Expansion and Next Steps

In March 2021, we released the updated version of the Mapping the Scottish Reformation website. This included details of almost 700 ministers’ careers spanning the early modern period and began to document the lives of their spouses. Our public website contains information on individuals who lived in the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale. In this post, I want to share information on the tentative steps we’re now taking to expand our dataset. Over the last twelve months, we’ve been busy behind the scenes!

The core of our work takes place on Wikidata. Wikidata is an open repository for linked data. What this means is that we don’t have to duplicate information: for example, if a minister has already cropped up in our research, we can simply add to his item rather than start all over again. We started by using volume five of Hew Scott’s Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, covering Angus and Fife (and then other regions), to create basic profiles for every minister in the region. We sometimes call these ‘skeleton profiles’, before we can confirm the accuracy of Scott’s information and flesh them out with data from manuscript sources.

Using bulk upload tools like QuickStatements, we can enter all of the ministers recorded by Scott who served in a particular parish in one go. This tool means we don’t have to go into Wikidata and add each new profile by hand (and, yes, we’ve added hundreds of clergy to Wikidata one by one: we know how long it takes!).

QuickStatements looks daunting, but all of that text creates entries that are standardised in how they are structured. This complex-looking syntax creates an entry that looks something like this:

Notice how we always include references to the original text in our entries (right down to the page number). This is absolutely best practice in Wikidata hygiene and follows our previous example of developing ways to reference manuscript sources on Wikidata

Several months of data entry like this have allowed us to go through multiple different regions. And while this is still a work in progress, we can now announce that we have more than doubled the size of our dataset:

~1,500 ministers 

~2,000 career moves

~800 alma maters with over 40,000km travelled between university and first parish charge 

The geographic spread of our dataset is now much broader. Here are two pictures,the first showing the extent of the dataset behind version 1.1 of the website and the second showing the expanded version:

As I mentioned earlier, these are ‘skeleton profiles’. They have not been checked for accuracy against the original church court records or had valuable data from manuscripts added to them, and we have not recorded information about clerical families or significant events taking place in a minister’s career. Moreover, by using only Scott’s Fasti, we have not yet captured the richness of the extant manuscript sources that allow for an in-depth assessment of clerical careers at a national scale. This represents only the first step in our journey to expanding Mapping the Scottish Reformation to cover all of Scotland. 

Currently we are seeking major funding to expand our dataset to the whole of the country using the rich archival records held at National Records of Scotland. In the meantime, you can play with the expanded dataset at the following link or use the embedded map below: https://w.wiki/5jN2

Chris R. Langley

PS: For a more polished version of the expanded dataset visualisation, visit this test website.