Aberdeen Harbour Arrivals register 1916

Code The City 19: History + Data = Innovation

The social and industrial history of Aberdeen is a fascinating one and local collections are full of untapped resources.

During early April 2020 we worked with data from the 19th and 20th centuries, and applied some modern technology to create new insights and ways of interacting with some exciting historical assets from local collections.

Given our Covid-19 circumstances this became an online event. We had a number of people get involved from home both for phase ‘one’ and then more intensely in phase ‘two’. We split the effort into two phases:

Phase one started from 1 April with some ‘pre-event’ activities which focused on collecting, transcribing and entering data, which we could use in the next phase.

Phase two was a collective event on Saturday 11th April and Sunday 12th April 2020. This was entirely online. We had nine people taking part for this.

We had a number of challenges to work on so that people can try new things, while also helping guide people where others have experience. The pre-event data entry activities were across a range of difficulty levels to suit everyone.

Phase 2 – the weekend-long hack event

For the weekend-long hack event on 11th and 12th April we modelled the activities as much as we could on our standard event, despite us being scattered across the globe. That means identifying projects for the weekend, forming small teams, working collaboratively and giving updates on progress over the two days. We’re working on how we’ll do that exactly – but we will have it organised in good time.

We used Zoom for the ‘face to face’ work, and Slack as a ‘back channel’ to share information between breakout rooms, and any others who were around,  but unable to participate more fully. This worked well.

More about the work of this event can be found at the relevant GitHub page, which has the code for the work done, and notes about how the event was facilitated.

Aberdeen Harbour Arrivals

One involved volunteers joining the Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archives to trawl through the fascinating data hidden in the arrival ledgers from Aberdeen Harbour Board. You can read more about that in this blog post.

We photographed logs from 1914 to 1920.  We built up a good idea of what was coming into the harbour and from where during the period from First World War. We will even be able to trace what the weather was like on any given day!

We had 22 people help transcribe the pages as detailed in a  guide for transcription participants. The transcription work by the team wrote up their work in detail. The work became the basis of a prototype website.

There is still more work to be done here in the future. What could we do with the application of coding and data science? How could we use NLP and other tools to analyse the data, create timelines: analyse movements patterns and how these varied over time / during wartime;  even Twitter bots – ” On this day 100 years ago The Vulture (a Schooner, 328 tons) arrived from Leipzig under master Schmidt carrying Timber.”

Aberdeen Provosts

The roles of  Provosts / Lord Provosts of Aberdeen go back to 13th Century and there have been almost 300 terms of office of post-holders. Yet fewer than 20 individuals have Wikipedia articles and at the start of this weekend-long project only  6 were represented in Wikidata. Now all provosts are represented on Wikidata. See https://w.wiki/MYD.

You can read how the project went, the methods used, and still get involved in enhancing the data, all at this new blogpost: https://codethecity.org/2020/05/06/aberdeen-provosts/

Aberdeen Built Ships

This was the third project run over the weekend. It involved AAGM staff and a volunteer working on scraping the Aberdeen Built Ships site for the data there with a view to getting it into Wikidata.

Data has been scraped and it should be possible to create Wikidata entries from it in the future, all linked back to the online ABS system using a new proposed identifier in Wikidata. Some work remains to be done on identifying which ships already exist in Wikidata before using Quickstatements or another tool to bulk upload data to the platform.

We could also then potentially identify ships in the Aberdeen Harbour arrivals that were know to have been built in the city. A more detailed write-up is provided in this blog post.

WikiData Wiki Commons and Wikipedia

To keep track of our activity over the event, we created an event page, from which we could also generate a dashboard of activity.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:GLAM/CodeTheCity/CTC19

The dashboard  showed that 7 people generated 232k of words, several hundred new entries, and thousands of edits.  Most of this was through the Provost work.

In addition to the above three projects a number of challenges were proposed which feature the use of the Wikimedia platforms.

Some work was done with Wikidata, with less done to upload photos to Wiki Commons or to edit Wikipedia. If you want to do this too, then you’ll need to register for an account if you don’t already have one. In each case go to the top right of the page and either log in or create an account. One account can be used across all Wikimedia platforms, so you only have to register once.

We can run training sessions if you need assistance to use these. We can schedule them during the next couple of weeks. You can get a great, starter tutorial for Wikipedia editing here. It takes less than an hour and introduces all of the core concepts and gives you some practice with them.

Now, here are some projects that we can do in the future using Wikidata etc:

Cinemas and Theatres

Continue work on Cinemas and Theatres on Aberdeen that we started at our Editathon in  August 2019. We’ll have representatives from the Aberdeen City Library Service here to help with resources.

Schools, Hospitals, Cemeteries and Companies

There are loads of opportunities to improve Wikidata to ensure that all hospitals, schools, cemeteries, workhouses and other things (current and historic) are represented in Wikidata. This will aid linked data queries – such as “How many Provosts of Aberdeen are buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery?”

For example contrast this map of NE hospitals through time with this list from Wikidata.

Similarly, if we can build up a body of data for the major companies in Aberdeen which were significant employers, we can link the import of goods by shipping, or which business people were connected with the larger companies. Currently there is only one company listed on Wikidata: Shore Porters Society. The Aberdeen Harbour Board doesn’t even exist at the time of writing! We can source data on other companies from openly published historic Post Office Directories of Aberdeen by the National Library of Scotland with even more on Archive.Org.

Listed Buildings

This is probably best until we leave Civid-19 lockdown. There are hundreds of Aberdeen listed buildings / structures on Wiki Data but many have no photos. There is an opportunity for keen photographers to capture pictures of these, upload them to WikiCommons and link the Wiki Data entries.

As always stay in touch and stay well!