Repository Fringe 2010

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Sep 092010
 

Members of the AddressingHistory team attended the very enjoyable Repository Fringe 2010 event in Edinburgh last Thursday and Friday with Nicola giving a short “Pecha Kucha” presentation on AddressingHistory to the 90 or so attendees.

The Repository Fringe, which has been running for three years and always takes place around the time of the Edinburgh Festivals, is an informal conference for people who work with all types of repository. We thought that this event would be a fantastic opportunity to share the AddressingHistory project as many of the repositories represented at the event contain academic papers, historical items and research data that discuss or relate to the same time periods and geographic areas as AddressingHistory.

In our Pecha Kucha (a novel super-short presentation of 20 slides shown for 20 second each) we particularly wanted to highlight the fact that AddressingHistory will provide an API (Application Programming Interface) as many of the attendees – including the excellent opening keynote speaker Tony Hirst – already create inventive “mash-ups” of online information and we think there is lots of potential for AddressingHistory to connect into these types of ideas and tools.

We were delighted with the reaction we had to the project and were thrilled to hear lots of very interested and supportive comments and to see lots of enthusiastic Tweets!

You can find out more about the event at the Repository Fringe website (where there is also a live blog) and you can view the AddressingHistory Pecha Kucha by looking in the “O” section of the Videos page there.

Jul 142010
 

Hello – and welcome to my first post!

I’d like to let everyone know how things are progressing with the software side of AddressingHistory.  I’ve been working on all aspects of AddressingHistory, from the database (at the back-end), storing information from the Post Office Directories, to the public-facing webpages at the front-end.

A large part of the challenge so far has been to take raw text from the Post Office Directories and turn it in to useful, structured data. This is necessary before you, our future users, can search through it – and add your own data!  I’ve created software that parses the Post Office Directory text, extracts the useful information and loads it in to a spatial database (a database with special features to manage geography). For those who are interested, all the software I’ve written is made with Java, using Spring MCV, runs on Apache Tomcat and the database is PostgreSQL with PostGIS extensions.

I’ve written software which allows easy access to the organised, structured information from the Post Office Directories. It’s known as middleware, or an API.

There is a development version of the API available here, where you can change the parameters to search for your own surname, or address:

http://devel.edina.ac.uk:8082/ah/ws/search?surname=Alexander

http://devel.edina.ac.uk:8082/ah/ws/search?profession=baker

You can also search for addressess (using an ‘address=’ parameter) and perform spatial searches on specific areas.  Results are returned in plain-text (comma separated format) or, by default, in JavaScript Object Notation (JSON).

I’ve also been experimenting with Google’s Geocoding API, with some success!  After extracting the address text from each entry in the directories, I send a query to Google’s mapping service in much the same way as you’re probably used to using Google Maps.  It looks as though we can get accurate locations (a process known as ‘geocoding’) for the majority of entries in the Post Office directories.  That will mean we will be asking you to help us locate the small percentage of addresses we cannot automatically geocode, and to help us make sure what we have coded automatically is in the right place. Once we have the coordinates of each entry, they can be shown on a map – and be used to search for results.

So combining the data loaded in the database, the web service to request entries using specific search terms – and the newly geocoded data, we’re able to make some quite interesting maps. For example, this map (unfortunately shown on a modern map of the city for now) is a quick look at the location of some of the bakers, yes, bakers, in Edinburgh, in 1905.

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And here, are all the people with a surname of ‘Alexander’…

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Thanks for reading – there’ll be more soon!

– Joe.