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Methodology

Digital means of capturing, organizing, and querying data are uniquely valuable to multilingual, transnational research endeavours, including the Dragoman Renaissance Research Team (PI N. Rothman), which has relied on several strategies to gain insight into the lifeworlds of dragomans, or diplomatic interpreters, operating between the Ottoman and Venetian empires in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. 

Underlying the project is the photography of archival documents from multiple archives. These “digital surrogates” facilitate data-driven insights and wider perspectives on the historical record. They can be robustly re-contextualized using metadata that describes complex facets and interrelationships of people, documents, events, archival practices, and secondary literatures, facilitating advanced querying and visualization. The data model governing our metadata approach has undergone constant iteration over the years of the project, due in part to the ongoing evolution of information technology and practice. We have moved from bibliographic software systems over the years (including Procite, Endnote, and Zotero) to MODS and MADS-governed descriptive XML metadata documents, to flat-file databases. Data has been migrated and reshaped using python scripting, XSLTS, Open Refine, and Google Sheets. Other software tools such as Gramps and Palladio have supported visualization and analysis on the evolving project dataset, as has Sparql based querying of a linked-data triplestore. This work has been driven by the evolution of our data model as well, which seeks to atomistically describe the relationships between people, documents, and the archive to support advanced querying (See Fig.1 and Fig. 2 below). The project continues to use and evolve the following methodological tools:

  • A data dictionary including a set of controlled vocabularies
  • A preliminary ontology (formal description of logic) that supports data modeling from multi-lingual archives across multiple jurisdictions
  • A metadata-application powered by Apache Lucene/Apache Solr for interface-based querying in a Drupal Interface
  • A triplestore (Blazegraph) with an endpoint supporting sparql querying of the project’s underlying linked data

We are currently planning interface affordances (in Drupal 9) that will allow for the existing data set to grow and expand to accommodate more documentary evidence from the period and allow historians, philologists, codicologists, and translation studies scholars to continuously refine their analyses of  records and their interrelationships, unlocking the power of shared datasets on the region and its history. 

Data and media assets (images) for the project are held in an Islandora repository. ARK Identifiers also support long-term preservation through features such as checksum monitoring.

The project takes cues from a moment when many scholars seek open, transparent, and collaborative approach to understanding and communicating information about the past, and nurtures interdisciplinary teams that include experts and emerging scholars in history, information science, and computer science. A recent SSHRC Insight Grant (Trans-Imperial Archives: Diplomacy, Circulation, and Entanglement in the Early Modern Mediterranean) will fund additional positions in the team, as well as communication about the project’s outcomes and methodologies. Ultimately, the project seeks to communicate models that could be used by other research groups facing similar challenges in disambiguating complex materials and expanding the scope and frames of reference for historical study.

 

Figure 1. Sketch of data model for objects in the repository.

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 2. Emerging Taxonomy structure related to forms