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.


Spreading the word 2

Continuing the mission to engage with interested parties on the SENESCHAL project, I presented details of the project at the FISH-HEIRNET Spring technical meeting on 26th April at English Heritage’s offices in sunny Birmingham. Tried to weave in some new details as there were a few people present who had previously attended the Digital Past 2013 event in Monmouth. Again there was a very positive response, so it sounds like we’re on the right track at least. We really want the project to align with and aid the work the FISH terminology working group  and HER’s are doing.

Spreading the word…

We headed to Shire Hall in Monmouth for the Digital Past 2013 event on 21st February  to give a talk on semantic technologies and linked data, also including quite a large plug for the (then) imminent SENESCHAL project. It’s tricky disseminating useful details of a project that’s yet to actually start, particularly describing what we were planning to a mixed audience coming at the content from very different perspectives. Nevertheless it was very well received, and we made a lot of nice contacts. Seems the vocabulary issues we described struck a chord with  people from many different disciplines.  The presentation slides are available for download as a PDF file: DigitalPast2013_cbinding

SENESCHAL project started

The first meeting for the SENESCHAL project took place on Monday 4th March 2013 at English Heritage, Swindon (thanks to Phil for hosting).


  • Peter McKeague (RCAHMS)
  • David Thomas (RCAHMW)
  • Phil Carlisle (EH DSU)
  • Keith May (EH Portsmouth)
  • Paul Cripps (Wessex Archaeology)
  • Holly Wright (ADS York)
  • Doug Tudhope (Glamorgan)
  • Ceri Binding (Glamorgan)

The team reviewed the project proposal and mapped out a preliminary plan of work, particularly focusing on the publication of the vocabularies as LOD. Areas discussed in more detail included hosting service, licensing, attribution, versioning and alignment of data. More to follow on these issues in future blogs. SENESCHAL case studies using the LInked Data to be discussed at forthcoming Glamorgan visit to ADS.