The SNAP project will have a fundamental impact on the study of ancient names and people through the linking and integration of a selection of the most significant datasets in the field and the opening of this data through the Linked Open Data cloud. Even beyond the immediate academic beneficiaries of this historical data, the release of this collected dataset and the related methodologies and models will impact on related fields (history, literature, narratology, comparative mythology), corporations (including publishers and developers) and cultural heritage institutions working with person, name and person-like data. The project will be directly engaging with these groups to gain feedback and peer-review in the models and methods being developed to ensure that they are fit for purpose and to promote and aid the publication of additional datasets. Cultural heritage institutions, archives and publishers in particular will benefit from the enhancement of their data through connection to the graph and through the driving of new traffic to their materials (including paywalled data) through the links and relationships surfaced by the project.
The publication of the resulting dataset to the Linked Open Data cloud has the potential to interconnect or more richly connect existing datasets already in the cloud. It also represents a network of referenced people and people-like entities which mirror the social datasets currently being studied by sociologists and web scientists but without the ethical and privacy issues which are inherent in modern datasets. Working with historic datasets can enable investigations of social interactions and expression in a way not otherwise possible and then apply the lessons and experience to the wider linked data network. This research into social networks is not only an academic activity, but is also key to many areas of the Web industry: all of the major search engines, social networks, spam management and advertising professionals engage in this kind of study. The larger project of which SNAP serves as a pilot will directly impact these larger questions as well as engaging with genealogy companies and enthusiasts. At this stage of focusing on classical materials, the value of the data to the general public will be illustrated through user-friendly web presence and tools for non-academic study of ancient names and naming conventions.
The general problem approached by the SNAP project is exemplified by the inconsistency of and irregular overlap between the many huge databases of persons, names, and other personal data on the Internet. (These databases are familiar and ubiquitous, from lists of actors and creators in the Internet Movie Database or historical figures in Wikipedia, to private individuals via all sorts of social networking sites.) How does a researcher or analyst determine whether two records refer to the same person or are related in some other way, and whether other related information refers to both people equally? For this project we shall directly address these issues on a much smaller scale: there are very many historical prosopographies and onomastica (databases of persons and names), even within the relatively tight domain of Greco-Roman antiquity, and many of the same questions of identity and provenance apply. These databases can be worked on without the concerns raised by modern social network accounts: there are not the ethical and privacy concerns of working with living people; the scale, while still massive, is more tractable; there is much more academic coherence within the data, which, diverse as it is, is produced by a discipline with well-established working practices.
The SNAP project will pilot a new approach to working with diverse person data, using as a starting point three large datasets from the classical world: the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names, an Oxford-based corpus of persons mentioned in ancient Greek texts; Trismegistos, a Leuven-run database of names and persons from Egyptian papyri; Prosopographia Imperii Romani, a series of printed books listing senators and other elites from the first three centuries of the Roman Empire. We shall model a simple structure using Web and Linked data technologies to represent relationships between databases and to link from references in primary texts to authoritative lists of persons and names. We shall invite new projects and datasets in the domain to participate in the SNAP network, to help us test the structures and contribute material on ancient people to the collection, and will help these projects to transform their data into a form that can be linked and annotated. We also plan to produce tools for illustration of the value of this data, and demonstrate research methods for working with the new material and information produced. The project will also show how to enhance and produce new data, generating new person references and links from classical texts that have not yet been looked at in this way (Greek and Latin inscriptions). We shall share our recommendations and our results through workshops, public conference papers, and a range of technical, academic and popular publications.