Progress update

This is a quick post about what I’ve been doing recently and what I’m going to do next.

First, I’ve provisionally finalised the data structures and page layouts, but feedback is still welcome (you can comment on the data structure documentation at Google docs).

The page layouts have changed a bit since the first launch of the wiki. The old ‘Semantic search’ heading has gone, and the links that were under it have been integrated into other sections, so for example everything about sources is under the ‘Sources’ heading, including the link to the query for linked sources. Now that I’ve had a chance to experiment with caches on the live wiki, I’ve found that it can be more efficient to embed query results and maps in a page, which also means you can see them without having to click a link.

Now that the data structures and page layouts are stable (for now) I can start importing batches of data. I’ve finished and tested the Python scripts for generating wiki XML files from CSV. These are based on what I did for Linking Experiences of World War One, but are simpler and more flexible.

The first successful import is a batch of authors. You can see from the authors category that there are now 54 pages for authors. All of these are linked to Wikidata IDs but most of them are not yet linked to editions of their works because I haven’t imported any books yet. Only three of these authors are women. The ratio will improve as I import more authors but it will still necessarily reflect the historical under-representation of women: although there are now lots of women publishing about the civil wars, the field used to be very male dominated. The first batch might look like an eccentric selection because my priorities for authors are based on two main factors:

  • how much of their work is relevant to this project and has specific named entities as a main subject, or is otherwise particularly important for what I’m doing
  • whether they already have a Wikidata ID

As well as building up more authors and books, early priorities for imports include:

  • historical people who are subjects of published biographies
  • battles and sieges
  • places where battles and sieges happened
  • armies that took part in battles and sieges
  • historic counties of Great Britain

Handling Julian dates

‘On this day in history’ is a popular thing on social media but the dates are often technically wrong because of the discrepancy between the Julian and Gregorian calendars. This isn’t a serious problem if you’re just tweeting factoids, but it is a serious problem if you want to create reliable historical data that people can use in their research. This post explains the problem and how Semantic MediaWiki can solve it.

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Wiki now live!

Exciting news: the By The Sword Linked wiki can now be viewed at:

So far there are only a few example pages but it should give a good idea of how it works and what it can do. It’s still a work in progress so any feedback would be very useful to help improve it. You can comment on this post or on Twitter, but the wiki itself can’t yet be edited by anyone but me (it will be opened up to other people eventually, but I don’t know exactly when).

I’ve also put a copy of the data structures documentation at Google Docs so that anyone can comment on it there. This is a bit more technical but I would be grateful for any feedback or advice, especially from anyone who knows about Linked Open Data but also from anyone who knows about history, if you have time to read it (it’s quite long because although I’ve tried to keep the data structures as simple as possible, we all know that history is complicated).

My first impression is that the server is very fast, but I don’t know how things will go when the numbers of pages and users go up in future.

Modelling bibliographic data

A large part of what I’m trying to do with By The Sword Linked involves indexing and citing historical sources. This means that I need to model bibliographic data about published sources, which is something that seems simple as long as you don’t think about it… The more you think about it, the more you realise how complicated it is. This post explains how I’m doing it and why. I’d be grateful for any comments or criticisms. Continue reading

Basics (and complications) of Linked Data

By The Sword Linked will be based on the principles of Linked Open Data. Most users won’t need to know the technical details of what goes on behind the scenes, but it’s still useful to sketch out the basic principles and the way they work in Semantic MediaWiki because these things influence the structures of the data that I’m creating and how users will be able to navigate it. I won’t say much about the technical details of machine-readable RDF code. This is partly because I don’t think many people actually want to use RDF directly, and partly because Semantic MediaWiki automatically creates and publishes it as a side-effect of the wiki templates and semantic properties that have to be defined for the wiki itself to work, so even I don’t really need to learn much about RDF (but it will be there if you want it). Continue reading