How many beans make 5? or One man’s fish is another man’s poisson

As a little fella, I was often asked by my dad the somewhat perplexing question: “How many beans make 5?”. The even more perplexing answer, “a bean, a bean and a half, half a bean and 2 beans”,  is imprinted on my brain like the lyrics to every Rush song up to, but not including, Test For Echo (I blame the fact that this was the first album not to be released on vinyl and therefore I didn’t spend hours stroking the gatefold sleeve whilst reading the astonishing literary offerings of Mr N. Peart esq.). As ever, I digress.

The above answer is, indisputably, correct and for years I was as certain, as certain can be, that it was the definitive answer.


In the early noughties, John Peel (DJ extraordinaire and National Treasure, RIP) asked the very same question on his BBC Radio 4 programme Home Truths. Imagine my surprise, dear reader, at

a) somebody else even knowing about the question


b) the staggering number of possible answers which his devout listeners sent in.

The debate seemed to go on for weeks and caused quite a kerfuffle amongst the cocoa-sipping, be-cardiganned denizens of Radio 4 land. Eventually, everyone had to agree to disagree.

Now, dear reader, I can hear you chuntering to yourself and muttering “What is this gibberish?”

Well, what this taught me was that sometimes there is no single definitive answer but that it doesn’t matter as long as everybody is aware that they’re discussing the same thing. Or in others words it doesn’t matter about the labels as long as the concept is agreed. That’s what we here at are trying to bring about and the next step with the vocabularies that we have is to create links between them as a precursor to the development of the Uberthesaurus.

We’re also hoping to link to other vocabularies from our cousins across the channel and make a truly multi-lingual resource. So if you know of a vocabulary that’s out there then point it in our direction. Thank you for you co-operation in this matter.

Work in the pipeline

Publishing the vocabularies is the first phase in the immediate SENESCHAL project and broader work. More to follow later but briefly flagging up immediate plans.

Linking out
As good citizens of the LOD world, we want to make SKOS mapping connections both at the vocabulary level and more broadly connecting or collaborating with related projects. Currently there are a few mappings to Dewey linked data URIs, courtesy of a previous RCAHMW project. One obvious next step is publish SKOS mappings between the different national thesauri to each other and to the eventual uber thesaurus Phil has blogged about.

More broadly, making mappings between different language thesauri is also part of the ARIADNE archaeological infrastructure work we are involved in. This should also offer opportunities for other providers to make their vocabularies available as Linked Data.

To help with the mappings, Ceri is working on alignment, as part of a larger body of work on RESTful web services that operate over the vocabulary Linked Data and facilitate their use. We plan to build on previous work with SOAP based services for STAR and develop more complex higher level services attuned to the immediate SENESCHAL use cases as a first step.

Immediate applications of the services for SENESCHAL case studies include widgets for Browser based indexing applications.

Thinking of possible users unfamiliar with the heritagedata website or who may not even know that the vocabularies exist, how can we help them discover, assess and perhaps decide to use or even extend the vocabularies? Part of the eventual solution (as usual) is metadata – this time at the vocabulary level.

We have included some initial vocabulary metadata (see the Properties at the top level of any of the Linked Data vocabulary schemes) though it is something we want to come back to and extend. For example, we’d like to include some metadata on the broad coverage of the vocabularies. Eventually we envisage vocabulary registries through ARIADNE and related projects where users may go to search for relevant vocabularies.

For this metadata we have made a start by using some metadata elements from the DCMI KOS Application Profile (DC AP) effort led by Marcia Zeng. This presents a core and extended set of metadata elements and we will be adding to our initial set of elements through discussions with the vocabulary providers.

In fact, it’s not so simple necessarily as assigning metadata to a vocabulary (though this is where we are starting). We might want to distinguish between a particular publication manifestation (eg linked data) of a particular language expression of an underlying work. And yes the DC AP builds on the FRBR work of the library community and provides different metadata elements for the different parts of the model. We have not chosen to model at that level currently but are interested in any views on this.

Cultosaurus Humongous or Everything you ever wanted to know about heritage but were afraid to ask

Big ideas

As mentioned in my earlier post – The thesaurus that time forgot – the idea of a combined Thesaurus of Monument Types for the whole of the UK has been around for more than a decade. Unfortunately, as with anything that’s left, unwatched, on a back burner for any length of time, it’s likely to boil over. In this case, like the magic porridge pot, the idea has not just boiled over, it has grown…and grown..and grown…and gr…(well you get the picture).

The idea is no longer to develop a UK-wide Thesaurus of Monument Types but to expand it to cover the whole of Cultural Heritage, and the whole of the geographic British Isles (including the UK, Ireland, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands).

The thesaurus would include those vocabularies provided by EH, RCAHMS and RCAHMW as well as bringing together all of the existing thesauri/authority files recommended by FISH.

In addition, it  would also look to incorporate other terminologies from the reference data lists in use by the following organizations:

Where practicable archaic, regional and dialect terms would be included and the thesaurus would include multilingual aspects with Welsh, Gaelic, Manx and Scots Gaelic included (where appropriate).


For both geographical and political reasons it is recognized that the UK, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands share a common cultural heritage with respect to their archaeology and architecture and that, although certain regional differences occur, these do not reflect the current geopolitical boundaries, for example:

  • The Neolithic monuments found across the whole area
  • The Roman presence in England, Scotland and Wales
  • The Viking settlements of Ireland, The Isle of Man, Scotland and the North of England
  • The Georgian architecture of Bath, Dublin and Edinburgh
  • The military architecture of the 18th, 19th and 20th Century

As such, the proposed British and Irish Thesaurus of Cultural Heritage (acronym not to be used in polite circles) aims to provide a common framework and language for the recording of the built and buried heritage.

What and how?

Currently the terminologies in use sit in isolation from one another. The intention of the TCH is to bring them together under the umbrella of an Uber-thesaurus. Thus each domain (monuments, objects, materials, periods etc.) will become a hierarchy within the larger Cultosaurus Humongous (to misquote Blue Oyster Cult).

This structure will also allow us to create relationships between domains so that if a monument type is made of a specific material and found in a specific period then we can model that within the structure.

Obviously once the TCH is built it will be made available as linked data, each concept being represented by a HTTP URI. It is also anticipated that we will be able to associate each concept with images and other documentation so that the TCH will become a truly encyclopaedic resource for the Cultural Heritage sector.

So, that should be simple enough then…


The thesaurus that time forgot

In the Beginning was the word

In 2001 at the  mda conference, Rebecca Jones and myself gave a paper, mischievously titled Towards a Flexible UK-Wide Integrated thesaurus, concerning the aspiration for a UK-wide thesaurus of Monument Types. At that time the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) had just completed the development of the Scottish Monuments Thesaurus (SMT). Based on its English cousin the Thesaurus of Monument Types (TMT), the SMT provided RCAHMS with terminological independence. Its very existence also paved the way for the development of a combined UK Thesaurus.

The paper that Beccy and I gave at that conference set out the vision of a combined Thesaurus of Monument Types. Although the idea was well-received and welcomed by the community the lack of available tools for the development proved a major stumbling block and the project was mothballed.

Five years later, in 2006, EH secured funding for EHKOS – the English Heritage Knowledge Organization System. Intended as a collaborative tool for use by the whole heritage community , EHKOS would provide us with an online editing tool. Unfortunately, due to budgetary constraints, the project ground to a halt at the end of Phase 1.  So it was back to the drawing board.

In 2013 the landscape looks very different. Open-source thesaurus editing software is increasingly  being made available and we’re investigating options for using these to develop the thesaurus. These include:

  • GINCO  – currently being developed by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication
  • Vocbench – developed by  Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN

But before we can begin creating the new thesaurus we’re making the existing vocabularies, currently in use, available as linked data.

The rationale behind this is that the community have been asking for them and we can no longer keep our public waiting. Obviously we’d have loved to deliver the combined thesaurus but as the Rolling Stones once sang, you can’t always get what you want.

The other reason for not waiting for the release of the combined thesaurus is that the new thesaurus will look somewhat different…

Spreading the word 3

I attended a meeting of the END Technical Working Group at the National Museum Collection Centre in Nantgarw on Thursday 27th June 2013 to talk about what we’re doing in SENESCHAL. The END group consists of members from a number of key Welsh cultural heritage organisations: 

Following the meeting there was an opportunity for an extremely interesting quick supervised ‘tour’ of some of the larger artefacts held in storage at the collections centre – buses, train carriages, a lifeboat, even a rescue helicopter! For me the real stand out items were the old motorbikes, and some classic Gilbern sports cars – made in Pontypridd in the 1960s.