British Museum blog

The British Museum has created a Semantic Web Endpoint

Dominic Oldman, IS Development Manager, British Museum

This month the British Museum launched a service known as a Semantic Endpoint that will allow more direct online access to the collection database. Although it is a technical service it will support the creation of new web applications and services accessible to many different audiences.

What is a Semantic Endpoint?

Since 2007, visitors to the British Museum website have been able to search the collection through regular web pages. The Collection Online system has nearly two million objects and is still growing but provides only one way of viewing the information.

Rosetta Stone, from Egypt, 196 BC

Rosetta Stone, from Egypt, 196 BC

So, although people can search the collection using our website, the search interface cannot really meet the needs of all the many different audiences that might use it. The Endpoint allows external IT developers to create their own applications that satisfy particular requirements, and these can be built into other websites and use the Museum’s data in real time – so it never goes out of date.

Why have we done this?

The demand for new digital services and products increases as the Internet grows. Research projects require particular datasets; aggregation projects need data to help make cultural assets more accessible to larger audiences; educational software requires access to up-to-date knowledge, and so on.

Digital services on the Web can only fully develop if the information that underpins them is more freely available. If more organisations release data using the same open standards then more effort can go into creative and innovative uses for it rather than into laborious data collection and cleaning.

Why is it a ‘Semantic Web’ Endpoint?

The Museum’s Endpoint specifically uses a global open standard technology for data storage and retrieval – the Semantic format. This means that developers can potentially bring together data from different cultural organisations (if they adopt the open standard) using a common language, and use it, for example, to study and compare all drawings by the artist Rembrandt held in one, two, three or however many museums and galleries.

The result is applications that are more sustainable and robust, and this means that developers can provide general open source tools that can be downloaded and used by anyone for free.

Also, the ‘semantic’ element of the technology means that it is structured in such a way that allows the discovery of connections and relationship between data from different sources that would be difficult, if not impossible, to discover with traditional technologies. With this, we can improve our understanding and knowledge of objects and events even further.

You can find more information and the endpoint itself on the British Museum website.

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You can now discover thousands of British Museum objects in partnership with @googleartproject at We’ve asked staff members to highlight their favourites and explain what makes them special. Chris Spring, Curator of Africa Collections, describes why he finds the ‘Throne of weapons’ so powerful. ‘This war memorial celebrates the ordinary people of Mozambique, many of them unarmed, who stood up to a culture of violence. It represents both a human tragedy and a human triumph. The Throne's essential humanity is suggested right away by its anthropomorphic qualities - it has arms, legs, a back and most importantly a face - actually two faces. My first reaction was that these faces are crying in pain, though they could also be seen as smiling faces finally freed from conflict. These anthropomorphic qualities also link it immediately to the arts of Africa, in which non-figurative objects such as chairs, stools, weapons, pots etc are seen as - and described as - human beings. The Throne has toured the world, taking its message of peace to schools, churches, shopping centres and even prisons – and of course, to museums and galleries.’ #MuseumOfTheWorld We’re celebrating our partnership with @googleartproject, and have asked curators to tell us about their favourite objects. Hugo Chapman, Keeper of Prints and Drawings, explains why he chose this chalk drawing by Michelangelo. ‘One of the things I love about drawings is the way they sometimes allow a glimpse into the private, behind the scenes world of an artist, one unseen in finished works in paint or stone. An example of that is a red chalk drawing by Michelangelo of grotesque heads in red chalk that reveal that the Florentine Renaissance artist had a lively, if caustic, sense of humour. The three heads were probably drawn to amuse but at the same instruct his pupils, as the three studies show how slight changes can radically alter the reading of an image with the character and mood of each figure (paranoid anxiety; vacuous joy; and depressive gloom) signalled by the position and erectness of their donkey-like ears.  I wish my ears were as expressive.’ Discover many more incredible works of art in the Google Cultural Institute at

#Michelangelo #art To celebrate our partnership with @googleartproject, we’ve asked members of British Museum staff to highlight their favourite objects and explain what makes them special. Jill Cook, Deputy Keeper of Britain, Europe & Prehistory, chose this stone chopping tool from an early human campsite in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. ‘Holding this 2 million year old African tool in my hand I am reminded that whatever differences exist between people now, we are united by our common origin in Africa. The discovery of this piece by Louis Leakey in 1931 began to change our understanding of what makes us human. It illustrates the beginning of a transition from an ancestral ape that walked upright on two legs within the confines of a limited ecological niche to humans with more complex brains capable of changing and eventually dominating the world around us by making tools and weapons. This chopping tool is one of the seeds from which all human cultures and societies have grown.’ Discover the stories of thousands of objects in the Google Cultural Institute at

#MuseumOfTheWorld In Victorian England many people were fascinated by their past, and the ancient tribal leader Caratacus (also spelt Caractacus) was adopted as a symbol of national pride and independence. Like Boudica, Caratacus resisted the Roman invasion of Britain. Although he was eventually defeated, he earned a reputation as a noble and worthy foe. The Victorian sculptor J H Foley portrays him here standing triumphant, the embodiment of courageous English spirit. See this incredible #Movember moustache in our #Celts exhibition, until 31 January 2016.
J H Foley (1818–1874), Caractacus. Marble, 1856–1859. On loan from Guildhall Art Gallery/Mansion House, City of London. Some more #Movember inspiration! Here’s the Museum’s security team from 1902 photographed on the front steps. They include officers from the Metropolitan Police, and the London Fire Brigade (identified by their flat caps). We’re celebrating #Movember with Museum moustaches great and small. Here’s a #Movember fact: Peter the Great of Russia introduced a beard tax in 1698 and this token was given as proof of payment!

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