Questions about placenames

The CHALICE project is led by EDINA at the University of Edinburgh and, along with ourselves at CeRch, partnered by Edinburgh’s Language Technology Group and the Centre for Data Digitization and Analysis in Belfast. The aim is to compile an RDF’able Linked Data gazetteer of placenames, derived from automated extraction of geospatial entities using the Edinburgh geoparser from the publication of the English Place Names Survey. Division of labour is EDINA leads and coordinates, LTG does the heavy lifting, CDDA does the digitization and we, CeRch, look at the medium and long term implementation of the gazetteer by developing use cases with real research projects.

So far, it seems that there might be an interesting link  up with CCH’s Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England project. This contains no historical sources as such, more it is a collection of references and ‘sign posts’, whose aim is to build up lists of individuals who appear throughout the Anglo-Saxon sources. This includes a list of *modern* placenames associated with different references throughout the sources; and one useful application might be to connect the modern toponyms in EPNS with this, allowing searching from a separate collection using historic (i.e. Anglo-Saxon) variants. It seems to me – and I will be happy to be corrected by anyone with more philological credentials than myself – that the Anglo-Saxon material is probably the richest and most interesting seam of material for the kind of coordination that a CHALICE-type gazetteer can bring. Or maybe I am being unduly influenced by recently reading Archaeology, Place-Names & History: An Essay on Problems of Co-ordination by F. T. Wainwright (1962), recommended (and indeed lent) to me by Jo Walsh, CHALICE’s project manager  (and reviewed by the same here).

So last Friday, we all met at the EPNS’s premises in Nottingham (or rather the premises of the University of Nottingham’s Institute for Name Studies, which hosts them) for a JISC-funded kickabout on the subject. My sketchy summary of the discussion follows.

  • How can we develop gazetteers suitable for wider use? Probably by using standards which others do not have to bust a gut to follow, and which provide stability.
  • The Getty Thesaurus is an example of a stable gazetteer.  There are problems with Geonames, but it lacks stability in terms of content, *but* by publishing stable URIs it at least documents and exposes that instability. C.f. for example the sameas.org concept definition service, which was mentioned a few times: it seems that that, as an abstract entity on the linked data web, the instance of ‘Stuart Dunn’ that I am pretty sure refers to me in fact belongs to several different higher level entities. Whether that is due to the Web’s instability or my own, I’m not sure.
  • It was noted that while the concept is constant, URLs can become inappropriate – e.g. the Vision of Britain website has data from Estonia.
  • OS research has looked at issues such as namespace hosting  – this has important implications for going beyond geographical areas (such as England).
  • Different people produce different things: are these different resources, or can they bought together as a single resource? Theoretically they can, but much of all the EPNS’s material is on paper. There is nothing in the structure that would forbid it, but it is not digital.

A definitive report of the meeting will be produced in due course.

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