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requirements, and these can be built into other websites and use the Museum’s data in real time – so it never goes out of date.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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We love this brilliant sketch of the Great Court by @simoneridyard! It captures the subtle blues and greys of the inside of the space. The Museum has always played host to artists throughout its history, and we still see people sketching their favourite objects or views inside the Museum (although most people take a photo with their phones now!). Have you made drawings while visiting any museums or galleries? We’d love to see any art made in the Museum – tag your photos with the location and we’ll regram our favourites! #BritishMuseum #London #regram #repost #museum #art #sketch #sketchingfromlife The Lion of Knidos looks very regal in this super photo by @nin_uiu. The Lion is named after the place where it used to stand, an ancient Greek city in modern-day Turkey. A colossal statue weighing six tons, it was part of a funerary monument that stood on a headland above a cliff. The lion’s eyes were probably inlaid with glass, and this may have aided sailors navigating the rugged coastline – they could use the reflection of the eyes to determine where the coast was. The sculpture is made from one piece of marble, but it’s not known exactly when it was made and estimates range from 394 BC to 175 BC. #BritishMuseum #history #AncientGreece #AncientGreek #lion #sculpture #statue #London There have been some beautiful sunsets in London recently – we love the way @wiserain23 has captured the streaks in the sky over the Museum in this shot. The orange and peach colours in the sky have been spectacular during this spell of cold, crisp but sunny weather. You can see the Museum lit up like this if you visit during our Friday late opening – you can browse the galleries until 20.30. Remember to share your photos with us by using the British Museum location tag – we love seeing our visitors’ photos, so get snapping! #BritishMuseum #London #sunset #sky #lights #evening #regram #repost Don’t forget to look up! ☝🏼 The triangular feature above the columns of the Museum’s main entrance is called a pediment. Originally it had a bright blue background and the statues were all painted white. 
The sculptures in the pediment show the development of ‘mankind’ in eight stages – a very old-fashioned idea now, but it was designed and built in the 1850s. The left side shows the creation of man as he emerges from a rock as an ignorant being. He meets the next character, the Angel of Enlightenment who is holding the Lamp of Knowledge. From the lamp, man learns basic skills such as cultivating land and taming animals.

The next step in the progress of civilisation is for man to expand his knowledge and understanding. The following eight figures represent the subjects he must learn to do this – architecture and sculpture, painting and science, geometry and drama, and music and poetry. The final human figure, on the right, represents ‘educated man’. Learn more about the Museum’s architecture and its fascinating history in our new blog – follow the link in our bio! We’d love to hear what you think. 258 years ago we opened our doors to the public for the first time! The British Museum is the world’s oldest national public museum, founded in 1753. It was created to be free to all ‘studious and curious persons’ and it’s still free today, but a few things have changed…

Did you know that the @natural_history_museum used to be part of the British Museum? The Museum’s founder Sir Hans Sloane had collected a vast number of natural history specimens, and these were part of the Museum’s collection for over a hundred years. In the 1880s, with space in Bloomsbury at a premium, it was agreed that these collections should move to a new site in South Kensington.

This photograph by Frederick York shows a mastodon skeleton on display here in Bloomsbury, before it moved to South Kensington in the 1880s.

Explore more of the Museum’s history on our new blog – follow the link in our bio and let us know what you think! The British Museum opened to the public #onthisday in 1759, the first national public museum in the world! 🎉

The Museum was founded on the death of Sir Hans Sloane, who bequeathed his collection of 71,000 objects to the nation. The British Museum Act gained royal assent in June 1753 (which makes us older than the USA!). The original collection featured 1,125 ‘things relating to the customs of ancient times’, 5,447 insects, a herbarium (a collection of dried plants), 23,000 coins and medals and 50,000 books, prints and manuscripts.

This photograph of the front of the Museum was taken in 1857 by Roger Fenton, the Museum’s first official photographer.

To mark this anniversary, the Museum is launching a blog where you can find all kinds of interesting articles – things you didn’t know about the Museum, curators’ insights, behind-the-scenes stories and more. Follow the link in our bio – we’d love to know what you think!
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