Thursday, December 17, 2009

New URL Pattern at American Numismatic Society

At the ANS, we are currently assigning hierarchical categories to all the objects in the database. You might think this had already been done, but in the pre-web world, when most of our 550,000 records were entered, it wasn't really necessary. If you wanted to find Byzantine Seals or Contorniates, you just went to the right tray and there they were.

In a webbie world, we want users to be able to navigate by well-known numismatic categories in order to access individual records, examination of which can suggest searches that will help one find what one is looking for. Keeping that goal in mind, our categories need to be sensible and recognizable, but do not need to carry an undue interpretive burden. It's OK that a user might question how we've arranged things, so long as we've helped her find what she's looking for.

Some examples:

'--' separates the components of a category.

The URL prefix is . We're trying to make these search-engine friendly. We do intend for these to be stable, but aren't quite making the guarantee that we do about URLs of the form Those should work for as long as the DNS/URL paradigm is around.

Appending "/images" to a URL will show only records with images.

In the future, I expect that extensions such as ".atom", ".json", ".kml" will also have the desired result.

Again, the reason we're doing this is to ease the user experience. See the description of the ANS Roman collection for a preliminary deployment of these links in the real world. We hope it's a convenience that our Italic coins, for example, will be one click away.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Museums Explain Their Databases

It's a good thing that museums are increasingly putting their curatorial databases online for public browsing and searching. A minor aspect of this trend is the language institutions use to explain the state of their data. This post collects some examples of the genre.

The Brooklyn Museum has the following on its opening search page:
The material presented here represents only a fraction of that rich collection. The Museum is committed to making its collections accessible to the widest possible audience, and this site is an important part of that process. It is, however, a work in progress. We intend to continue to expand the number of works of art included on the site and to update information currently posted. We are making every effort to ensure that the information provided about our collection is accurate and up-to-date, but the nature of scholarship is that there are sometimes changes in information and new discoveries. If you believe you have information we should have about any of the works you find here, we would be happy to hear from you.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston shows this to start:
Note that some of the electronic records indicate that they have not been reviewed recently by curatorial staff and might need revision; also, please note that a small percentage of the MFA’s collection is not presently searchable online.
The indicated MFA records have this:
This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the MFA's complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.
That text is essentially identical to what appears on the Yale Art Gallery site
Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery's complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.
In turn, that's not so far off from the Harvard Art Museum text:
This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. Please contact the curatorial department listed above for more information.
[[Note that I don't give a link into the Harvard website. The (almost unbelievable) explanation is that if you click on you get a blank page. I clicked on the link from a search results page and saw information about a sherd of Roman pottery. Is it really possible that Harvard is checking a session id or the referrer and only displaying the info as part of an existing visit to the site? If so, that's highly (highly!) lame.]]

The Metropolitan Museum in New York has the following:
Due to the extremely large number of objects in the Museum's permanent collection, not all artworks are currently available in the Collection Database. Furthermore, information contained in the database records is, in some cases, incomplete, and all information is subject to change according to ongoing research and new acquisitions.
The British Museum just puts "Noticed a mistake? Have some extra information about this object? Please contact us." on its individual object pages. That's in the same spirit as the more extended explanations from other institutions.

Overall, these texts represent a mode of sharing data that is welcome. Better to make slightly incorrect or outdated data available than to hold on tight to it. That's especially the case when there are images of the objects as well.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mediterranean Ceramics Reference Stability Report, Number 8

The MCRSR first appeared in October, 2007. This is the first new installment since April 2008.

As I noted then, the JSTOR link to number 2 takes me to a login page. I still find it odd that no indication of the title of the work is given. When I am logged into JSTOR via UPenn, the link works.

Number 10, which was the Perseus Project Vase Catalog, is now part of the Persues Project Art and Archaeology Artifact Browser. The old URI does not work on the main Perseus site.

No new references have been added.

I have seen that some of these resources have improved URIs, meaning they are shorter and with fewer '?','&' and '=' characters. That's a welcome development and I will update the addresses next time round.

1. Walters' Catalogue of the Roman Pottery in the Departments of Antiquities, British Museum from Google Books:

2. Robinson's Agora V from JSTOR:, previously [noted April 2008].

3. Lattara 6:

4. K. Greene's AJA article on Early Roman lead glazed pottery:

5. Heath and Tekkök, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Pottery at Ilion (Troia):

6. Vessel from Çatalhoyuk (via Flickr):

7. A Late Minoan III Pyxis from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

8. An undocumented ARS Hayes 70 bowl from the dealer Classical Numismatics Group:

9. Fifteenth Century Mosque Lamp from Jerusalem now in the British Museum:

10. The Perseus Project Vase Catalog: now part of, previously [noted December 2009].

11. Wikimedia Commons Image of a Greek Geometric Skyphos in the Louvre:

12. Sagalassos from Pleiades:

13. Inscribed pot from Aphrodisias (HTML):

14. Inscribed pot from Aphrodisias (XML):

15. Hellenistic lamp from Assos, Turkey at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston:

16. Open Context record for Halaf period jar from Domuztepe, Turkey:

17. Abbasid Ceramics from the Museum With No Frontiers:

18. Roman Amphorae: a digital resource:

Aegean Amphora at Dura Europos

As a follow up to the last post, here's a 3rd to 5th century AD Middle Roman Amphora 7 from Dura, now at Yale. It's essentially uncataloged but there's no doubt about what it is.