Historical methodologies rely on evidence in order to support hypotheses. Bookbindings play a key role in supporting hypotheses because they offer a plethora of physical evidence of materials and techniques. By interpreting existing evidence, researchers draw conclusions about the past. The term “induction” is often used to describe this process. For example the observation of a number of bookbindings from the Saint Catherine's library in Sinai led to the consideration of a type of endband (Greek compound endband) as a popular one after the 15th century. The assumption here is that the sample observed is representative of the overall trend. Future research will then use this conclusion as a criterion (among others) to check the likely date of a binding. The term “deduction” is often used to describe the use of existing rules to draw conclusions. When two rules of deduction contradict each other, then the researcher has to revise them. Therefore induction is again employed and new evidence is required to support the revised rules. It is important to emphasise that the representative sample is a critical aspect of historical work and it is what improves the quality of deductions.
At the moment, evidence from bookbindings is collected on an ad-hoc basis by expert researchers mostly working in small teams or isolated. This evidence often remains with the researcher or in the best of the cases is shared online as textual (and sometimes pictorial) information. When researchers want to use this evidence they visit these disparate resources, read the textual records and attempt to combine them with their own evidence. This process requires a lot of time which increases as new resources are being published online. Therefore, researchers find it easier to adopt earlier conclusions than to challenge them and improve them by comparing raw data, because they do not have the required time available. This paper will propose a way to allow the examination of evidence from disparate resources quickly.
Recent and current developments in the field of knowledge organisation and the semantic web suggest a methodology for sharing research data online which is slowly becoming more and more usable. The process starts with the development of a concept thesaurus for bookbinding where concepts are held and organised (one way of building a thesaurus is according to the SKOS guidelines). The concept thesaurus solves the problem of common reference among researchers who can continue using their individual language terms to describe their concepts, but they all agree to the concept described. The thesaurus is indexed by search engines, thus making all references to its concepts searchable automatically.
Having established this common reference, the next step in the methodology is to define the complex relationships among the concepts (a way to do this is according to the RDFS guidelines). For example, in our bookbinding thesaurus there will be concepts about components of binding structures such as “book cover” and concepts describing materials such as “tanned skin”. In order to formalise the fact that a book cover can be made of tanned skin, a new generic relationship between components and materials can be established. This can be called the “consists of” relationship. Therefore, the generic relationship “component” “consists of” “material” can be used as follows: “book cover” “consists of” “tanned skin” making a single rule applicable to all descriptions of components. It is important to formalise the relationships among our concepts because then they become searchable by search engines in the same way the thesaurus concepts are, thus allowing searching to become more targeted.
By making use of the agreed concept thesaurus and the agreed concept relationships, researchers can produce detailed descriptions of their observations and perform targeted searches on them. In order to share these records so that other researchers can refer to them, a third step of the methodology is required: openly sharing the described observations online. There are various technical tools which allow the publication of data in the right format for open sharing (RDFa is a popular one), also known as “Linked Open Data”. By making bookbinding data available as Linked Open Data, our samples will become more representative and will then help us improve the conclusions we draw about our past.