Project Announcement: A Text Analytic Approach to Rural and Urban Legal Histories

I and my colleagues are very pleased that our project proposal A Text Analytic Approach to Rural and Urban Legal Histories has been funded by the dot.rural Resource Partnership. It is a pilot project that runs for six months, hires two staff part time, and is funded for £53,000. The project is expected to start in the early spring, 2014. Further information is below. Many thanks to my colleagues and the support staff in seeing this proposal through.

  • Principal Investigator: Adam Wyner, Department of Computing Science, University of Aberdeen
  • Co-Investigator: Jackson Armstrong, School of Divinity, History and Philosophy, University of Aberdeen
  • Co-Investigator: Andrew Mackillop, School of Divinity, History and Philosophy, University of Aberdeen
  • Associate Investigator: Wim Peters, Department of Computer Science, University of Sheffield
  • Partner organisation: Phil Astley, City Archivist, Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives (ACAA)
  • Mentor: George Coghill, Department of Computing Science, University of Aberdeen

Aberdeen has the earliest and most complete body of surviving records of any Scottish town, running in near-unbroken sequence from 1398 to the present day. Our central focus is on the ‘provincial town’, especially its articulations and interactions with surrounding rural communities, infrastructure and natural resources. In this multi-disciplinary project, we apply text analytical tools to digitised Aberdeen Burgh Records, which are a UNESCO listed cultural artifact. The meaningful content of the Records is linguistically obscured, so must be interpreted. Moreover, to extract and reuse the content with Semantic Web and linked data technologies, it must be machine readable and richly annotated. To accomplish this, we develop a text analytic tool that specifically relates to the language, content, and structure of the Records. The result is an accessible, flexible, and essential precursor to the development of Semantic Web and linked data applications related to the Records. The applications will exploit the artifact to promote Aberdeen Burgh and Shire cultural tourism, curriculum development, and scholarship.
The scholarly objective of this project is to develop the analytic framework, methods, and resource materials to apply a text analytic tool to annotate and access the content of the Burgh records. Amongst the text analytic issues to address in historical perspective are: the identification and analysis of legal entities, events, and roles; and the analysis of legal argumentation and reasoning. Amongst the legal historical issues are: the political and legal culture and authority in the Burgh and Shire, particularly pertaining to the management and use of natural resources. Having an understanding of these issues and being able to access them using Semantic Web/linked data technologies will then facilitate exploitation in applications.
This project complements a distinct, existing collaboration between the Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives (ACAA) and the University (Connecting and Projecting Aberdeen’s Burgh Records, jointly led by Andrew Mackillop and Jackson Armstrong) (the RIISS Project), which will both make a contribution to the project (see details on application form). This multi-disciplinary application seeks funding from Dot.Rural chiefly for the time of two specialist researchers: a Research Fellow to interpret the multiple languages, handwriting scripts, archaic conventions, and conceptual categories emerging from these records; and subcontracting the A-I to carry out the text analytic and linked data tasks on a given corpus of previously transcribed council records, taking the RF’s interpretation as input.

Resource and Background – Aberdeen Burgh Records
Very few cities in the UK and indeed Northern Europe can rival Aberdeen’s civic archive. Alongside the Scottish Exchequer Rolls and Register of the Great Seal, these volumes are the only near-continuous record that survives for Scotland, running unbroken from 1398 to the present day. Aberdeen’s early Council Registers contain not only records of ‘policy’ but also legal decisions in hundreds of disputes. The Registers include the elections of office bearers, property transfers, regulations of trade and prices, references to crimes and subsequent punishment, matters of public health, credit and debt, cargoes of foreign vessels, tax and rental of burgh lands, woods and fishings, a substantial portion of which relate to rural property. This content means that what may appear as an ostensibly ‘urban’ archive is in fact one of the most important and underexploited ‘rural’ records for medieval and early modern Scotland.
In July 2013 the eight volumes of Aberdeen’s council registers covering the period 1398 to 1509 were recognised by UNESCO as being of outstanding historical importance to the UK.
In 2013 the RIISS proof-of-concept, pilot project is assessing the creation of an online, publicly accessible linked database with samples of the Register’s text with corresponding images. The project involves the transcription and translation of 100 pages from the Register. This corpus of new text generated by the RIISS project will form the basis of material to be used in the Dot.Rural project. The Dot.Rural application is for a new project that will complement the RIISS project.
Rurality and the Law in the Burgh Records
The Aberdeen council registers are records of a primarily legal nature, illuminating the legal history of a community, where the law formalises social conventions, social order, economic priorities, and dispositions and management of resources. From them, we can investigate how such conventions, order, and resources were handled at a time, over time, vertically within social communities, and horizontally across the landscape between Shire and Burgh.
Whereas the technical core of the proposed Dot.Rural project is concerned with applying text analytic tools to the transcribed sample from the 1530s generated by the RIISS pilot, our conceptual interests take a much wider chronological view, spanning the four centuries from c. 1400 to c. 1800. Our central aim is to use Scottish urban records for much more than a study of on the ‘provincial town’ and its interactions with its rural surroundings, which is a topic ripe for investigation. Aberdeen’s records and other historic collections show that the standard demarcation between ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ is inaccurate. Aberdeen served as a social, legal and political interchange for landowners. In an historic period when urban centres were heavily dependent on their rural surroundings, the mental horizons of the civic elite necessarily encompassed the countryside. Within the burgh itself, properties that suggest a liminal or hybrid nature, such as numerous Dee fishings and plots designated simply as ‘the lands beside (the Spital, etc.)’, or ‘a feu … without buildings’ in Footdee, present an environment where the urban and rural were necessarily blended. Our investigations will lead to a deeper understanding of these relationships.
Text Analytic Contribution
Study of these valuable legal historical records has been constrained by access to protected documents and by current research methods. However, there are new, open opportunities to analyse the texts, thereby gaining a deeper understanding of the history and development of communities. Once documents have been digitised, we can apply powerful text analytic tools to the corpus: we annotate the terminology in the documents with a range of semantic, conceptual information; then, we extract or query information from across the documents in complex textual patterns. For example, a query could return all textual passages that contain the semantic concept “person’s name”, followed by several arbitrary intervening words, then followed by the semantic concept “role in some office”, or “property/properties” held in the Shire. In this way, we can then associate people’s names with their roles and their rural/urban personas across the texts. Thus, a range of semantic patterns can be identified that would otherwise be very hard to detect or extract. Such an approach can ground multi-disciplinary investigations of historical societies in large-scale textual sources of information, providing interpretable material on topics such as elites and social practice, relations between social classes and land, urban and rural development, and natural resource management. The text analysis also makes applicable a range of social web-mining approaches on historical text.
Text analysis will help to identify:

  • named entities in the Council Registers associated with particular people, places and interests both within the Burgh and the surrounding countryside.
  • legal terminology and concepts.
  • properties and relationships amongst named entities, including social and political relationships.
  • activities of named entities.
  • opinions, attitudes, and decisions.

Given these, we can:

  • explore the legal and social characterisation of individuals, places, and activities.
  • link the register data with maps and auxiliary historical documents.
  • facilitate public inquiry into the corpus using queries.

Further Updates
I will post further updates as they become available.
Shortlink here

Papers in JURIX 2013

I’m co-author of two papers at The 26th International Conference on Legal Knowledge and Information Systems (JURIX 2013), Bologna, Italy.
Bologna.  Food.
Argumentation Schemes for Reasoning about Factors with Dimensions
Katie Atkinson, Trevor Bench-Capon, Henry Prakken, and Adam Wyner
In previous work we presented argumentation schemes to capture the CATO and value based theory construction approaches to reasoning with legal cases with factors. We formalised the schemes with ASPIC+, a formal representation of instantiated argumentation. In ASPIC+ the premises of a scheme may either be a factor provided in a knowledge base or established using a further argumentation scheme. Thus far we have taken the factors associated with cases to be given in the knowledge base. While this is adequate for expressing factor based reasoning, we can further investigate the justifications for the relationship between factors and facts or evidence. In this paper we examine how dimensions as used in the HYPO system can provide grounds on which to argue about which factors should apply to a case. By making this element of the reasoning explicit and subject to argument, we advance our overall account of reasoning with legal cases and make it more robust.
author = {Katie Atkinson and Bench-Capon, Trevor and Henry Prakken and Adam Wyner},
title = {Argumentation Schemes for Reasoning about Factors with Dimensions},
booktitle = {Proceedings of 26th International Conference on Legal Knowledge and Information Systems (JURIX 2013)},
year = {2013},
pages = {??-??},
address = {Amsterdam},
publisher = {IOS Press}
A Case Study on Legal Case Annotation
Adam Wyner, Wim Peters, and Daniel Katz
The paper reports the outcomes of a study with law school students to annotate a corpus of legal cases for a variety of annotation types, e.g. citation indices, legal facts, rationale, judgement, cause of action, and others. An online tool is used by a group of annotators that results in an annotated corpus. Differences amongst the annotations are curated, producing a gold standard corpus of annotated texts. The annotations can be extracted with semantic searches of complex queries. There would be many such uses for the development and analysis of such a corpus for both legal education and legal research.
author = {Adam Wyner and Peters, Wim, and Daniel Katz},
title = {A Case Study on Legal Case Annotation},
booktitle = {Proceedings of 26th International Conference on Legal Knowledge and Information Systems (JURIX 2013)},
year = {2013},
pages = {??-??},
address = {Amsterdam},
publisher = {IOS Press}
Shortlink to this page.
By Adam Wyner

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Recent THiNK Workshop at Aberdeen

I was a co-organiser, with Prof. Barbara Fennell, of Policy-making, Text Analysis, and Big Data: A Workshop in Digital Humanities and Knowledge Exchange, which was held at the University of Aberdeen, June 30 in the Sir Duncan Rice Library.
Sir Duncan Rice Library, University of Aberdeen.
The THiNK network is for Knowledge Exchange in the Arts and Humanities in the UK. It provides a forum in which various parties exchange knowledge about funding ideas and opportunities. I was a presenter at a recent THiNK Event in London and see also my previous post.
The follow-on workshop, Policy-making, Text Analysis, and Big Data: A Workshop in Digital Humanities/Knowledge Exchange focussed on issues relating to Text Analysis, Policy-making, and Big Data. The underlying idea is that we have to harvest textual data on a large scale in order to assist with public policy-making. The full announcement, slides, and further notes about the workshop are at the link above; below is some extracted information.

Workshop description:

Policy-making and the law are fundamental to communal life and social progress. Given that policies and law are expressed in language and in social contexts, they are a natural “object” to study in the Humanities. One new approach is to apply current text analytic and information retrieval tools to better understand the substance of the policy documents, deliberative discourse, and related documents. More broadly, textual analysis and retrieval is at the heart of a range of interdisciplinary and applied research; it is a key element of Digital Humanities. While small scale studies are feasible and illuminating, it is essential to scale up research to handle the abundance of textual information, so-called ‘Big Data’. We have organised a workshop of speakers and discussion sessions to consider the state-of-the art in policy-making, textual analysis, and Big Data as well as the opportunities for cross-disciplinary research and development. The workshop brings together academic researchers, SMEs, and the Public Sector to exchange knowledge and outline project proposals in Digital Humanities.


Professor Barbara Fennel, Department of Linguistics

Dr Adam Wyner, Department of Computing Sciences

Workshop Schedule:

  • 12:00-12:30 Registration/Lunch
  • 12:30-13:30 Session 1 Public Policy-making Practice (C. Cottrill) and Policy-making Support Tools (A. Wyner)
  • 13:30-14:30 Session 2 Deliberative Democracy in Action (M. Oliver) and Text Analysis, News Media, and Psychiatry (N. Akhtar)
  • 14:30-15:00 Coffee break
  • 15.00-16:00 Session 3 Big Data (A. Goker)
  • 16.00-17:00 Roundup
  • Presenters:

  • Caitlin Cottrill, Lecturer, Department of Geography and Environment, University of Aberdeen. Caitlin will outline her knowledge about and experience in a range of policy-making contexts, particularly in domains of transportation and the environment. She will discuss some current issues and trends in policy-making.
  • Nooreen Akhtar, Research Training Fellow, Department of Applied Medicine, University of Aberdeen. Nooreen will discuss her investigations of how patients, public and stakeholders perceive and interpret information about anti-depressants in UK newspapers. It uses computational linguistic analysis and face-to-face interviews.
  • Matthew Oliver, Unlock Democracy. Unlock Democracy promotes deliberative, participatory, and transparent democratic activities by organising meetings and making available web-based tools to inform the public. Matthew is a Press and Project Manager and National Coordinator at Unlock Democracy. He will discuss aspects of Unlock Democracy and deliberative democracy.
  • Adam Wyner, Lecturer, Department of Computing Science, University of Aberdeen. Adam’s research interests are in the intersection of Law, Logic, Computer Science, and Language. Adam will present aspects of web-based tools to support deliberative, public policy-making, along with the analysis of legal materials.
  • Ayse Goker, Professor, School of Computing Science and Digital Media, Robert Gordon University. Ayse’s research interests are driven by a desire to research and improve information access and retrieval for users. Ayse has been the Principal Investigator of a range of UK and EU projects. Most recently, all the Scottish University Computing schools are partners through SICSA on the Innovation Centre bid for Data Science, with Robert Gordon University as its proposed NorthEast hub.
  • Shortlink to this page.
    By Adam Wyner

    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

    Paper in ArgMAS 2013 Post-proceedings

    I’m co-author of a paper in a post-workshop proceedings of the Ninth International Workshop on Argumentation in Multi-Agent Systems (ArgMAS 2012) June 4-8, Valencia, Spain.
    A Functional Perspective on Argumentation Schemes
    Adam Wyner, Katie Atkinson, and Trevor Bench-Capon
    In multi-agent systems (MAS), abstract argumentation and argumentation schemes are increasingly important. To be useful, schemes require a computational approach so that agents can use the components of a scheme to construct and present arguments and counterarguments. This paper proposes a syntactic analysis that integrates argumentation schemes with abstract argumentation. Schemes can be analysed into the roles that propositions play in each scheme and the structure of the associated propositions, yielding a greater understanding of the schemes, a uniform method of analysis, and a systematic means to relate one scheme to another. This analysis of the schemes helps to clarify what is needed to provide denotations of the terms and predicates in a semantic model.
    author = {Adam Wyner and Atkinson, Katie and Trevor Bench-Capon},
    title = {A Functional Perspective on Argumentation Schemes},
    booktitle = {Post-Proceedings of the 9th International Workshop on Argumentation in Multi-Agent Systems ({ArgMAS} 2013)},
    year = {2013},
    editor = {Peter McBurney and Parsons, Simon and Iyad Rahwan},
    pages = {??-??}
    Shortlink to this page.
    By Adam Wyner

    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

    Paper in CMNA 2010 Post-proceedings

    I’m co-author of a paper in a post-workshop proceedings of the Workshop on Computational Models of Natural Argument in 2010 and 2011.
    Working on the Argument Pipeline: Through Flow Issues between Natural Language Argument, Instantiated Arguments, and Argumentation Frameworks
    Adam Wyner, Tom van Engers, and Anthony Hunter
    In many domains of public discourse such as arguments about public policy, there is an abundance of knowledge to store, query, and reason with. To use this knowledge, we must address two key general problems: first, the problem of the knowledge acquisition bottleneck between forms in which the knowledge is usually expressed, e.g. natural language, and forms which can be automatically processed; second, reasoning with the uncertainties and inconsistencies of the knowledge. Given such complexities, it is labour and knowledge intensive to conduct policy consultations, where participants contribute statements to the policy discourse. Yet, from such a consultation, we want to derive policy positions, where each position is a set of consistent statements, but where positions may be mutually inconsistent. To address these problems and support policy-making consultations, we consider recent automated techniques in natural language processing, instantiating arguments, and reasoning with the arguments in argumentation frameworks. We discuss application and “bridge” issues between these techniques, outlining a pipeline of technologies whereby: expressions in a controlled natural language are parsed and translated into a logic (a literals and rules knowledge base), from which we generate instantiated arguments and their relationships using a logic-based formalism (an argument knowledge base), which is then input to an implemented argumentation framework that calculates extensions of arguments (an argument extensions knowledge base), and finally, we extract consistent sets of expressions (policy positions). The paper reports progress towards reasoning with web-based, distributed, collaborative, incomplete, and inconsistent knowledge bases expressed in natural language.
    author = {Adam Wyner and Tom van Engers and Anthony Hunter},
    title = {Working on the Argument Pipeline: Through Flow Issues between Natural
    Language Argument, Instantiated Arguments, and Argumentation Frameworks},
    booktitle = {Proceedings of the Workshop on Computational Models of Natural Argument},
    year = {2013},
    editor = {??},
    pages = {??-??},
    note = {To appear}
    Shortlink to this page.
    By Adam Wyner

    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

    Paper in CLIMA XIV Special Session on Argumentation

    I’m co-author of a paper in the special session on argumentation at The 14th International Workshop on Computational Logic in Multi-Agent Systems, Corunna, Spain, September 16-18, 2013.
    La Coruna Photos
    This photo of La Coruna courtesy of TripAdvisor
    On the Instantiation of Knowledge Bases in Abstract Argumentation Frameworks
    Adam Wyner, Trevor Bench-Capon, and Paul Dunne
    Abstract Argumentation Frameworks (AFs) provide a fruitful basis for exploring issues of defeasible reasoning. Their power largely derives from the abstract nature of the arguments within the framework, where arguments are atomic nodes in an undifferentiated relation of attack. This abstraction conceals different conceptions of argument, and concrete instantiations encounter difficulties as a result of conflating these conceptions. We distinguish three distinct senses of the term. We provide an approach to instantiating AFs in which the nodes are restricted to literals and rules, encoding the underlying theory directly. Arguments, in each of the three senses, then emerge from this framework as distinctive structures of nodes and paths. Our framework retains the theoretical and computational benefits of an abstract AF, while keeping notions distinct which are conflated in other approaches to instantiation.
    author = {Adam Wyner and Trevor Bench-Capon and Paul Dunne},
    title = {On the Instantiation of Knowledge Bases in Abstract Argumentation Frameworks},
    booktitle = {Proceedings of 14th International Workshop on Computational Logic in Multi-Agent Systems},
    year = {2013},
    publisher = {Springer},
    series = {LNCS},
    pages = {??-??},
    note = {To appear}
    Presentation slides for “On the Instantiation of Knowledge Bases in Abstract Argumentation Frameworks”
    Shortlink to this page.
    By Adam Wyner

    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

    Argumentation and Linguistics Tutorial at ACAI 2013

    I presented a tutorial on Argumentation and Linguistics at the Advanced Course on Artificial Intelligence (ACAI 2013) held at the Department of Informatics, King’s College London. The course focussed on Argumentation and Artificial Intelligence. From the description:

    The ACAI Summer School 2013 (ACAI 2013) will be held at at King’s College London, UK, from the 1st July to the 5th July 2013 and is on the topic of Argumentation in Artificial Intelligence. Computational models of argument, and the development of agreement technologies, is becoming an important area in artificial intelligence. The aim of the summer school is to provide the attendees with a solid grounding in the basic ideas in formal modelling of argumentation, dialogue, and negotiation. Furthermore, there will be a programme of lectures on application areas, lab sessions on software developments, and lectures linking with areas in AI and beyond.

    There were about 40 students in attendance. The ACAI course on argumentation covered a good, broad range of topics, presented by my european colleagues. The core of the programme consisted of four main speakers who gave 6 hours of lectures:

    • Pietro Baroni (Università degli Studi di Brescia) on Abstract Argumentation
    • Philippe Besnard (Institut de Recherche en Informatique de Toulouse) on Logic-Based Argumentation
    • Nicolas Maudet (University Pierre et Marie Curie) on Negotiation
    • Simon Parsons (University of Liverpool) on Dialogue

    There were also presentations on applications of argumentation and agreement technologies:

    • Leila Amgoud (Institut de Recherche en Informatique de Toulouse) on Argumentation in Decision-Making
    • Katie Atkinson (University of Liverpool) on Argumentation in eGovernment
    • John Fox (University of Oxford) on Argumentation in Medicine
    • Nir Oren (University of Aberdeen) on Argumentation in Planning
    • Henry Prakken (Utrecht University) on Argumentation in Law
    • Chris Reed (University of Dundee) on Argumentation on the Web
    • Stefan Woltran (Vienna University of Technology) on Implementation of Argumentation
    • Adam Wyner (University of Aberdeen) on Argumentation and Linguistics

    The slides of my talk are available on the link:
    Argumentation and Linguistics
    Adam Wyner
    Shortlink to this page.
    By Adam Wyner

    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

    Presentation at THiNK Network 2013

    I participated in the THINK: The Humanities Knowledge Transfer Network meeting on July 1, 2013 at the RSA House in London
    The RSA House Great Room
    I made a presentation on Opportunities and Challenges of Textual Big Data for the Humanities, prepared with my colleague Prof. Barbara Fennell, Department of Linguistics, University of Aberdeen. Barbara was very generous in bringing me into this network; we’ve had several fruitful meetings, and I look forward to future collaborations.
    Shortlink to this page.
    By Adam Wyner

    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.