Semi-automated co-reference identification in digital humanities collections




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De Montfort University


Thesis or dissertation

Peer reviewed


Locating specific information within museum collections represents a significant challenge for collection users. Even when the collections and catalogues exist in a searchable digital format, formatting differences and the imprecise nature of the information to be searched mean that information can be recorded in a large number of different ways. This variation exists not just between different collections, but also within individual ones. This means that traditional information retrieval techniques are badly suited to the challenges of locating particular information in digital humanities collections and searching, therefore, takes an excessive amount of time and resources.

This thesis focuses on a particular search problem, that of co-reference identification. This is the process of identifying when the same real world item is recorded in multiple digital locations. In this thesis, a real world example of a co-reference identification problem for digital humanities collections is identified and explored. In particular the time consuming nature of identifying co-referent records. In order to address the identified problem, this thesis presents a novel method for co-reference identification between digitised records in humanities collections. Whilst the specific focus of this thesis is co-reference identification, elements of the method described also have applications for general information retrieval.

The new co-reference method uses elements from a broad range of areas including; query expansion, co-reference identification, short text semantic similarity and fuzzy logic. The new method was tested against real world collections information, the results of which suggest that, in terms of the quality of the co-referent matches found, the new co-reference identification method is at least as effective as a manual search. The number of co-referent matches found however, is higher using the new method. The approach presented here is capable of searching collections stored using differing metadata schemas. More significantly, the approach is capable of identifying potential co-reference matches despite the highly heterogeneous and syntax independent nature of the Gallery, Library Archive and Museum (GLAM) search space and the photo-history domain in particular. The most significant benefit of the new method is, however, that it requires comparatively little manual intervention. A co-reference search using it has, therefore, significantly lower person hour requirements than a manually conducted search.

In addition to the overall co-reference identification method, this thesis also presents: • A novel and computationally lightweight short text semantic similarity metric. This new metric has a significantly higher throughput than the current prominent techniques but a negligible drop in accuracy. • A novel method for comparing photographic processes in the presence of variable terminology and inaccurate field information. This is the first computational approach to do so.



Semantic similarity, STSS, linked data, photography, fuzzy logic, approximate reasoning, co-reference identification, entity resolution, record linkage



Research Institute