Monday, 17 June 2013

Historypin mapping tool

Good news that Historypin have completed development work on a test version of the new mapping tool for displaying Linked Data links from archive catalogues on the Historypin Google maps interface.

The tool interrogates a portion of the many thousands of place names associated with catalogue entries on AIM25, which aggregates collection level catalogue descriptions from archives held in around 130 institutions in the London area, including learned societies, universities, museums and local authorities. AIM25's 17,000 catalogues relate to collections containing a wealth of information about every corner of the globe, spanning around 500 years of history and covering topics as diverse of scientific discovery, war and international relations, exploration and travel, biography, politics and religion.

The mapping tool was an experimental component of Step change, which sought to release the UK Archival Thesaurus (UKAT), the key UK subject vocabulary, as a Linked Data Service; to develop a new editing tool for the creation of semantic archive catalogues; and  to embed the tool in Axiell's CALM, one of the most popular proprietary archive cataloguing applications used by some 400 institutional customers in the UK and Europe.

The mapping project interrogates UKAT for relevant 'Scope and Content' related place names (ie catalogues tagged up with place names relevant to the source material and not biographical or other contextual information). These catalogue titles are then flagged on the map, which is badged as a Historypin themed channel. Users can expand titles to read relevant information about the collections and make arrangements for visiting the archives or to follow links to digital surrogates of the source material.

The sub-project was not without significant obstacles. Issues included performance associated with too many simultaneous queries; difficulty in visualising different levels of granularity - what constitutes a 'place' - geo-co-ordinates, a bounded area or a subjective understanding of the 'local'; and the problem of flagging up diverse locations listed in single entries (something that often happens with personal paper collections of individuals whose lifetime careers might include study, emplyment or family life across the world). Work arounds included the inclusion of a granularity filter to overcome the problem of excessive clustering of returns; and limits placed on simultaneous queries. The resulting map only returns a portion of the many tens of thousands of places described in AIM25 and doesn't yet link with a conventional Historypin map showing pinned photographs of local places. This will follow soon, to develop a more useful and integrated service combining photographs contributed by partner archives, along with relevant catalogue entries that provide useful contextual information.


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