This panel will introduce the vision and work behind the Data for History (DfH) consortium (dataforhistory.org). DfH is an international consortium holding the aim of improving geo-historical data interoperability in the semantic web. This aim entails establishing common methods for modelling, curating and managing data in historical research. Such methods would provide foundational support to research projects adopting a framework of collaborative, cumulative and interoperable scientific data production and investigation. DfH aims to develop and then maintain a common ontological model that would allow for domain specific, semantically robust data integration and interoperability. The model will be built up in the conceptual framework of the CIDOC CRM, and the experience of symogih.org and other participating projects, in order to integrate to the wider research community.
In contemporary research, an essential part of a historian’s research effort consists in laying the groundwork for scholarly argumentation by investing significant time in the production of complex structured data. This structured data encodes the scholar’s work of discernment of unique facts from documents and makes them potentially accessible either as individual facts or in aggregate. Such structured data sources are an invaluable tool of the contemporary historian, allowing for a much more granular and easily repeatable testing of historical argumentation than unstructured data. While nothing can replace the monograph/article in its function as the basic means to deliver complex argumentation, the advent of readily available primary facts encoded in a discrete way gives new means to confirm/disconfirm the arguments proposed therein, by checking arguments against individual and aggregate facts in a digital environment.
To maximize the utility of such structured facts, historians, as in other disciplines, face the task not only of creating such data but of doing so in a standardized way such that data regarding comparable facts and referents are transparently recorded and comparable. A means of creating commonly acceptable schemas for recording data and commonly accepted referents with regards to individual real world entities (places, people things) must be developed. The particular challenge for historical research, however, is the necessarily broad horizon of interest of the domain and the consequent significant intellectual challenge in considering how to derive such compatible schema and referent systems. The remit of historical research is so broad that there is not unfounded scepticism at the possibility of coming to any agreement on such questions. Without such agreement, however, the valuable integrated primary data that would allow a more granular investigation of historical argumentation will remain only locally useful, severely limiting its potential use and impact for historical research.
DfH proposes to meet these challenges by adopting the methods of semantic data encoding using formal ontologies. Such ontologies provide a means for historians, working together with computer scientists, to meet this challenge, by co-designing common conceptual models and reference data sources, which would establish a sort of interlingua to exchange data relevant to specific areas of historical research. This panel will offer a means for researchers belonging to DfH to lay out a vision and specific strategies for approaching this question.