Using an Ontology for Representing the Knowledge on Literary Texts: the Dante Alighieri Case Study

Tracking #: 1143-2355

Valentina Bartalesi
Carlo Meghini

Responsible editor: 
Eero Hyvonen

Submission type: 
Ontology Description
This paper describes a digital library developed within the “Towards a Digital Dante Encyclopaedia” project, a three years Italian National Research Project that aims at building services supporting scholars in creating, evolving and consulting a digital encyclopaedia of Dante Alighieri’s works. The digital library is based on a knowledge base storing knowledge on the primary sources that Dante refers to in his works, i.e. the works of other authors Dante refers to in his texts. At present, this information is scattered on many paper books, making it difficult to systematically overview the culture background of Dante and to obtain a well-founded perception of how this background was gradually set up in time. The same applies also to other authors, therefore the applicability of our work extends well beyond the specific author we are considering in our project. The digital library that we are building is based on an ontology for representing the knowledge on one author’s works and on the primary sources embedded in the commentaries to these works. Following this approach, a semantic network of Dante’s works and of references to primary sources of these works was created. Furthermore, a web application allowing users to explore the semantic network in various ways and to visualize statistical information about the references as charts and tables was developed.
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Solicited Reviews:
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Review #1
By Oyvind Eide submitted on 04/Sep/2015
Review Comment:

This manuscript was submitted as 'Ontology Description' and should be reviewed along the following dimensions: (1) Quality and relevance of the described ontology (convincing evidence must be provided). (2) Illustration, clarity and readability of the describing paper, which shall convey to the reader the key aspects of the described ontology.

Paper is fine now. Only one technical thing: if the typeset is realistic then fig. 8 and 9 must be changed. They are illegible.

Review #2
By Arianna Betti submitted on 05/Sep/2015
Review Comment:

Most of my comments have been integrated successfully.

I recommend acceptance but I strongly advise the authors to address the still missing points below in their final version, as this is crucial to improve the readability of the paper and thus the chances to be much more widely read and used, as it deserves.

(1) Is there any similar project going on right now (on other authors obviously), to the best of your knowledge? (suppose I want to apply your model to a new author: why would I choose yours?) (this was my point 3)

Please add a sentence to address this point. The answer seems No, and your procedure seems widely generalisable to any author and work, as long as certain presuppositions are in place (commentaries exist, some subject gazetteers such as the *Nuovo Soggettario* and a group of scholars willing to cooperate), so please inform the reader that/whether it is so.

(2) The explanation why commentaries are needed on old texts (and why such works exist at all) (This was my point 9)
(3) [..] I was very confused by the Introduction. I’d advise the authors to have a humanities scholar familiar with the project or at least with the paper to go over the whole text or at least through the introduction (this was point 6).

Point (2) is addressed and partially also point (3) but, as it stands, the introduction misrepresents the work of humanities scholars and is really hard to understand. For instance, you can’t say that natural language 'prevents' scholars from making inferences, otherwise no scholar would ever be able to reason inferentially, which is false. What you mean is that certain kind of automatic derivations or deductions of valuable information beyond a certain data size, or complexity, are not possible without formalization.

So, how about rewriting the introduction as follows (mind the italics):

“Literary works, especially those written centuries ago, hold information which, for several reasons, remains to modern readers largely implicit at best, and outright inaccessible at worst. It is the task of specialized scholars in the humanities to help readers understand the implicit knowledge contained in literary works by carefully analyzing the text of such works. This typically happens in so-called commentaries, modern works of interpretive research that decode, often line by line, several kinds of knowledge encoded in literary texts, and report it explicitly (e.g. [6]). One important kind of knowledge concerns the primary sources literary texts refer to. In our case study, primary sources are the works of other authors (eg. Aristoteles) referred to in his texts by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) - the major Italian poet of the late Middle Ages. In their commentaries, scholars typically express knowledge about the primary sources referred to by Dante in natural language. Using natural language limits scholars in their advances insofar as it prevents automatic inferences of new information that may be useful for their studies.”

(The authors are more than welcome to simply copy and paste this text.)

(3) 10. What do you mean on p3 by ‘We verified that Convivio knowledge structure ….provided by the scholars.” I do not follow this sentence and I do not understand what you did exactly.

I still do not follow very well the end of section 2. Maybe you just simply meant that all excel files were structured in the same way?

(4) 12. ‘The Digital Library field’. I do not understand. What do you mean?

The field is Digital Libraries. Please correct. Eg see “Thus, throughout the 1990s NSF support has been a critical factor in establishing the digital libraries field as an important area for research, development, application and practice. “

(5) I’d strongly advise to get the paper checked for English.