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requirements, and these can be built into other websites and use the Museum’s data in real time – so it never goes out of date.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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Concluding our short series of gold objects from the Museum’s collection is this group of items found in the Fishpool hoard. The hoard was buried in Nottinghamshire sometime during the War of the Roses (1455–1485), and contains some outstanding pieces of jewellery. 1,237 objects were found in this hoard in total. At the time it was deposited, its value would have been around £400, which is around £300,000 in today’s money! The variety of this collection of objects includes brilliant examples of fine craftsmanship. The turquoise ring in the centre was highly valued as it was believed that turquoise would protect the wearer from poisoning, drowning or falling off a horse.
#hoard #gold #jewellery #turquoise #treasure Continuing our exploration of the golden objects in the Museum, this amazing inlaid plaque is from 15th-century China. Lined with semi-precious stones, this piece would have formed part of a pair sewn into a robe. We can tell this belonged to an emperor of the Ming dynasty because only he would have been allowed to use items decorated with five-clawed dragons.
#Ming #gold #jewellery #China #BritishMuseum Our next trio of objects shows off some of the shimmering gold in the Museum’s collection. This stunning piece of jewellery comes from Egypt and was made around 600 BC. It was worn across the chest – this type of accessory is known as a ‘pectoral’. Popular throughout ancient Egypt, pectorals have been found from as early as 2600 BC. This example is made from gold and is inlaid with glass, showcasing the incredible level of craftsmanship in Egypt at the time, and asserting the status of the wearer. Falcons were important symbols in ancient Egypt – the god Horus took the form of a falcon.
#AncientEgypt #gold #jewellery #BritishMuseum In 1991, BMW invited South African artist Esther Mahlangu to make a work of art in their Art Car project to mark the end of apartheid. Her work, with its brightly coloured geometric shapes, draws on the traditional house-painting designs of Ndebele people in South Africa. Under apartheid the Ndebele were forced to live in ethnically defined rural reserves – their designs are an expression of cultural identity, and can be read as a form of protest against racial segregation and marginalisation.

See this incredible Art Car as part of our #SouthAfricanArt exhibition, which opens 27 October 2016. You can book your tickets now by following the link in our bio.

Esther Mahlangu (b. 1935), detail of BMW Art Car 12, 1991. © Esther Mahlangu. Photo © BMW Group Archives.
#SouthAfrica #history #art #design Mapungubwe was the capital of the first kingdom in southern Africa from AD 1220 to 1290. This gold rhinoceros, alongside four other gold sculptures, was discovered in three royal graves there. They are among the most significant sculptures in Africa today. They depict animals of high status – an ox, a wild cat, and a rhinoceros – and also objects associated with power – a sceptre and a bowl or crown. These treasures were discovered alongside hundreds of gold objects, including bracelets and beads. Gold was mined in the regions around Mapungubwe for trade with the coast, as part of an international trade network stretching as far as China, becoming a status symbol for the kingdom’s rulers.

On loan from the University of Pretoria @upmuseums, these gold treasures will be a highlight of our #SouthAfricanArt exhibition, opening 27 October 2016. Find out more about the exhibition by following the link in our bio.
#SouthAfrica #rhino #art #history Our special exhibition this autumn will explore the fascinating history of South Africa through art, telling a story that stretches back 100,000 years.

Rock art is one of South Africa’s oldest artistic traditions. It was first made by the ancestors of San|Bushmen and Khoekhoen, South Africa’s first peoples, at least 30,000 years ago.

This rock painting will feature in the exhibition. It depicts San|Bushmen running between eland, a type of antelope that is spiritually important. Hunter-gatherer rock paintings such as this are understood to relate to a ritual practice named ‘the great healing’ or ‘trance dance’, which continues today in the Kalahari outside of South Africa. 
The paintings address the relationship between healers, or shamans, and the worlds of the living and the dead. In the painting some eland are bleeding from the nose and frothing at the mouth. Eland do this when they are close to death, and shamans show similar symptoms when they are metaphorically ‘dying’ and entering the world of the dead during the great trance dance.

Find out more about our #SouthAfricanArt exhibition by clicking on the link in our bio.

The Zaamenkomst Panel. Detail of rock art depicting San|Bushmen running between eland. Made before 1900. On loan from Iziko Museums of South Africa, Social History Collections and SARADA. Photo: Neil Rusch.
#rockart #SouthAfrica #painting
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