Thursday, February 1, 2018

A Closer Look at ResearchSpace.

Following on my earlier post about the British Museum's URIs getting killed by the deployment of ResearchSpace into production...

The first glimpse I saw of ResearchSpace was at the Linked Ancient World Data Institute in May 2012. We are fast approaching six years since the first demo I saw, and the project must have existed for at least a year before that. So we are at 6-7 years of development with $1-2million from the Mellon Foundation for an application ( that looks wholly underdeveloped compared to many cultural heritage platforms that I've seen (that were built in a fraction of the time with a fraction of the money).
Let's take a look, shall we?

Um, okay. Not the easiest starting point for a query interface of a museum collection. The interface eschews keyword search--this is a feature, not a bug, mind you (see

Essentially, you can only query by making relationships between different categories of information. If I just want to see the coins of Antioch, I have to sort my way through several iterations of expressing a query as triples. Now certainly there is some potential in querying in this way, but the problem is that this isn't how the vast majority of the public (general public or researchers interested in a specific portion of the collection) expects or wants to interact with the collection through a UI. Libraries, archives, and museums have been implementing faceted search of their collections (based on Solr, ElasticSearch, etc.) for over a decade now. There are facets in ResearchSpace, although they are not prominently displayed (click on the left to show via Javascript). Not all of the facets are terribly useful (some are 1:1 directly with the coin itself with regard to production events), but you do have to have some idea about how relationships are expressed between objects and concepts. I should also note that I'm skeptical that SPARQL-generated dynamic facets will be able to bear the load of production usage.

Okay, I got Things from Antioch. How to narrow? Add another query parameter. How about a Thing that is a Concept. What concept? Well, I have to select the relationship between the Thing and the Concept. "Has type". Useful to be familiar with modeling data in CIDOC CRM before you use the interface. Then I select "coin."

Oh. 0 results? There were definitely coins in the last page.

As it turns out, I really wanted things from Antiochia ad Orontem, but I also need to know that the emperor is expressed by the "refers to" property. "Refers to" appears twice, so you have to select the one with the person icon. There are times when the top-level filters conflict over overlap with the left-hand facets.

Coins of Antioch

User interface issues aside--certainly there is room for improvement here--the larger issue is the time frame and money it cost to arrive with this product. Having been funded by the Mellon Foundation, it would seem that both the data and the code should be open source, but the ResearchSpace code has never been opened, and therefore it is presently impossible to test, critique, or contribute back in order to make the platform better.

Aside from the fact that URIs don't dereference (failing the primary requirement of a LOD system), the UI is entirely driven by AJAX, making it complicated to paginate (clicking on a coin and then clicking back in the browser wipes out your facets and your page number) and impossible for a robot to crawl the collection, thus reducing access to the public who might happen upon museum objects through search engines. At the ANS, about 70% of all visitors to our Library, Archive, and Museum platforms come through search engines.

Even if you go to , what is actually there? A CURL yields the same basic HTML template. There's actually no useful information for a machine to extract--not even human readable versions of the data--and especially not RDFa or other types of microdata.

Content negotiation?

curl -H "Accept: application/rdf+xml"

No response. No HTML header metadata pointing to alternative serializations that can be requested by URLs. The whole system is antithetical to modern design--not just within cultural heritage, but everywhere.

ResearchSpace project managers have traveled from conference to conference in digital cultural heritage over the years, talking about the system and its advanced functionality, but the product we are seeing now falls extremely short of the hype. The problem has been in its management. It seems, from the outside, that there were never any achievable goals that could be reached in a concrete timeline. The ambition for the project grew to include IIIF, 3D annotation, and a host of other useful features.  ResearchSpace shot for the moon for its first public release. However, the project could have been released as a simpler framework years ago with these new features added in iterative development. With the code stored in Github, they might have been able solicit feedback from the cultural heritage community. Is ResearchSpace writing its own IIIF viewer? WebGL viewer? Is it using other open source libraries? Who knows.

There are a some cool features in the system--distribution analysis of categories based on your queried subset.

Material distribution of Antiochene coins of Elagabalus

So there's obviously potential. But between the high cost, the long duration of development, and the application architecture itself, with its walk back from stable URIs and REST, at what point is it safe to question whether or not the project has been a success? (since it technically exists on the web now, I suppose it's no longer vaporware) Did the British Museum lay off Dan Pett and put all of its eggs into the ResearchSpace basket for its future online collection database? It's really a crying shame that the BM employed one of the 10 top thinkers and doers in Digital Humanities in the entire world--the one person in their organization with the experience and creativity that might have been able to salvage the BM online collection and do something truly revolutionary with it (as he had done with the Portable Antiquities Scheme). It's a completely squandered opportunity, and the BM has done much to destroy the reputation it has gained as a leader within the museum Open Access and Open Data movement.

On stable URIs at the British Museum

Update, 2 Feburary 2018: The previous iteration of (Metaphacts) has been restored, and the collection object URIs now redirect once again to the Metaphacts framework. Earlier critiques of the system design still stand, relating to referenceable URIs, CURL, content negotiation, etc.

There are 61,853 coins from the British Museum integrated into's SPARQL endpoint and made available through type corpora such as OCRE and CRRO. The BM is the single largest contributor of numismatic data, providing about 3,000 more coins than the American Numismatic Society itself. With the aid of its highly talented and collaborative curators in the Coins and Medals Department, the British Museum's contributions to this research ecosystem have been transformative for the discipline, and the BM has played a vital role in demonstrating, through Linked Open Data methodologies, that LOD makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

This morning, all links have died.

And not died in the way that they have died when the oft-neglected, but extremely valuable (even though it had some obvious data modeling problems) British Museum SPARQL endpoint has gone down. Now they are 404's. Dead. Gone. Not a spinning circle you get when a server application runs out of memory. We've all known that there's some wonky and inefficient CIDOC-CRM modeling, and despite claims from ResearchSpace project managers, the British Museum data were never 5* Linked Open Data because they never linked externally. But stable, clean URIs are the A #1 requirement for LOD architecture.

And so ResearchSpace has managed to kill their own URIs when transitioning to the public version of the software. I was assured many years ago that these were the permanent URIs for objects.

So the URI for this coin of Augustus is dead:

However, you can still access the data in the new ResearchSpace system at

It should be noted: The BM implemented https://, effectively changing the URIs of its objects, but the URIs within the underlying graph database/SPARQL endpoint are still http://.

But you shouldn't have to negotiate the ResearchSpace framework with an unclean, application-specific request parameter to extract the data for At least create a proxy that allows for the resolution of the URI into human and machine-readable data, as per Linked Open Data principles? Or a semantic 303 redirect? Anything but straight-up killing millions of URIs. This betrays a serious deficiency in how to develop web applications.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Nearly 2,000 Roman Imperial coins from the University of Graz integrated into Nomisma

After several weeks of working with Elisabeth Steiner at the University of Graz, a large portion of the collection of Roman coins at the Institute of Ancient History and Classical Antiquities has been integrated into the SPARQL endpoint and is available in OCRE and CRRO. About 300 Republican coins were initially ingested in October, but the coverage has extended by nearly 2,000 coins from the Imperial period. The collection includes images published according to the IIIF specification, which is rapidly becoming the standard API by which new partners make their images available online. Unlike most Nomisma contributors, where intermediary harvesting scripts transform source XML or CSV into Nomisma-compliant RDF, the University of Graz export is a direct serialization of TEI from their Fedora repository into RDF.

An antoninianus of Gordian III at the University of Graz

What's especially notable about this collection is that it was a successful demonstration of the new Numishare and OpenRefine reconciliation APIs for normalizing RIC references to OCRE URIs. The first step was to normalize mints, emperors, and denominations to Nomisma preferred labels, which were then used as additional property search parameters for normalizing the RIC numbers themselves to the relevant OCRE URI.

You can read more at:
These new reconciliation APIs are the topic of my CAA presentation and paper in two months in the tools session.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Fralin Museum coin collection leaps forward, embraces IIIF

The Fralin Museum at the University of Virginia numismatic collection has received a major functional update thanks to collaboration with the Libary's Information Technology group (particularly, Mike Durbin). The data and images at long last have been migrated into the university's institutional repository--the data have been updated to conform to the latest version of the NUDS schema (with TEI namespaced for bibliographic references) and the images are now available through IIIF web services. I have updated the record page code to use the Leaflet IIIF plugin, so all high resolution images are zoomable now.

Tetrachrachm of Antiochus available in SCO. 1990.18.8

As such, the IIIF service metadata are exposed in the RDF that is harvested into the SPARQL endpoint (according to the Europeana Data Model spec), and the zoomable images are available in OCRE, CRRO, PELLA, and now, Seleucid Coins Online, for which the Fralin has contributed one coin of Antiochus I thus far.

In total, 427 coins in the museum (more than 80%) are hooked into the broader ancient world linked data cloud, available not only through numismatic linked data systems, but also broader aggregations of ancient world materials from Pelagios Commons, to which the Fralin has contributed since at least 2012 or 2013.

A zoomable Fralin aureus of Hadrian displayed in OCRE.

As Seleucid and Ptolemaic Coins Online expand in the next few years as part of the broader NEH-funded Hellenistic Royal Coinages project, more Hellenistic coins from the Fralin will be linked in and made available to students and scholars of numismatics. Although the Fralin's collection is so small that no numismatist would travel there to conduct research (unlike the major collections of the American Numismatic Society and the British Museum), these coins and others from small university and civic museums can be made available for research, filling in gaps between larger collections and painting a more complete picture of the circulation of ancient coinage. Indeed, one of the Fralin's aurei of Trajan (a reissue of Tiberius) is unique among all collections contributing to OCRE, now totally 110,000 objects (RIC Trajan 821).

Other Updates

The version of Numishare running on the Scholars' Lab server is circa spring 2013, predating the migrating from the now-defunct Apache Cocoon to Orbeon. There's virtually no way of testing code changes locally, and so I had to roll the dice on very minor updates on the Scholars' Lab test server. These updates included the implementation of the Leaflet IIIF libraries, as well as some minor changes to the map function to fix a glitch with deprecated URLs for the Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire's Imperium Romanum baselayer in OpenLayers. I also replaced the Google Maps physical layer with one published by Mapbox. I'd migrate from OpenLayers to Leaflet entirely, but ideally, the entire platform should be migrated to the current version of Numishare.

A link to the record in Virgo (the online library catalog) has also been added into the record. This URI is stored within the NUDS control as an otherRecordId[@semantic='rdfs:seeAlso'], and therefore comes through in the RDF in the rdfs:seeAlso property.

University of Freiburg joins Nomisma

The coin cabinet of the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg is the latest member of the NUMiD consortium to join the Nomisma project and make its coins available through OCRE and CRRO. The number of cataloged specimens made available in OCRE and CRRO stands at 100 so far, but this comprises only a small portion of the total collection of more than 12,000 objects.

About the collection:
The Seminar of Ancient History holds more than 12,000 coins of the Roman Imperial period and Late Antiquity. Their majority originates from a collection which Herbert Nesselhaus, the former Professor of Ancient History, was able to purchase in 1961 from the Archbishopric of Freiburg. The collection had found a temporary home there some twenty years earlier: Between 1900 and 1926 the Geheimer Oberbaurat Heinrich Wefels from Erlangen built a collection of c. 14,000 coins, which he had acquired at various auctions. About 10,300 are coins of Roman emperors and an additional 2,400 represent provincial issues. Wefels focussed on the Imperial period, but did add both earlier and later coinages, too. About 950 Byzantine coins, 360 Roman Republican ones, 220 Greek issues, and 22 Celic coins bear witness to these secondary areas of interest. Although the Seminar für Alte Geschichte is not any longer able to purchase additional coins, its collection was augmented through generous donations by Herbert A. Cahn, Otto Feld and Gerold Walser. Today the collection is complemented by a scientific numismatic library, which again originates in the collector Heinrich Wefels.

 An example coin can be found at Augustus 252.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Seleucid Coins Online launches

Another major piece of the NEH-funded Hellenistic Royal Coinage has been put into place. More than 3,000 Seleucid coin types from Lorber, Houghton, and Hoover's Seleucid Coins, Part 1 (expect Part 2 in 2018) have been published to Seleucid Coins Online. Users of ANS coin type corpora will be familiar with the layout and functionality, as this project is also published in Numishare, the same as OCRE, CRRO, and PELLA. Using semantic modeling inherent to Nomisma, dynasties and political entities to which rulers belong are now available as facet fields.

The first contributors of coinage to this project are the University of Münster (Archäologisches Museum der Westfälischen Wilhelms-Universität), Harvard Art Museums, the Berlin Münzkabinett, and the ANS's own collection of nearly 1,700 Seleucid Coins. We expect to add coinage from other partners, such as the British Museum and Fralin Museum at the University of Virginia shortly. Our colleagues Karsten Dahmen at Berlin and Frédérique Duyrat are working to translate type descriptions, and we will activate French and German in SCO early in 2018. The ANS and Harvard are both contributing images according to the IIIF specification.

Page for
With the ingestion of typological metadata as RDF into the SPARQL endpoint, it is now possible to conduct broader geographic and statistical distribution and metrical analyses with Nomisma's own set of tools (e.g., to compare the weight of Seleucid tetradrachms with those of Alexander). The type data and associated physical specimens also provide further research context for individual concepts defined on Nomisma. For example, the Nomisma page for Seleucus II will now display a map displaying the distribution of mints and findspots for the ruler, as well as a sample listing of related coin types (with photograph of coins linked to these types).
All of the data are available for free and open reuse.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

More than 20,000 Roman Republican coins from the BnF added to CRRO

In a watershed moment for Roman Republican numismatics, 20,237 coins with high-resolution IIIF images from the Bibliothèque nationale de France have been incorporated into the SPARQL endpoint, and are therefore available in Coinage of the Roman Republic Online. This nearly doubles the coverage of Republican coinage--there had previously been about 26,000 coins available through CRRO from 18 museums or archaeological databases (like the Portable Antiquities Scheme).

RRC 452/3

The addition of IIIF images for these coins greatly increases the scope of dynamic, SPARQL-generated IIIF manifests for coin types, such as this one from RRC 335/1a.

Florence Codine, from the BnF Coins and Medals department, provided a spreadsheet dump of these coins, which have been meticulously cataloged with CRRO URIs. I updated the PHP script I wrote for the integration of the BnF's coins of Alexander the Great into Pella. This script iterates through all of the ARKs in the CSV and queries the Gallica OAI-PMH endpoint to extract further metadata available in the OAI Dublin Core. This script then outputs RDF/XML conforming to the Nomisma ontology and data model, with the IIIF extension following the Europeana Data Model specification.

Some Basic Stats

  • 2,295 total RRC types in CRRO
  • 2,119 types are connected to at least 1 physical type (92% coverage)
  • 2,105 types connected to at least 1 physical type that has been photographed (91%) (SPARQL query)
  • 1,791 types are connected to BnF coins specifically (78% coverage for just one collection!)
  • RRC 340/1 has the largest photographic coverage with 1,878 coins! [I am going to need to introduce pagination for SPARQL results on coin type pages]
  • 63 types have more than 100 photographed specimens
  • 966 types have more than 10 photographed specimens (42%)

Here's a CSV output of all types + the total image count per type: [download]