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Linked data technologies to organise historic records

An enterprising e-research solution has shown great promise in tracing the path of historical documents and manuscripts, enabling more accurate visual and digital representation of historical records.
Linked data technologies to organise historic records
An important part of understanding European cultural heritage lies in tracing the path of cultural objects and collections from one owner to the other throughout the centuries. The EU-funded PHILLIPPS (Reconstructing the Phillipps Manuscript Collection: using Linked Data technologies to analyse the creation and dispersal of a major European cultural heritage collection) project assessed innovative e-research methodologies for accomplishing this task.

To achieve its aims the project team chose a specific collection, namely the manuscript collection of Sir Thomas Phillipps, representing 40,000 medieval and early modern European manuscripts or documents. It worked on presenting data on the history of this collection in a more understandable way using graphic representation. This involves collecting the relevant data records from different sources (libraries, museums, online catalogues etc.), mapping them to a data model, and inputting them into the right software for analysis and visualisation.

The team thoroughly collected the required data, developed the appropriate data model, and assessed potential software platforms for processing the data in order to present it in a useful format. In more technical terms, it opted for the Neo4j graph and Nodegoat database environments, concluding that Nodegoat was the most suitable option for the project’s purposes.

Importantly, the project team was able to determine how many former Phillipps manuscripts ended up in North American collections. It also deduced how many were eventually owned by the notable collector Sir Alfred Chester Beatty. This demonstrated the soundness of the approach and usefulness of the e-research approach for other cases and in other contexts.

The project outcomes will be useful for historians, institutions and curators, as well as for those working in digital humanities and data modelling. The project’s results have been disseminated through conferences, publications and social media, ensuring that interested parties can exploit these emerging data technologies. Understanding our past in a more efficient way, through cutting-edge technology, is one of the keys to building a brighter future.

Related information


Life Sciences


Manuscript, e-research, cultural heritage, PHILLIPPS, digital humanities
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