2016 Spring Dean’s Fellows Project

Linked Data from the Medieval Middle East

Description: The purpose of this Dean’s Fellow project is to build a linked open data set for the study of the Middle East and to explore various means for visualizing and querying the data. This RDF data set will be extrapolated from the existing XML data set of approximately 6,000 digital objects published in Syriaca.org: The Syriac Reference Portal. Syriaca.org is a collaborative research project hosted by the Jean and Alexander Heard Library on the culture, history, and literature of Syriac communities from antiquity to the present. A dialect of Aramaic, Syriac was widely used in the Middle East during much of the first millennium of the common era. Sources in Syriac hold immense value for increasing our historical understanding of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Syriaca.org’s primary purpose is to serve as the URI naming authority for linked open data in the field of Syriac studies. The creation of Syriaca.org was designed to occur in three steps:
1. minting URIs for Syriac entities (persons, places, titles of works, etc.),
2. creating XML authority files which define these URIs,
3. Serializing this data as RDF triples in an environment that allows easy visualization, query and API interaction with data sets that also use the Syriaca.org URIs.

Syriaca.org has largely completed steps one and two and this Dean’s Fellow project will complete much of step three. The Dean’s Fellow working on this project will develop skills in working with linked data, particularly in serializing data as triples, in visualizing and querying data in an online linked data application (Callimachus), and in integrating related linked data sets. The Dean’s Fellow will also have the opportunity to interact with several digital projects (both in the US and Europe) who wish to link their data to Syriaca.org.


  • The fellow will work with the faculty mentor to write data conversions from TEI XML to various RDF vocabularies.
  • The fellow will work with the library mentor to run the data conversions and ingest the data into an instance of Callimachus (perhaps drawing on the existing use of Callimachus by the library for the Bioimages project).
  • The fellow will work with the library mentor and with Dale Poulter to ensure proper content negotiation of “cool URI’s” between the Callimachus instance and the Vanderbilt library server currently hosting Syriaca.org.
  • The fellow will work with the faculty mentor and library mentors to explore various useful ways of visualizing and querying the data for research.
  • The fellow will work with the faculty mentor and library mentors to set up an API and perhaps a GUI allowing other projects and scholars to use the linked data set.

Skills Needed or To Be Developed:

  • Fellow will need to develop a basic (read only) familiarity with TEI XML. The needed level of skill can be obtained quickly.
  • Student will need to develop familiarity with Linked Data, RDF and with relevant RDF vocabularies for historical data including Dublin Core, and the schemas used by http://pelagios.dme.ait.ac.at, https://snapdrgn.net, and www.mesa-medieval.org. This will be the primary area of the training for the student.
  • Student will need to develop familiarity with the Callimachus linked data application.
  • Ability to use a git repository, such as GitHub would be desirable but not essential.
  • Ability to use an XML editor such as oXygen would be desirable but not essential.
  • An interest in the digital humanities would be desirable but certainly not essential.
  • Any fellow interested in Linked Open Data (in the humanities or sciences) would bring the desired level of interest.

David Michelson, Assistant Professor, Divinity School and Graduate Department of Religion, david.a.michelson@vanderbilt.edu, 343-3990

Library Mentors:
Suellen Stringer-Hye, Library Digital Services, suellen.stringer-hye@vanderbilt.edu, 343-4427
Chris Benda, Divinity Library, chris.benda@vanderbilt.edu, 343-5844

Dates of Employment: Spring semester 2016

Contact: David Michelson, or 343-3990

Please follow the Application Process to apply for this fellowship. Applications will be accepted through October 30, 2015.

See other Spring 2016 Fellowships