Semantic Web versus History of Science and Technology : methodology to model knowledge from comparative history of the ports: the case study of Mar del Plata (Argentina) and Brest (France)

José Antonio Mateo
Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata

Comunicación larga
Archivos, repositorios, sostenibilidad y preservación


The aim of this proposal is to present the results of research works in the field of Digital Humanities developed by a collaboration between the GESMAR (Grupo de Estudios Sociales Marítimos), University of Mar del Plata (Argentina) and the Centre F. Viète (EA 1161), University of Bretagne Occidentale (France) in the area of semantic web and history of science and technology about the comparative history of the ports of Brest and Mar del Plata.

The research group SemanticHPST

The application of computer  science to research in history has existed for a long time1, though it can be noticed that the recent research domain of “Digital Humanities" (DH) is growing as result of a digital “revolution" at work that impacts the whole society at the international level. In France, tools and utilities dedicated to DH like the very large facility Huma-Num ( have been created in order to favor “the coordination of the collective production of corpora of sources (scientific recommendations, technological best practices)." It also provides research teams in the human and social sciences with a range of utilities to facilitate the processing, access, storage and interoperability of various types of digital data." The Dacos and Mounier report2 shows that the French research is active, however the authors recommend the creation of “Centers of Digital Humanities". The research network SemanticHPST is based on a strong coupling of laboratories in History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (HPST) with research questions about the use of semantic web for HPST. The SemanticHPST project takes part in the emerging issues in the domain of History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the French and international levels3. Actually, the Semantic Web technology appears as efficient in order to generate tools adapted to the need of production and diffusion of distributed intelligent digital" corpus in HPST4.

The objectives of the project are:

  1. to integrate the existing technologies to manipulate digital contents of large volume by modeling knowledge as ontologies (annotation, request);
  2. to extent these technologies.

In November 2010, the main topic of an European workshop was the uses of ICT and history of science and technology in education5 to improve research in HPST on one hand, and to promote dissemination of the HPST in the field of education on the other hand, some participants were convinced by the necessity to use new ICT tools6. In 2012, some historians of science and technology and computer scientists have created a consortium called SemanticHPST. The main goal of SemanticHPST project is to enrich the practices of researchers and communities in HPST. According to the specificity of the practice as historians of science, three main issues were tackled:

  1. The management of large quantities of data especially for the most recent periods (XIXth, XXth centuries up to the present day). Knowing that the historical approach involves to integrate relevant elements from the context of production of these data into metadata.
  2. The heterogeneity of sources and corpora constituted from these sources.
  3. The production of new relevant digital corpora from several available digital historical collections.

To address our main goal and the three previous issues, our project is based on the SemanticWeb principles and technologies. Thus, it has three main sub-goals:

  1. Building intelligent digital corpora, that is to say corpora with primary and secondary sources having semantic metadata and their corresponding ontologies;
  2. Designing tools to access and enrich existing corpora and to create new ones;
  3. Evaluating the resulting practices and building an epistemological viewpoint about the usage of TIC in HPST.

To achieve these goals, it is necessary to ensure a certain level of genericity for metadata, ontologies, computer-based tools and practices. To deal with genericity and the diversity of sources, the project is applied in several and different HPST use cases. We present in this proposal the Brest-Mar del Plata project.

The collaborative project Mar del Plata - Brest

The project takes part first in the research programs “History of marine science and technology” and ‘Digital Humanities for History of Science and Technology” developed in Brest in the Centre F. Viète (EA 1161). One topic concerns the comprehension of the scientific and technological evolution of the port-arsenal in Brest (France) on a large period (17th to 20th century) with a methodological approach considering this military-industrial complex dedicated to shipbuilding as a large technological system7. The objectives are:

  1. To compose and publish a digital library (based on semantic web) about the material culture of the port-arsenal of Brest associated to several projects about 3D replications of artefacts and to cultural mediations dedicated to science and technology heritage.
  2. To develop digital tools (based on semantic web) dedicated to a comparative history of science and technology of the port on a large area and a large period (since ancient times until now).

The hypothesis is to consider the large technological system of the port-arsenal as a large spatiotemporal and multi-scale artefact which is possible to decompose in elements of smaller scale (which are also artefacts) like industrial workshops, shipbuilding areas, storage areas, etc. Each of these elements are themselves composed by elements/artefacts of smaller scale. The system has to be seen as the sum of all these artefacts included all the relationships between them. The research works in Brest8 shown the interest to propose an historical evolution model of the port (inspired by works in geography9) where “simple” artefacts like cranes, quays, dry docks are efficient indicators to characterize the cycle of evolution of the port arsenal during a large period. This method is used since 2012 in a comparative research between Brest (France) and Mar del Plata (Argentina) in a thesis in progress by B. Rohou10.

From this work, the aim to produce a methodology and a knowledge model efficient to produce a generic ontology where an artefact is a material object (made by man) associated to a “life cycle” with at least three steps :

That “life cycle” implies five ontologies to be elaborated : times entities, actors (individual our social group), concepts/theories, location and artefacts. The analysis of the important ontology in the domain of cultural heritage named CIDOC-CRM (that “provides definitions and a formal structure for describing the implicit and explicit concepts and relationships used in cultural heritage documentation)11 shows that this ontology could be a first reference to help and build our own ontologies because some concepts and relationships about “temporal entities” and “actors” can be reused. But if the concept of “Thing” exists in the CIDOC-CRM, we consider that the concept of “Artefact” and the associated relationships have to be elaborated first from our historical model and by considering of course the possibility of equivalent concepts in the CIDOC-CRM.


GILLIOT Jean-Marie, GARLATTI Serge, REBAÏ Issam, PHAM NGUYEN Cuong, A Mobile Learning Scenario improvement for HST Inquiry Based learning. Workshop Emerging Web Technologies, Facing the Future of Education, 16-16 april 2012, Lyon, France, 2012

S. Laubé (2009), « Modélisation des documents numériques pour l'histoire des techniques: une perspective de recherche », Documents pour l'histoire des techniques,n°18, décembre 2009, pp. 37-41

J-M Gilliot, S. Laubé, P. N. Cuong (2010) , “A collaborative pervasive IBST scenario with semantic facilities”, EC-TEL 2010, Fifth European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning, Future Learning Landscapes: Towards the Convergence of Pervasive and Contextual computing, Global Social Media and Semantic Web in Technology Enhanced Learning Second Edition, Barcelona (Spain), 28 September-1 October 2010, 11 p. content/uploads/2010/09/Gilliot_et_al.pdf

LAUBE, S. et GILLIOT, J M. et PHAM, N C. et GARLATTI, S. et REBAÏ, I., «Tackling Mobile & Pervasive Learning in IBST», History of Science and Technology, ICT and Inquiry Based Science Teaching, Berlin, BRUNEAU Olivier, GRAPI Pere, HEERING Peter, LAUBÉ Sylvain, MASSA-ESTEVE Maria-Rosa, DE VITTORI Thomas, 2012, pp. 181-201

Susana Soraya Gonzalez (Université Nationale de Mar del Plata – Argentine), B.Rohou : «Étude des transferts de connaissances techniques entre la France et le reste du Monde: l'exemple de la construction d'infrastructures portuaires en Amérique du Sud par des ingénieurs entrepreneurs français au début du XX ème siècle ».Journée d'étude sur les transferts Europe-Monde organisée par le CRHIA dans le cadre du LabEx ENHE. Nantes, 19 février 2015

B. Rohou : « Modélisation des ports pour l'Histoire des Sciences et des Techniques : accès aux archives du port de Mar del Plata en Argentine». Communication à la troisième journée d'étude des jeunes chercheurs américanistes de l'Institut des Amériques (IDA). Nantes, 7 novembre 2014

B. Rohou, S. Laubé, S. Garlatti : « Vientos de Historia » : « Modelos para el estudio del desarrollo de los puertos ». Conférence organisée par « Grupo Estudios Sociales en el Área Interserrana (ESAI) » et «Creap Necochea » de l' Université Nationale de Mar del Plata – Argentine.22 Août 2014, Necochea, Argentine.

B. Rohou, S. Laubé, S. Garlatti : « Présentation de la problématique de recherche en Humanités Numériques autour de la modélisation des ports de Brest (France) et de Mar del Plata (Argentine) en tant que macro systèmes technologiques complexes ». Communication à la deuxième journée d'étude des jeunes chercheurs américanistes de l'Institut des Amériques (IDA).Nantes, 20 mai 2014

S. Laubé, B. Rohou, S. Garlatti : « Web sémantique et modélisation des connaissances: intérêt de l'approche systémique », Communication au congrès de la SFHST (Société Française d’Histoire des Sciences et des Techniques) . 28 avril 2014, Université de Lyon 1

S.Laubé, B. Rohou, S. Garlatti. « Humanités numériques et web sémantique. De l’intérêt de lamodélisation des connaissances en histoire des sciences et des techniques pour une histoire comparée des ports de Brest (France) et Mar del Plata (Argentine) ». Conférence Internationale « Digital Intelligence », Nantes, september 17-19 2014