Representing temporal vagueness on the
semantic web for historical datasets

[This post is based on the Master Information Sciences project of Fabian Witeczek and reuses text from his thesis. The research is part of VU’s effort in the Intavia project and was co-supervised by Go Sugimoto]

To represent properly temporal data on the Semantic Web, there is a need for an ontology to represent vague or imprecise dates. In the context of his research, Fabian Witeczek developed an ontology that can be used to represent various forms of such vague dates. The engineering process of the ontology started with a requirements analysis that contained the collection of data records from existing Digital Humanities Linked Data sets containing temporally vague dates: Biographynet and Europeana. The occurrences of vagueness were evaluated, and categories of vagueness were defined.

The categories were evaluated through a survey conducted with domain experts in the digital humanities domain. The experts were also questioned about their problems when working with temporally vague dates. The survey results confirmed the meaningfulness of the ontology requirements and the categories of vagueness which were: 1) Unknown deviation, 2) within a time span, 3) before or after a
specific date, 4) date options, and 5) complete vagueness.

Visualization of the vague date ontology

Based on the findings, the ontology was designed and implemented, scoping to year-granularity only. Lastly, the ontology was tested and evaluated by linking its instances to instances of a historical dataset. This research concludes that the presented vague date ontology offers a clear way to specify how vague dates are and in which regard they are vague. However, the ontology requires much effort to make it work in practice for researchers in digital humanities. This is due to precision and deviation values that need to be set for every record within the datasets.

Example SPARQL query using concepts from the vague dates ontology

More information can be found in the Master Thesis, linked below.

The ontology itself is found in Fabian’s github account

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