Real world datasets – the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft

Data Science for Design MSc students worked on a project to import the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft database into Wikidata. This fabulous resource began life in the 1990s before being realised in 2001-2003. It had as its aim to collect, collate and record all known information about accused witches and witchcraft belief in early modern Scotland (from 1563 to 1736) in a Microsoft Access database and to create a web-based user interface for the database.

Since 2003, the data has remained static in the Access database and so students at the 2017/2018 Data Fair were invited to consider what could be done if the data were exported into Wikidata, given multilingual labels and linked to other datasets? Beyond this, what new insights & visualisations of the data could be achieved? Through modelling the data and mass uploading via QuickStatements, we were able to add verifiable data to Wikidata referenced back to the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft.

We now have 3219 items of data on the accused witches in Wikidata (Spanning 1563 to 1736). We also now have data on 2356 individuals involved in trying these accused witches. Finally we have 3210 witch trials themselves. This means we can link and enrich the data further by adding location data, dates, occupations, places of residence, social class, marriages, and penalties arising from the trial.

  1. SPARQL query – the accused witches.
  2. SPARQL query – the witch trials.
  3. SPARQL query – people associated with the witch trials.

Data visualisation videos produced by students:

There is still MUCH more to be added so if time allows we may be able to add more data to Wikidata such as:

  • Linking the trials to the accused witches through the defendant (P1591) property.
  • Adding in the social class of the accused witches.
  • Adding in the occupations of the accused witches.
  • Adding in the places of residence of the accused witches.

The hope is that this project will help shed new light on a little understood period of Scottish history. This, in turn, may help fuel discoveries by dint of surfacing this data on a multilingual open platform and linking it with other related datasets across the UK, across Europe and beyond. As the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft’s website states itself Our list of people involved in the prosecution of witchcraft suspects can now be used as the basis for further inquiry and research.“

The power of linked open data to share knowledge between different institutions, between geographically and culturally separated societies, and between languages is a beautiful thing. Here’s to many more Wikidata in the Classroom assignments.