Volume 5 Issue 1
Spring 2009
ISSN 1937-7266

Bringing Lives to Light: Lives and Event Representation
in Temporal and Geographic Context

Ryan Shaw and Ray R. Larson

School of Information
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, California, USA, 94720-4600
{ryanshaw, ray}@ischool.berkeley.edu

Life-events in sequence constitute a narrative that can engage interest and spark inquiry. History, geography, and most other subjects can come alive in the travelogues, journeys of discovery, and the life-stories of those involved. But mere narrative is not enough. Understanding the context of these life events differentiates education from memorizing.

Our system consists of tools for identifying life events in biographical texts and linking them to relevant contextual resources. We demonstrate how these tools can be used to enhance a variety of documents, including articles from web-based encyclopedias, scanned pages from a collection of Irish Studies resources, and documents from the Emma Goldman Papers archive.

We use common natural language processing techniques to identify the names of people, organizations, places, or events. Named entities can also be identified manually. After these entities have been linked to identifiers from sources such as DBpedia and Geonames, we can use these identifiers to find additional information about those entities. For example, a linked map and timeline may indicate the locations of places and the locations and times of events referenced in the document. Access to related documents can be provided by using identifiers to construct dynamic queries on appropriate reference sources.

We are experimenting with a number of ways of making our linked data available, including RDFa metadata embedded in XHTML pages (Figure 2). In all cases we are reusing standard metadata vocabularies wherever possible, so that other systems may easily integrate, and ideally contribute to, our contextual information.

Figure 1. We have parsed the entire Congressional Biographical Directory into RDF with links to DBpedia, Freebase, and Geonames. (For a larger view of figure 1, click here. )

Figure 2. Life events represented using RDFa syntax embedded in XHTML.
(For a larger view of figure 2, click here. )