Building the Seshat Ontology for a Global History Databank

  • Rob BrennanEmail author
  • Kevin Feeney
  • Gavin Mendel-Gleason
  • Bojan Bozic
  • Peter Turchin
  • Harvey Whitehouse
  • Pieter Francois
  • Thomas E. Currie
  • Stephanie Grohmann
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 9678)


This paper describes OWL ontology re-engineering from the wiki-based social science codebook (thesaurus) developed by the Seshat: Global History Databank. The ontology describes human history as a set of over 1500 time series variables and supports variable uncertainty, temporal scoping, annotations and bibliographic references. The ontology was developed to transition from traditional social science data collection and storage techniques to an RDF-based approach. RDF supports automated generation of high usability data entry and validation tools, data quality management, incorporation of facts from the web of data and management of the data curation lifecycle.

This ontology re-engineering exercise identified several pitfalls in modelling social science codebooks with semantic web technologies; provided insights into the practical application of OWL to complex, real-world modelling challenges; and has enabled the construction of new, RDF-based tools to support the large-scale Seshat data curation effort. The Seshat ontology is an exemplar of a set of ontology design patterns for modelling uncertainty or temporal bounds in standard RDF. Thus the paper provides guidance for deploying RDF in the social sciences. Within Seshat, OWL-based data quality management will assure the data is suitable for statistical analysis. Publication of Seshat as high-quality, linked open data will enable other researchers to build on it.


Ontology engineering Ontology design patterns Cliodynamics 



This work was supported by a John Templeton Foundation grant, “Axial-Age Religions and the Z-Curve of Human Egalitarianism,” a Tricoastal Foundation grant, “The Deep Roots of the Modern World: The Cultural Evolution of Economic Growth and Political Stability,” an ESRC Large Grant, “Ritual, Community, and Conflict” (REF RES-060-25-0085), European Union Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 644055 [ALIGNED,]) and the ADAPT Centre for Digital Content Technology, SFI Research Centres Programme (Grant 13/RC/2106) co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund. We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of our team of research assistants, post-doctoral researchers, consultants, and experts. Additionally, we have received invaluable assistance from our collaborators. Please see the Seshat website for a full list of private donors, partners, experts, and consultants and their respective areas of expertise.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rob Brennan
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kevin Feeney
    • 1
  • Gavin Mendel-Gleason
    • 1
  • Bojan Bozic
    • 1
  • Peter Turchin
    • 2
  • Harvey Whitehouse
    • 3
  • Pieter Francois
    • 3
    • 4
  • Thomas E. Currie
    • 5
  • Stephanie Grohmann
    • 3
  1. 1.KDEG and ADAPT, School of Computer Science and StatisticsTrinity College DublinDublinIreland
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ConnecticutMansfieldUSA
  3. 3.Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary AnthropologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  4. 4.History Group, School of HumanitiesUniversity of HertfordshireHatfieldUK
  5. 5.Centre for Ecology and Conservation, BiosciencesUniversity of ExeterPenrynUK

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