etc.
  • All map-related functions refactored for efficiency

Community Feedback Meetings: September 2023

As the project team continues developing the WHG platform and expanding indexed and published content about historical places, we want to ensure that we are maximizing opportunities to involve our community in decision making and feedback. To that end, the WHG project team will be holding a series of community feedback meetings. We have scheduled four 60-minute Zoom meetings in September of 2023 during which we hope to solicit feedback from those interested in and knowledgeable about the WHG project and also humanistic linked data more broadly. We seek your help in identifying and prioritizing next steps in making the WHG platform more useful and more usable for more people.

The four meetings will take place on Thursday, September 7 at 9:00AM and 4:00PM Eastern and Friday, September 8 at 9:00AM and 4:00PM Eastern. You can register for a meeting using the Zoom links below. 

September 7, 2023 9:00-10:00 am EST

September 7, 2023 4:00-5:00 pm EST 

September 8, 2023 9:00-10:00 am EST

September 8, 2023 4:00-5:00 pm EST 

The agenda will be the same for all sessions: a welcome and introduction, a brief overview of project developments over the past year, a walkthrough of new developments for the upcoming Version 3, and time for questions and discussion. We can be most productive if participants visit WHG beforehand (https://whgazetteer.org), register as a user if you haven’t already, and browse the site guide, tutorials, and features themselves. Prior to the meeting, you will receive a Google Survey form that you can use to record comments and thoughts during and after the meeting. 

Job Opportunity: Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital World History (Pitt World History Center)

Please share this call with anyone in your networks who may be interested!

The World History Center and the Department of History at the University of Pittsburgh seek applicants for a two-year postdoctoral fellowship in Digital World History beginning Fall 2023. Candidates must have completed a Ph.D. in history or a related discipline before June 2023. 

We seek candidates who have a background in history or a related discipline and who also have expertise in one or more digital methodologies, including data development, scripting languages, and linked data. Experience working in the spatial humanities with tools such as QGIS and ArcGIS is required. Applicants from information science who have demonstrable expertise in history are also welcome to apply. The successful candidate should also have experience in digital humanities pedagogy and teaching. 

In addition to engaging in their own research, the postdoctoral fellow will collaborate on the Center Director’s current research initiatives, including the NEH-funded World Historical Gazetteer. The successful candidate will supervise 1-2 student workers and oversee the transformation of data into Linked Places format. Experience working with data using relational databases, scripting languages such as Python or R, and SQL is highly desirable. Experience developing web maps is also desirable.

The Fellow will serve as the student supervisor and lead instructor for the Digital Atlas Design Internship (https://www.worldhistory.pitt.edu/education/digital-atlas-design-internship). This will require regular meetings with students and faculty advisors. The Fellow is also expected to advise faculty and graduate students about digital methodologies and tools, consult with the system administrators who support the Center’s servers, and participate actively in the Center’s activities, events, and intellectual community.  

Salary and benefits are competitive. Please apply on Pitt Talent Center by uploading a letter of application and a full CV. We will request letters of reference and a writing sample from semi-finalist candidates. The deadline for applications is March 20, 2023.  

WHG Awarded NEH/IMLS Digital Humanities Advancement Grant!

The National Endowment for the Humanities announced that the World Historical Gazetteer Project has been awarded a Digital Humanities Advancement Grant (DHAG), co-funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

The grant will allow the project team to develop infrastructure, content, and community for Version 3 of the WHG. The  index will more than double in size; the suite of tools will evolve to better support teachers, contributors, and end users; and the team will expand opportunities to involve diverse and global communities of board members, scholars, learners and developers.  

The NEH’s Digital Humanities Advancement Grants program (DHAG) supports innovative, experimental, and/or computationally challenging digital projects, leading to work that can scale to enhance scholarly research, teaching, and public programming in the humanities. In support of its efforts to advance national information infrastructures in libraries and archives, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) provides funding through this program. 

ABOUT THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

Connecting Places with World Historical Gazetteer

On 13 September, I gave an invited talk, titled “Connecting Places with World Historical Gazetteer” at the Royal Dutch Academies Humanities Cluster offices in Amsterdam (KNAW-HuC). The slides are provided here, with some annotation.

World Historical Gazetteer Featured in InfoEco Cookbook!

The WHG has been featured in the Information Ecosystems Cookbook, an Open Educational Resource (OER) supported by a Sawyer Seminar grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and facilitated by the Visual Media Workshop at the University of Pittsburgh. The InfoEco Cookbook is comprised of modules organized by curricular pathways: Data in Context, Datafication, Data Structures, Platform Studies, and Producing and Using Datasets.

In the WHG module, “GIS Data: Using Linked Open Data and the World Historical Gazetteer to Map Spatial Data,” users learn how to make a gazetteer and how to index it in the World Historical Gazetteer. The module has four main sections. A “do” section asks learners to create a geospatial dataset by offering step-by-step instructions. A “watch” section includes a video that demonstrates how to reconcile data against the WHG index. An “explore” section provides alternative GIS tools and datasets for learners to engage with. And finally, a “guiding realizations” section describes the overarching concepts and challenges of the module.

The module was designed with different ways to do the lesson. One option is to follow along with an active facilitator guiding learners through the sections. Alternatively, one can do the lesson individually and asynchronously. The WHG’s InfoEco Cookbook module is a great way for interested users to learn how to format, upload, and reconcile a dataset into the World Historical Gazetteer!

Job Opportunity: Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital World History (Pitt World History Center)

The University of Pittsburgh’s World History Center is seeking applicants for a two-year postdoctoral fellowship in Digital World History beginning Fall 2022. The postdoctoral fellow will collaborate closely with the World Historical Gazetteer team and should have expertise in one or more digital methodologies, including data development, scripting languages, and linked data. Please share this opportunity widely! See below for application information.

Proficiency in digital mapping and spatial analysis is particularly desirable. Applicants from information science who have demonstrable expertise in history are also welcome to apply. In addition to engaging in their own research, the successful candidate will collaborate on the Center Director’s current research initiatives, including the World Historical Gazetteer. The successful candidate should also have experience in digital humanities pedagogy and teaching.

The Fellow will serve as the student supervisor and lead instructor for the Digital Atlas Design Internship. This will require regular meetings with students and faculty advisors. The Fellow is also expected to advise faculty and graduate students about digital methodologies and tools, consult with the system administrators who support the Center’s servers, and participate actively in the Center’s activities, events, and intellectual community.

Salary and benefits are competitive. Candidates must have completed their Ph.D. before June 2022. Please apply at the Pitt Talent Center by uploading a cover letter and a full CV.  We will request letters of references and a writing sample from semi-finalist candidates. Deadline for applications is March 20th, 2022. Please direct any questions to WHC@PITT.EDU

Linked Pasts VII activity: Reconciliation of Historical Place Names

We are pleased to be co-sponsoring with several colleagues a workshop/activity at the upcoming Linked Pasts VII Symposium. The activity will take place in two two-hour sessions on Wednesday and Thursday, the 15th and 16th of December (both starting at 16:00 CET). If you would like to participate, and/or be kept informed of details as the dates approach, please register your interest in this online form so we can be in touch with you.

Conveners: Tomasz Panecki, Bogumil Szady, Grzegorz Myrda (Polish HGIS); Karl Grossner, Ruth Mostern (World Historical Gazetteer)

Discussants: Ruth Mostern, Sinai Rusinek, Humphrey Southall; Merve Tekgürler

Reconciliation in the Linked Pasts context is the task of aligning records concerning named historical entities contained in one dataset with those of another, typically for places or people. Often it is a research dataset being reconciled against some authoritative resource, but sometimes aligning “peer” datasets is the goal. We perform reconciliation in order to augment our dataset with attributes gained from another (e.g. geographic coordinates and concordance identifiers in the case of places), and to link our records (and by extension our research) with that of colleagues concerned with the same places and people.

The conveners of this activity have identified three particular issues we are interested to focus on for place data, in discussion and in a related exercise. The first is the quality of reference datasets (e.g. Wikidata/DBpedia, TGN, etc.) and how their granularity influences the process of alignment. The second issue is the consistency of matching decisions between multiple reviewers. Although algorithms may help users to match place names with their modern counterparts, choices are often ambiguous. The third issue is the sustainability of results and whether such linked data products can be treated as reference works, which is associated with the problem of how the reconciliation of place names relates to the identification of geographic phenomena over time.

The activity will begin with 10-minute presentations from four discussants who have various perspectives on reconciliation from their own work. Their geographic areas of concern include historical Polish territories, the broad Middle East, Russia, and the UK. Following that, in a demo/exercise participants will jointly perform a reconciliation exercise on a portion of a 100-row example dataset assembled for this purpose, using the World Historical Gazetteer platform. Afterwards, free discussion will close out the first session. Participants will be asked to upload the sample data file into their own private space in WHG in between sessions, and perform the reconciliation task on all 100 records (this should take 30 minutes or less).

In the second session, we’ll review those records that had the most disagreement between reviewers in matching results, then have extended discussion amongst all participants about reconciliation in general and possible next steps. We anticipate the experience will foster interesting and useful discussion that will inform a best practices white paper to be co-authored by the conveners following Linked  Pasts 7.

Version 2 is here!

We are pleased to announce the release of Version 2 of World Historical Gazetteer! New features have been added, and we’ve made several significant improvements to usability.  This work was made possible by the continued support of our home institution, the World History Center at the University of Pittsburgh, and especially by the collaboration and support of the Humanities Cluster of KNAW.

In recent months we asked several contributors to pause their data preparation in the WHG system while these improvements were made. We can finally “re-open the doors” so to speak,  so we invite those efforts to resume, and again encourage new contributions and collaborations. We will respond quickly to any bug reports or general inquiries about using the platform.

Over the next several months we will be adding quite a bit more data that is already in the queue. Although much user interaction with the WHG platform is self-guided and semi-automated, we have found that contributions move most smoothly with staff support. WHG staff stand ready to help with data conversion strategies and with the planning of contributions generally. Please do get in touch with us (whg at pitt dot edu) or with any individual WHG project team members individually.

What’s New

The Site Guide and several tutorials on the WHG site describe its features and their use in some detail. The following briefly summarizes what is new since Version 1.

Collections

Registered users can now create “collections,” linking sets of existing public datasets within the system for purposes of presentation and combined search. This new feature aims at supporting the development of “focus regions” within WHG by collaborative groups with overlapping region/period interests.

Revamped search

Previously, search capability was limited to records fully accessioned into the WHG “union index,” and returned sets of one or more “closely matched” attestations of a place. This kept from view public datasets that had not yet been indexed. An option to search all public data within the WHG database—indexed or not—has been added to give a more complete view of the data we hold.

Reconciliation review

We have adopted the term “linking” to refer to all tasks of reconciliation and alignment—to external the external sources Wikidata, Getty TGN held in our sytem and to our own WHG union index. All of these require a “Review” step, where the prospective matches discovered in the task are presented for closeMatch/no match/defer decisions. The progress of this process, which can sometimes extend over time and involve multiple people, is now tracked in the Dataset Browse screen available to the dataset contibutor (“owner”) and designated collaborators. The choice to “defer” is also new since v1.2; it permits maintaining a separate queue of records, allowing users to move quickly through the easier decisions and set aside those requiring more attention, or review by others.

Views and downloads of public data

We now provide summary descriptions and mapped browsing for all datasets, collections, and individual place records that have been flagged as public. Public datasets can now be downloaded, according to CC-BY-4.0 license terms.

Faster maps

We have implemented the MapLibreGL technology for our Dataset and Collection maps, dramatically enhancing the speed of rendering large numbers of features.

Local Wikidata index

Since Version 1.2 in May, we have maintained a local index of about 3.6 million Wikidata place records, making reconciliation tasks for that resource 3x faster than the earlier SPARQL queries over the web–processing about 150-180 records per minute.

More reliable upload validation

Accounting for every possible anomaly or error in upload files is tricky. We have significantly improved the validation algorithm, trapping more errors with more user-friendly responses.

Miscellaneous

Site documentation has been edited and extended, and a number of display problems were fixed. SSL protocol (https) has been implemented for secure transfer.