Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Near term progress in digital numismatics

Looking Back

As we close out 2014, we can reflect on a tremendous amount of progress we have made with respect to Nomisma.org and other digital numismatic projects at the American Numismatic Society. Numishare's front end has been migrated from Cocoon to Orbeon, which will enable a wider variety of current and future web standards, and the user interface was migrated into Bootstrap 3 last spring. The new version of Mantis was launched a few months ago, immediately following the release of a new project, The Art of Devastation, which is a type corpus of World War I medals. The first of the Edward T. Newell Greek numismatic research notebooks have gone online, annotated to link to other resources (monographs, coins in the ANS collection, and other researchers) by means of LOD technologies. The new version of the ANS archives, Archer, has gone online, employing SPARQL to link to another new project, the ANS Biographies (a production installation of EAC-CPF software, xEAC). In OCRE, we have completed volume IV of RIC, from Septimius Severus to Uranius Antoninus. More than 12,000 coins from the British Museum have been ingested into the Nomisma triplestore to be made available in OCRE (with many thanks to Eleanor Ghey from the BM for providing data dumps in spreadsheets that have allowed me to create a concordance between their coins in OCRE URIs). The new Bootstrap 3 version of OCRE launched into production last February, the first of the Numishare projects migrated into that stylistic framework (therefore, enabling out-of-the-box scaling for mobile devices), and in late March of 2014, we received $300,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to complete the project over the next three years. Finally, much progress has been made in the development of a formal RDF ontology for numismatics, in conjunction with an architectural re-write of Nomisma.org, which has been in development for much of the year.

Looking Forward

We are going to be making at least as much progress in 2015 as 2014, especially in the first few months of the year. The new Nomisma.org framework will be released by the end of January. It will be fully compliant to the latest standards and protocols for a linked data publication framework. The data model for IDs will be revised significantly. SKOS will play a much larger role in linking instances together (via skos:broader), and the instances will conform to formal classes from the Nomisma ontology. The editing interface for concepts will be opened up to a wider editing team, and I foresee many more URIs minted this year, especially outside the realm of ancient numismatics. There is a large demand for greater representation of Medieval and Islamic URIs. The editing interface includes improved lookup mechanisms for linking Nomisma concepts to matching terms in other vocabulary systems, like VIAF and the Getty thesauri.

The main bottleneck for the release of the new version of Nomisma lies in the creation of URIs for Roman Republican moneyers. RRC and IGCH URIs are going to be spun off into separate projects, maintained by specialists are are focused on the curation of those datasets. As a result, the existing RRC URIs in Nomisma must redirect to URIs in a new domain name. Additionally, RRC URIs are used in production in several different projects, so those projects must transition to the new RRC Online URIs before the URIs are deprecated in the http://nomisma.org/id/ namespace. Before RRC Online can launch, the Republican moneyers must have URIs in Nomisma. I expect to have the list verified by the end of the week so that we can move forward with publishing the moneyers in Nomisma either by this Friday or the first week of January. RRC Online (which will function exactly like OCRE, but focused on Roman Republican coinage) will launch soon after. We already have more than 10,000 coins from  the ANS and British Museum ready to be linked into RRC Online, in addition to several hundred coins from The University of Virginia Art Museum, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and University College Dublin. After the launch of RRC Online, we will move the new version of Nomisma into production by the end of January. By the time we meet in April in Berlin to discuss the Online Greek Corpus and Poland to discuss the European Coin Find Network, we should have transitioned all projects to use the new Nomisma ontology, which Karsten Tolle has been working on over the last one to two years. A draft of the Nomisma documentation should be available in time for these meetings.

We have a number of longer term Greek numismatic projects coming down the pike. As part of the Online Greek Corpus, we are going to work on standardizing Seleucid and Alexandrian types within the ANS database, as well as work on improving IGCH, which will function as a standalone Greek coin hoard research tool, much like Coin Hoards of the Roman Republic. The digital IGCH will serve as an important bridge between Greek coins in the ANS collection and associated bibliographic references. We hope to show serious progress with respect to Greek projects in time for the INC meeting in Taormina in late September.

Finally, over the course of 2015 and extending a few years into the future, we are going to work on systematically cleaning up the ANS collection database, linking denominations, materials, people, etc. to URIs in Nomisma, the Getty thesauri, VIAF, etc. whenever applicable. This will dramatically improve the usefulness of Mantis, which is often limited due to inconsistency in data entry and utter lack of controlled vocabulary. Furthermore, we are going to work on improving the bibliographic references, making it easier to traverse from Mantis to Donum (the ANS library catalog), Worldcat, JSTOR, etc. to access further information. Mantis will grow into a more useful numismatic research portal over time.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Extending Nomisma for spatial queries

I have recently worked on extending the geographic query functionality in the new Nomisma prototype. It took a few days of fiddling around and testing, but it was altogether a painless operation. First it required reading the (excellent) spatial query documentation for Apache Fuseki, which is the SPARQL endpoint that we have been using in Nomisma for nearly two years. I actually had not upgraded Fuseki since launching it into production in the early months of 2013, and so I had to update from 0.2 to 1.1 across the board in order to enable spatial queries--on the Nomisma production server, on the American Numismatic Society production server (Fuseki powers the interlinking of the Society's archival records in Archer), and on my two development machines at home.

Fuseki's configuration can be extended to use Lucene or Solr as the spatial index. The latter made a lot of sense because Solr is already an integral part of the architecture of most of our digital projects. The Solr index in Nomisma powers the basic facet-based search/browse interface and the Atom feed. I found an older email on the Jena list with an example configuration TTL file that I was able to modify.

After successfully configuring the spatial index, I initially learned that I was not able to use my current index for extending Fuseki. That is because only main Nomisma concepts are indexed, and not the geo:SpatialThing objects associated with mints and regions. The browse interface would be confusing if you received results for both nm:rome and nm:rome#this, the geographic feature associated with the concept of the mint of Rome. As a result, I spun up a new index for storing the URIs and coordinates for the geo:SpatialThings only, and this facilitated spatial queries that delivered results that I expected.

This is a dramatic leap forward in the types of geographic queries we can do in Nomisma, as we can get query results within a bounding box or within a certain distance of a point. Once we begin connecting larger numbers of coins with findspots into the system, we'll be able to do heatmaps showing geographic distribution and a variety of other visualizations. If we ingest other forms of GIS data, such as roads, springs, shrines, etc., we can query for hoards and finds within X meters of the geographic feature.

The example below is a query that will get mints within 50 km of Athens (by giving the lat and long of the city).

SELECT * WHERE {
   ?loc spatial:nearby (37.974722 23.7225 50 'km') .
   ?mint geo:location ?loc ;
         skos:prefLabel ?label .
  FILTER langMatches (lang(?label), 'en')


You can test it yourself in the Nomisma prototype.

Friday, November 7, 2014

New version of Mantis released

Following the migration of Numishare's public user interface from Apache Cocoon to Orbeon, the American Numismatic Society's collection database, Mantis, has now been updated and deployed into production. The new version of Mantis take advantage of new user interface developments incorporated into Numishare since the winter--namely HTML5 + Bootstrap 3, which makes the site work equally well on mobile devices as desktops and laptops.

While much of the functionality has remained the same despite the noticeable visual facelift, the migration to Orbeon has enabled some new data export features, which follow advances in modern web publishing frameworks. Data are available in Turtle and JSON-LD in addition to RDF/XML. These serializations are available through REST URIs. They are also accessible via content negotiation, made possible by Orbeon's XML Pipeline Language (XPL). I won't go into further detail, as I already discussed this in a previous blog post. However, Mantis now has an APIs page with documentation on how to access data (as do all other Numishare projects). I plan to improve this documentation in the near future to include more information about our Solr schema and fields available for query, including some pretty advanced examples.

Over the last week, I migrated Coin Hoards of the Roman Republic, OCRE, and AoD to the Orbeon-based Numishare in production. I am pleased to announce that I have deleted Cocoon 2.1.11 from Tomcat on the server. It has served me well as a [mostly] XML developer since 2007, but it's time to move on.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

New Emperors Added to OCRE

We have added more than 1,300 new coin types from Gordian III to Trajan Decius into OCRE. We have now surpassed 20,000 types, and are at least half-way finished the publication process.

The British Museum and American Numismatic Society coins from this period have been re-processed and added into the Nomisma RDF triplestore. The University of Virginia coins will be republished momentarily, giving the project a few dozen more coins from published British coin hoards. At present, there are more than 14,000 physical specimens from the ANS and nearly 13,000 coins from the BM accessible through OCRE.

Many of the BM coins from this lot have findspots (many found in hoards excavated in Britain over the last 30-40 years, e.g., http://numismatics.org/ocre/id/ric.4.gor_iii.6), but unforunately the findspots data in the British Museum's SPARQL endpoint do not contain machine readable geographic coordinates. Hopefully the BM data may be enhanced to improve the geographic usefulness in OCRE eventually.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Numishare Migrated from Cocoon 2.1.11 to Orbeon

Over the past few weeks, I have been working on migrating Numishare's public user interface from Cocoon 2.1.11 to Orbeon. While Cocoon has been capable of delivering most of the functionality integral to Numishare, it is time to move on. Cocoon has been part of Numishare's application stack since before Numishare really even became a reusable framework; it dates back to the development of the University of Virginia Art Museum Numismatic Collection website back in 2007. Since this date, Cocoon has seen the release of 2.2 (dramatically different than 2.1.11), and has been stuck in a 3.0 alpha for more than three years. In fact, the most recent release of any version of Cocoon is 2.1.12. The application has served the cultural heritage community well for years, but let's admit it, Cocoon is dead. It has been dead for years, and I've been keeping Numishare going with duct tape and bubble gum for far too long. In fact, you have to change one of Cocoon 2.1.11's out-of-the-box settings to even support native UTF-8, resulting in garbled responses from Solr.

Although Cocoon has run its course, XML technology is still quite powerful, and has gotten a shot in the arm with the new XQuery/XPath 3.0 and XForms 2.0 specs, which will support JSON processing, among other new features. Orbeon's XML Pipeline Language (XPL) is quite robust, and Orbeon has been powering the user interface for all of my other projects for quite a few years (xEAC [see: http://numismatics.org/authorities/], EADitor [see: http://numismatics.org/archives/], the new [yet-to-be-released] Nomisma.org, and Kerameikos.org).

All of the functionality built in Cocoon's pipelines have been ported into Orbeon's XPL, which is now a better MVC framework. Furthermore, XPL and Orbeon processors enable a variety of modern HTTP features that are employed for the semantic web. All pages are HTML5, and record pages now include RDFa to embed Nomisma properties.

It is now much easier to deliver linked data in RDF/Turtle and JSON-LD. Numishare supports content negotiation to receive individual record metadata in NUDS/XML, RDF/XML, Turtle, JSON-LD (all three in Nomisma's model and ontology), and KML in the appropriate content-type; search results are available in Atom by requesting 'application/atom+xml' or raw Solr XML by requesting 'application/xml' in the Accept header. I have not included it yet, but the Pelagios linked data will also be made available in TTL and JSON-LD in addition to RDF/XML. The multilingual interface will be more dynamic, as we can make use of the browser language passed through the request header rather than relying on the 'lang' URL parameter. Finally, I have introduced an 'apis' page (linked from the navigation menu), which lists available APIs (just one now, to aggregate NUDS records into a single model) and relevant documentation. There are a number of features that have yet to be added, but Orbeon provides a path for implementation that Cocoon simply does not.

Most of the projects on our test server have already been migrated into the new version of Numishare. Once I have ported the stylistic themes from OCRE, AoD, CHRR, and Mantis, I will work on pushing the new Orbeon-based Numishare into production.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Report from SemTechBiz + Getty TGN in nomisma.org

I spent last week in San Jose, attending the Semantic Technology and Business conference, where I participated in a LODLAM-sponsored workshop aimed at providing an introduction to linked open data technologies to a library, archive, and museum audience.

I was asked to provide a somewhat hands-on demo of SPARQL. My presentation, from 0 to 60 on SPARQL queries in 50 minutes provided a brief outline of the sorts of linked data methodologies we're employing in our numismatic projects--particularly nomisma.org and OCRE--and the SPARQL queries that make them possible. I started fairly simply and built up to more complex queries of weight analysis and geographic distribution of coin types. By downloading SPARQL queries with geographic data as a CSV file from the nomisma.org endpoint, I was able to import the CSV directly into Google Fusion tables to generate maps. I have placed the content of the slideshow up on Dropbox as a PDF.

The audience consisted mainly of cultural heritage professionals, although there were some industry professionals in attendance. The feedback I received was positive overall (judging by the Twitter stream, in any case), but I did receive comment about the model and ontology (or lack thereof) that we have employed in nomisma.org. Rest assured that we are working on a formal ontology and refined data model that conforms to data/computer science standards. No more URIs used simultaneously as classes, properties, and instances!

On another note, the Getty Museum announced last week the release of their Thesaurus of Geographic Names as linked open data (following the Art and Architecture Thesaurus). I have extended the nomisma editing interface (as well as the Kerameikos.org one) to enable Getty TGN lookups for mints and regions in order to link nomisma ids with Getty ones. Through this mechanism, we can establish links between Pleiades and TGN places, although there are certainly more ancient places in Pleiades than in nomisma, which are purely numismatic.


The text search yields a response of matches from the Getty SPARQL endpoint. The user can read the scope note for further context about the use of the TGN id and make the appropriate selection of skos:exactMatch or skos:relatedMatch.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Art of Devastation: A Web-based Catalogue of First World War Medallic Art

As part of its commemoration of the centennial of the First World War, the American Numismatic Society announces the launch of Art of Devastation (http://numismatics.org/aod/) an important new web-based research catalogue of the thousands of art medals, commemorative medals and tokens produced in response to this major conflict.

Directed by Dr. Peter van Alfen, with assistance from Sylvia Karges, Art of Devastation aims to be the first comprehensive catalogue of this abundant and varied material, one that takes full advantage of the web environment and linked open data. Intended to help identify medals and tokens in users’ hands, Art of Devastation offers unique catalogue numbers for types and variants for future referencing, and illustrates, where possible, multiple examples for comparison. Mapping tools allow users to locate where the item was created, and where the events associated with it took place. Links to other websites, such as Wikipedia, take users to entries discussing the artist who created the item, as well as the people, events, and things, like the weapons or symbols depicted on it. In addition to serving as an identification and learning resource, Art of Devastation provides easy access for non-numismatists to an important, yet often overlooked body of primary evidence from the Great War.

Before the War began, medals and tokens had served for centuries as a significant means of communication where easy and durable forms of mass communication did not exist. Whether issued by states, organizations, or individuals, their commemorative and propagandistic function was already well known and understood. Increasingly, by the turn of the century, the medal had also become an important medium of more reflective and private artistic expression. Art medals could be distinguished from traditional types of medals by their frequent lack of words, non-elite representation, greater emotional intimacy, experimental shapes, and cast production rather than striking. During the War, these various public and private functions continued, converged, and were greatly intensified by the enormity of the conflict. Thousands of different types of medals and tokens were produced on both sides, consuming scarce metallic resources. This outlay underscores the fundamental role that these items played in feting heroes, marshaling support, directing public opinion, and, more poignantly, expressing grief and disgust.

Art of Devastation enables users to explore the range of artistic responses to the War and particular events within it. The sinking of the Cunard passenger liner RMS Lusitania by the German submarine SM U-20 on May 7th 1915, for example, attracted considerable artistic output on both sides of the conflict. René Baudichon, a French artist, responded with a medal with themes paralleling those of Allied atrocity propaganda, depicting a drowning child avenged by Ultrix America, the Statue of Liberty with a sword.

On the German side, the emotions were more complicated. The artists Karl Goetz and Walther Eberbach derided Allied hypocrisy on purported bans on armament shipments on passenger liners with their satirical takes on the sinking, while Ludwig Gies cast enmities aside to focus solely on the human tragedy of the event.

The creation of this new web tool is the work of ANS database developer Ethan Gruber. At launch, Art of Devastation incorporates the roughly 1,400 relevant items in the ANS’s collection. In collaboration with other institutions, such as the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the Royal Library of Belgium, and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the catalogue will continue to expand.

The project director, Dr. Peter van Alfen, is available to discuss Art of Devastation by phone or email:

212-517-4470, ext. 153, vanalfen@numismatics.org

Links to Illustrations: