Posts Tagged ‘data modelling’

Making ends meet, or: can the Early English Laws fit into a database?

23 March 2011

Apart from the editing interface Jenny blogged about in December, and the collaborative nature of the resource we are building, one of the biggest challenges for the team at the Department for Digital Humanities at King’s College (formerly Centre for Computing in the Humanities) has been modelling a database which could be the basis for the complex set of relationships offered by the transmission of the Early English Laws, and the range of extra material each edition is going to offer.

One of the most complicated tasks was to create a common vocabulary for “everyday” philological terms, such as text, version, witness, and the different kinds of material offered by the resource, i.e. text and scanned images, into the structured reality of a relational database.
For example what constitutes a text? Is an Old English translation of a Latin law code to be considered independently or do they need to be considered part of the same nucleus, hence have the same basic database identifier? How can scanned images of medieval manuscripts be distinguished from scanned images of Liebermann’s nineteenth century editions?
We solved this problem by identifying each component of the text/image universe as entities, and from these building an entity-relationship model (an abstract and conceptual representation of the data). Our model borrowed elements from the FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records) model, a conceptual entity-relationship model (developed by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). This has proved to be very useful in our attempt to discover and separate off hidden conceptual layers.

The Early English Laws project represents an excellent example case study of an issue a digital humanist is often facing: how do you model critical editions from a conceptual point of view? The case study is so interesting that our experience with the Early English Laws will be presented at the international Digital Humanities conference (DH2011) in what we hope is going to be a visually exciting A0 poster.

More on the intricacies of our collaborative editorial tool coming soon.