Using Wikidata to model Aberdeen’s Industrial Heritage

Saturday 6th March, 2021 was World Open Data Day. To mark this international event CTC ran a Wikidata Taster session. The objectives were to introduce attendees to Wikidata and how it works, and give them a few hours to familiarise themselves with how to add items, link items, and add images.

Presentation title screen
Presentation title screen

The theme of the session (to give it some structure and focus) was the Industrial Heritage of Aberdeen. More specifically the bygone industries of Aberdeen and, more specific still, the many Iron Foundries that once existed. I chose the specific topic as it is still relatively easy to spot the products of the industry on streets and pavements as we walk around the city, photograph those and add them to Wiki Commons, as I have been doing.

We had thirteen people book and eight turn up. After I gave a short presentation on how Wikidata operates we divided ourselves into three groups in breakout rooms. This was all on Zoom, of course, while we were still under lockdown.

The teams of attendees chose a foundry each: Barry, Henry & Cook Limited; Blaikie Brothers, and William McKinnon & Company Ltd. I’d already created an entry for John Duffus and Company in preparation for the event and to use as a model.

I’d also created a Google Sheet with a tab for each of the other thirteen foundries I’d identified (including those selected by the groups). I’d also spent quite a while trying to figure out how to access and search the old business and Post Office Directories for the city which had been digitised for 1824 to 1941. I eventually I built myself a tool, which I shared with the teams, which generated an URL for a specific search term for a certain directory. They used this, as well as other sources, to identify key dates, addresses and name changes of businesses.

By the end of the session our teams had created items for

They had also created items for foundry buildings – linked to Canmore etc, as well as founders. We enhanced these with places of their burial, portraits and images of gravestones. I took further photos which I uploaded to Commons and linked the following Monday. I created two Wikidata queries to show the businesses added, and the founders who created the businesses.

The statistics for the 3 hour session (although some worked into the afternoon and even the next day) are impressive. You can see more detail on the event dashboard.

We received positive feedback from the attendees who have been able to take their first steps towards using Wikidata as a public linked open data for heritage items.

I hope that the attendees will keep working on the iron founders until we have all of these represented on Wikidata. Next we can tackle shipbuilders and the granite industry!

Mapping Memorials to Women in Aberdeen

This project, which was part of CTC20,  grew from a WMUK / Archaeology Scotland join project carried out by Scottish Graduate School of Arts & Humanities intern Roberta Leotta during lockdown 2020. More details about the background to the project can be found here.

It’s often touted that there are some cities in Scotland (coughEdinburghcough) where there are more statues to animals than there are to women. In my own work transferring OpenPlaques data to Wikidata I’ve observed that there are more entries for Charles Rennie Macintosh than there for women in Glasgow. So in this light, it’s somewhat refreshing to work on a project that celebrates all kinds of memorials to women in Scotland.

The Women of Scotland: Mapping Memorials project began in 2010 as a joint project between Glasgow Women’s Library, and Women’s History Scotland. It’s similar in many ways to OpenPlaques, but using Wikidata could add an extra dimension – let’s increase the coverage of women’s history and culture on the Wikimedia projects by getting these memorials and the women they celebrate into Wikidata, use that to identify gaps in knowledge, and then work to fill the gap.

Over the two days, here’s what we did:

Data collection

We scraped the initial list of data from Mapping Memorials website manually, and created a shared worksheet based on a model that’s been used previously for other cities. (The manual process is slow, and a bit fiddly, and is the one thing that I wouldn’t do again. We’re in contact with the admin so going forward, I’m hopeful that we wouldn’t need to repeat this step in the future.)

Once we had this list, we could create a more automated process to deal with gathering the other pieces of information we needed to create new, good quality Wikidata items, although some (description, for example) needed a human eye.

Wikidata identifiers

We were using two main identifiers on Wikidata – P8048 (Women of Scotland memorial ID) and P8050 (Women of Scotland subject ID). The former for the entries to the memorials themselves, and the latter for the women they celebrate. Where the women didn’t have entries, we could create those, and then link them to the entries for the memorials.

Both identifiers use the last part of the URL for each entry on the Mapping Memorials site, so that was fairly easy to do in Google docs. Once we had that info, it’s an easy enough step to bulk-create items either using Quickstatements or Wikibase CLI.

Creating items & avoiding duplicates

There’s a plug in for Google Sheets called Wikipedia and Wikidata Tools which has some useful features for projects like this – WikidataQID for looking up whether something already exists on Wikidata, and WikidataFacts, which tells you what that item is. The former is ok if you have an exact match, the latter is really useful for flagging anything which might lead to a disambiguation page, for example.

Ultimately we did end up with a few duplicates that needed to be merged, but this was pretty easily managed, and it really showed how useful it is to have local knowledge involved in local projects – there were a couple of sets of coordinates that were obviously wrong, but also some errors that wouldn’t have been spotted by someone unfamiliar with the area.

Coordinates and dates

I really like Quickstatements, but there are a few areas in which it’s fiddly, including coordinates and dates. I’m really interested in looking further into Wikibase CLI for dates in particular, as the process there for dates (documented here) looks to be substantially easier in terms of data prep than it does in Quickstatements. Many thanks to Tony for that work, as his expertise saved us a lot of time! He also used that tool to create items for those women commemorated who were missing from Wikidata, documented here.

As with dates, coordinates are entered into Quickstatements in a different format than that which you’d use manually inside Wikidata itself, hence the formatting you’ll see in column Q on the Data collection tab. Most of this we had to grab from Google Maps, which again is a bit fiddly.


Once we had a master list of QIDs for the memorials we were working with, we could use Quickstatements to bulk upload sets of statements to those items.

For example, matching the memorials to the women commemorated, using this format:

Screenshot of a spreadsheet showing QID for memorials and the women they commemorate
Screenshot of a spreadsheet showing QID for memorials and the women they commemorate

The Q numbers on the left are those of the memorials, P547 is “commemorates”, and the Q numbers on the right are those of the women celebrated. We were also able to add P8050 (Women of Scotland subject ID) to some women who already had entries on Wikidata, but no WoS ID.

Screenshot of a spreadsheet showing each memorial QID and its type
Screenshot of a spreadsheet showing each memorial QID and its type

The Q number on the left again is the memorial, P31 is “instance of”, and the Q number on the right corresponds to a type of thing – a commemorative plaque, a garden, or a road, for example.

Once you’ve got the info in this format, it’s just a case of copy & pasting into QS, clicking import, and then run. (Note – you do need to be an autoconfirmed user to use QS, which means that your account must be at least 4 days old, and having more than 50 edits.) It’s relatively easy, and I was pleased that one of our relatively-new-to-Wikidata participants had the chance to make her first bulk uploads (description & commons category) using the tool over the weekend.


This project grew out of a desire to increase the coverage of Scottish heritage on Wikimedia Commons, so it was great to take some time on this. Mapping Memorials does have some images, but they’re not openly licensed, and others are missing. After Wikimedia Commons, our next port of call was Geograph, where many images have been released on Wiki-compatible Creative Commons licenses. Using Geograph2Commons, images can easily be transferred over to Wikimedia Commons, so that they can be used in any Wikimedia Project. Geograph also links to this feature from their site – click on “Find out how to reuse this image”, and then scroll down to “Wikipedia template for image page”, then click on the “geograph2commons” link. Really simple. Our group did some detective work for images, and then added them to Commons, and linked them manually to the Wikidata item.

This gave us a list of missing images… which is fine, but wouldn’t it be better to see them on a map?

Visualisation and filling the gaps

Thanks to Ian’s tutorial on how to create a custom WikiShootMe map, we were able to create a custom map that showed us which of the memorials we were working on had images, which didn’t, and where they were. That map is here, and it was great to see it slowly turn more green than red over the weekend as we found more images, or as volunteers headed out across Aberdeen between days to take missing pictures.

A screenshot of a clickable map where people can upload photos of monuments
A screenshot of a clickable map where people can upload photos of monuments

One of the small, but very satisfying, things you can do with these kinds of images is to integrate them into relevant Wikipedia articles. I added images from the project to the articles for Aberdeen Town House, Caroline Phillips, and Katherine Grainger. At the time of writing, around 2500 people have viewed those articles since I added the images.

Next steps

Over the course of the weekend we added 77 new memorials, and 26 new women to Wikidata, as well as a whole host of new photos. These entries all had some quite rich data, and as complete as we could make it.

We were surprised to see some of the individuals who didn’t have a Wikipedia article – and of course, we can use the Wikidata query service to identify those gaps. The queries below could give us a great starting point for an editathon, or indeed, for any Wikipedia editor interested in writing Women’s biography.

  • Wikidata query for women with a Women of Scotland subject ID, a memorial in Aberdeen, but no enwiki article:
  • Wikidata query for women with a Women of Scotland subject ID, but no enwiki article:

Huge thanks to the team, and to Code the City for another great hack weekend!

Dr Sara Thomas
Scotland Programme Coordinator, Wikimedia UK


Header image: The Grave of Jessie Seymour Irvine by Ian Watt on Wiki Commons  (CC-BY-SA)

Aberdeen Plaques – Part One

On Saturday 14th December 2019 we ran a one-day mini hack event. The idea behind it was for people to come along for a day to work on their side projects and, if they needed support, attempt to persuade others to assist them.

That’s what I did with my Aberdeen Plaques project: something I’d had on the back burner for more than a year.

Why do it?

The commemorative plaques which are dotted around the city are a perfect candidate for open data. They have a subject, usually some dates, are located somewhere, and are of different types etc. Making that all available as open data would open up a whole range of possibilities.

Some Aberdeen plaques
Some Aberdeen plaques

If we captured all of that well then we could do analysis on the data (ratio of women to men, most represented professions), create walking routes (maybe one for the arts, one for the sciences and so on), create timelines to see what periods are more represented.

Having recently trained as a WikiMedia UK trainer – and having experimented with some of the tools (Wiki Commons, Wiki Data, Wikipedia, Histropedia) I was convinced that these were the right way to go.

Pre-event prep

So, in advance of the hack day I’d done a bit of prep in the two weeks running up to the day iteself.

I’d created a spreadheet which recorded the
* subject (person or ‘thing’)
* Gender if known
* the link to the now-retired city council plaques system (hidden from public view)
* The location if known
* The geo coordinates (to be determined)
* Whether the subject had a Wikipedia page (tbd)
* Whether there was an image of the plaque on Wiki Commons (tbd)
* Whether the subject of the plaque was represented on Wiki Data (tbd)
* Any identifiers on Open Plaques (tbd)
* Any external links (eg to Flickr for photos)

I’d then populated some of the data (eg whether there were images of the plaque on Wiki Commons) as well as some other bits. But most cells were blank.

Pre-event spreadsheet
Pre-event spreadsheet

As a keen walker and photographer I had also photographed and uploaded seventeen plaque images to Wiki Commons in the lead up, so that we would have some images to work with.

How to use our time most effectively on the day?

Our aim for the day was then to find out what data / info / images existed, fill in the gaps, and explore how to use WikiData to store and retrieve data, and how we could potentially create maps, timelines and similiar new products.

What we did on the day

At the start of the event we pitched our project ideas, and I managed to persude five others (Angela, Mike, Stephen, James and Steve) to join me in working on the plaques project.

Angela and Mike, and later Angela and Stephen would go out and take photographs. Steve, James and I would work on the data capture, completing research on what existed, creating new entries for the data on Wiki Data, and testing queries on the Wiki Data query service.

How we did it

We used the spreadsheet that I had set up to capture all of the data we’d gathered – and as it eveolved it would show progress as well as what was still lacking. We had no expectations that we would do it all on the day, but we could pick away at it in future weeks and months.

In the run-up to the event I’d discovered The Pingus’ album of plaques photographs on Flickr. Sadly these had not been published with a licence that would allow us to use them. I’d sent a request, a few days before CTC18, for them to change the licence for the Aberdeen plaques pictures to a CC-SA one. This would have allowed our republishing on Wiki Commons. Sadly it didn’t elicit a response. But the album did show that there were many more plaques than the old ACC system listed. And it was possible to get co-ordinates from them. So the number of plaques to deal with kept growing.

During the day James filled in loads of gaps in which subjects were on Wikipedia and which on Wikidata.

Steve and I experimented with capturing and querying the data. Structuring that in a way that aids recall through Wiki Data Query Service was an interative process. Firstly I tried adding a statement ‘commomorative plaque image’ (P1801) into the wikidata record for the subject as you can see in this first example But that limited what we could do.

So, we discovered that we could create a new object which was an instance of commemorative plaque. Our first attempt was and we evolved what we captured there – adding statement, and Steve discovered the ‘openPlaques plaque ID'(P1893). Incidentally we also tried ‘openplaques Subject ID’ (P1430) but adding that to the plaque object throws an error. The latter should be added to the person record not the plaque.

At the end of CTC18

We ended the day with

  • 138 plaques listed.
  • 57 sets of co-ordinates identified
  • 68 Wikipedia articles identified as matching plaque subjects (and eleven plaques subjects who had NO wikipedia page)
  • 36 Images in WikiCommons
  • 77 WikiData entries for the subject of the plaques (existing or created)
  • 11 new wikidata entries for the plaques themselves

This was a great leap forward in one day and would pave the way for future work.

What next?

Since CTC18 ended, I’ve got firmly stuck into this project over the xmas break. Over the last three weeks I have now photographed over a hundred plaques (plenty of walking) and have created wikidata entries for most plaques and also their subjects in wikidata.

I’ll cover all of that, and how we can now use the data in part two, coming soon.