Election of Women Fellows to the Society of Antiquaries

By Ammandeep K Mahal (Research Fellow) 

Since its foundation in 1707, The Society of Antiquaries has been a hub of archaeological, historical, anthropological and art research, all of which fell under the broad term – ‘Antiquary’. Members of the Society of Antiquaries are known as Fellows. In order to become a member, a person must first be elected by existing Fellows of the Society, and they must be ‘excelling in the knowledge of the antiquities and history of this and other nations’ and be ‘desirous to promote the honour, business and emoluments of the Society’. Once elected, Fellows are able to use the Post-nominal letters – FSA (e.g. Dr Rose Graham, FSA).

As part of the Beyond Notability project, the team have been combing through the archives at the Society of Antiquaries. A set of documents that has enhanced our understanding of the Society’s fellowship are the ‘Fellows Lists’. These are a set of printed lists, kept in the Library of the Society of Antiquaries and were collated every year. Each year comprises a list of the full name, address and year of election for each ‘Fellow’. The Fellows Lists also provide an annual record of the Society of Antiquaries Council and Committee members as well as its Local Secretaries.

The Council were elected from the Fellowship and met to decide matters of policy, the Committees assisted the Council with the management of specific areas of the Society and were split into the following; Finance, Library, Executive and Research. Local Secretaries were designated for different regions. Their tasks were varied and included reporting on recent discoveries, locally published books or periodicals and threats to monuments. The Local Secretaries were also required to gather information on current excavations, collectors of antiquities, recommend artefacts for exhibition, and to supply the Society with rubbings of engravings found at monuments or on stones. Therefore, the Fellows Lists provide an insight into the management and structure of the Society as well as the roles of the Fellows within it. They also show that the Society was involved in activities beyond its walls. The Beyond Notability team will investigate the role of the Local Secretaries further and then aim to integrate this work into our database, where relevant.

Women started to be elected as Fellows of the Society in 1920, and one of the earliest examples we have is that of Rose Graham. Rose was selected by the Council of the Society of Antiquaries to be proposed as a Fellow in 1920. Once she was proposed, she was supported by existing Fellows and then elected as a Fellow. Rose Graham, interestingly, was also elected to the Council of the Society in 1926, something that was also reflected in the Fellows Lists.

As part of our research at the Society, the Fellows Lists were photographed every five years, from 1920 to 1950 (the timeframe of this project). From these photographs, I was able to collate a tally of the numbers of men and the number of women Fellows. The total numbers of men and women fellows in each year were then used to construct a graph (Figure 1), enabling the visual comparison of men and women Fellows. 

The Fellows Lists have been an important dataset for us to consult as they provide comparable data that was not available from other archival sources. As can be seen in Figure 1, that the overall numbers of Fellows were increasing from 1921 to 1950, showing expansion of the Society of Antiquaries, not just through the election of women Fellows. Although the numbers of women Fellows were increasing, they were still incredibly low in comparison to the numbers of men being elected as Fellows. There seems to be relative stagnation for women Fellows in the years of the 2nd World War (reflected here in the data for 1935 and 1941) and a decrease in the numbers of men Fellows for the same time period. Thus, the events of wider society are reflected within the Fellows Lists.

This is important information that contextualises the data we are adding to our knowledge base using the fascinating documents held at the Society of Antiquaries. It forms a baseline from which it is now possible to map the growth of the Society in terms of both men and women Fellows. The numbers of women Fellows may also be used to form a comparison with similar data collected from other scholarly societies (where that data exists). This data comes from a period of great social and political change in Britain, a time that marked women’s entry into differing aspects of public life, thus the data illustrates for the first time, how such a change was reflected in the Society of Antiquaries.  

Getting started with for heritage projects

By James Baker (Co-Investigator)

The Beyond Notability Knowledge Base stores biographical information about women’s work in archaeology, history, and heritage in Britain between 1870 and 1950, information gathered during the course of our AHRC-funded research. We create information in the form of semantic triples, machine and human reading statements that describe the relationship between two things: the Miss Hemming lived in Uxbridge, that Louisa Elizabeth Deane was a donor to the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1887, that Harriet Loyd Lindsay destroyed the Yew Down barrow in 1906.

Wikidata, which celebrates its 10th birthday this Autumn, is the pre-eminent knowledge base for machine readable linked data describing the relationship between people and things. Whilst we are adding and enriching wikidata, and whilst we use it as a source of information we choose not to duplicate, we maintain our research on a separate knowledge base because we need to describe relationships that are too particular to us to represent on Wikidata, and because we diverge from the Wikidata community in how some concepts – such as gender expression – should be described.

If you visually compare our knowledge base with Wikidata you’ll notice that they look remarkably similar. This is because they use the same underlaying software – Wikibase – to create, maintain, manage, and query semantic triples. Since June this year, our Beyond Notability Wikibase instance has been hosted by Wikimedia Deutschland via their service. enables people who want to run a Wikibase but don’t have the (technical or financial) capacity to run their own instance, to create a Wikibase on a shared hosting platform with minimal configuration.

This post describes how to get started, key points to consider, and some basic things to do to make your work with easier.

Create an Instance

At the time of writing, is in a closed beta, which means they are not accepting account requests. However, you can sign up for early access and join community mailing list.

Once you have a login, you can create a new wiki by choosing a site name, deciding a prefix to, and then creating your wiki. From there you have a few important configuration options:

  • to set a site logo;
  • to edit your site skin from three options (ours is “Vector”);
  • to select whether users of your Wikibase can create accounts and edit straight away, or require your approval (we have the latter);
  • whether or not to map your properties to those on Wikidata (we don’t, for reasons).

Editing pages

Editing a page – e.g. a landing page or a list of queries – on your instance is the same as editing a page on Wikipedia in that both use the same syntax: so, ==HEADING== for a heading, * for a bullet, [ My Website] for a link, etc.

If you aren’t sure where to start, hit the View source link on another Wikibase – like ours! – borrow the code, and start playing around. Anything you get wrong can be reverted via the View history tab, so little can really go wrong.

Note that to make a new page, there is no new page button of the kind you might be used to on WordPress or similar sites. To create a new page you need to manually enter the URL you want for your new page – such as – in your browser, and then hit the create this page button to create the page from scratch.

Give your collaborators edit access

Once you are logged into your Wikibase, you will see a Special pages link on the left-side tower. Here you can find lots of useful pages for maintaining your site. One is the Create account page. Use this to add new people who will be collaborating with you on the Wikibase. Their user privileges can then be maintained via links in the Users and rights section of Special pages.

Create some linked data

Linked data is made up of Subject-Predicate-Object triples. These are both human and machine readable, meaning that – on our Wikibase – Margaret Sefton-Jones (Subject) was a member of (Predicate) the Royal Archaeological Institute (Object) is the same as bnwd:Q507 bnwdt:P67 bnwd:Q35.

Subjects and objects can change position (so, the Royal Archaeological Institute (Subject) has archives at (Predicate) the Society of Antiquaries of London (Object)). On Wikibase – as on Wikidata – both subjects and objects are represented by Q numbers and called “Items”. Predicates are the glue in the middle, represented by P numbers and called “Properties”. A Q-P-Q triple is known as a “Statement”.

To make a new item, hit New Item on the left-side tower. To make a new property, hit New Property on the left-side tower. Note that you must select a Data type for new properties otherwise they can’t be used to make statements. In most cases, the Data type will be Item, meaning that the property takes a Q number as its object. Common alternatives are Point in time or EDTF Date/Time (used for dates) and Monolingual text (used for adding free text).

Once you’ve made two items and a property you can make them into a statement. To do that works as follows:

  • Go to the item page for the item you want to be a subject, hit add statement, type in your P number (note that you can start typing the label for a P or Q in this box, but new items and properties won’t appear immediately because the search index for refreshes occasionally – usually daily at the slowest – to minimise resource use/impact) and click it.
  • Add your Q number in the next box and hit save to create your statement.
  • For more complex statements, create qualifiers to add detail to your statements and/or references to show where you got the information from. Qualifiers work the same way as statements so should feel intuitive (even if the logic takes a while to figure out – dig around our Wikibase and look at pages for individuals such as Margerie Venables Taylor if you need some guidance).

See who has been making what

Special pages are your friend. One really useful section is Recent changes and logs, which can give you a sense of what changes have been made recently, who has been doing what, and the new items that have been created in your Wikibase. If you are planning quality assurance work on your Wikibase, these logs are the place to start.

Use the ‘what links here’ pages

On the left side of each item and property page is the link What links here. This is an incredibly useful resource for navigating your emerging knowledge base, getting reports on usage of particular properties, and spotting quirks (and errors!) in the implementation of your data model.

For example, the What links here page for Margerie Venables Taylor gives you a quick sense of all the items – mostly for people – that link to her, in most cases because of her role in putting other women forward as Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries.

Equally, the What links here page for Oxford gives a sense of that place as hub for women’s intellectual communities in our period.

And the What links here page can also be useful for properties. For example, the What links here page for the property Archaeology Data Service person ID gives a list of all the people with ADS IDs in our Wikibase. That the result (at the time of writing) is 304 of 489 women in our Wikibase indicates the way our sources are revealing voices thus far unrecorded on other canonical services and persistent identifer infrastructures.

Write your first query

You can query your data with your ‘Query Service’, which can be accessed from the left pane. The Wikibase query services uses a query language called SPARQL, a standard query language for linked data. I have had a long and painful relationship with SPARQL – it isn’t all that easy to get your head around. Thankfully there are amazing resources out there to support query writing, notably Bob DuCharme’s book Learning SPARQL, and the Wikidata community maintains a range of example queries which give a sense of what is possible. Because a lot is possible.

We use SPARQL queries not only for analysing our data (for example, a query that returns people in our knowledge base sorted by the number of places they lived, including the number of cites/towns/villages in which they lived in), but also for auditing our data: for example, to return lists of people whose gender we’ve been unable to assign or people in the knowledge base listed alongside the external identifiers – e.g. Wikidata IDs – that we’ve been able to find. These connections with external IDs enable our linked data to link to other linked data, and are particularly powerful in enabling us – for example – to recover familial connections from Wikidata (where people have Wikidata IDs, and to the extent to which their familial connections are listed on Wikidata).

By building up our data, and connecting to external sources, we hope – in time – to be able to write more complex queries that support our research, including queries that return lists of women who undertook work within two years of having their first child, or those people who used their position in the field to bring women into the profession (a hacky version of which we’ve made a start on), and so on.

Join the community

When I run out of SPARQL talent (which happens often), Bob’s book and the examples of Wikidata often help me realise how to write the query I want. But if I’m totally stuck, I’ve also found that the Wikibase community is full of wonderful people willing to offer advice and guidance. Questions on Twitter are responded to. The Wikibase community on Telegram are a constant source of support and insight. And public tickets on Phabricator – where fixes and feature additions are proposed, prioritised, and tracked – help reveal which problems are your own, and which are shared; as well as being a space to log problems and suggest features. Like many such open source communities, the Wikibase community – as well as the wider Wikidata – are welcoming to beginners, full of expertise, and provide sustainability to the technology – software is, after all, about people. So, if you are thinking of using the Wikibase, join the community, dig around the community activity, don’t be afraid to ask the community and when you have insights to share or wish to contribute to the community.

License your data

People need to know how they can use your data. So make it easy for them. Good linked data enables data to be connected, queried across, and assembled from various sources. So clearly state your terms of use (data on Wikidata is available under the Creative Commons CC0 License) so that it can be used. Better still use your Wikibase to document your data so that people using it get a sense of the decisions you’ve made, the absences you are aware of, and the uses you think would be inappropriate or might cause harm. If you are not sure where to start, see Timnit Gebru, Jamie Morgenstern, Briana Vecchione, Jennifer Wortman Vaughan, Hanna Wallach, Hal Daumé III, and Kate Crawford’s wonderful ‘Datasheets for Datasets’ (2020) – you don’t need to follow every suggestion, but given that you will be creating machine readable data on your Wikibase, it is sure to provide inspiration.

Modelling Excavations with Wikibase

By Amara Thornton (Co-Investigator)

A fair few women in our database were involved in excavation. Their work spans a spectrum between informal digging, directed by one person who may or may not be ‘trained’, to a larger scale affair organised by multiple groups such as local excavation committees, learned societies, training institutions, and/or universities; including both paid and volunteer labour; and supported financially by public subscription, patronage, grants, or a combination of the lot. In order to indicate effectively both the potential complexity of archaeological sites in terms of staffing, and to provide ways to document the full range of ‘work’ on site, we have come up with a model for representing excavations as organisations.

James’s early handwritten first draft of our excavations model, Feb 2022.

We have two main properties that (at the moment) serve as the gateway to our excavation model: [member of excavation during archaeological field work] and [director of archaeological fieldwork]. The first excavation we modelled using these properties was the dig that took place over multiple seasons in the 1930s in Colchester. We used the excavation report Camulodonum: First Report on the Excavations at Colchester 1930-39 (an item on our database) as our main source.

The Introduction to Camulodonum provides the staff list for our model. In it, authors Mark Reginald Hull and Christopher Hawkes acknowledge by name a myriad of paid and unpaid men and women who worked on site. We created an item [Excavations at Colchester] and used the Introduction to provide a skeleton staff list and organisational framework for the excavation (Please note: the staff was absolutely larger than the number explicitly named in Hull and Hawkes’s Introduction).

The Introduction names 4 Directors (all men), 21 “voluntary assistants” (11 women and 10 men), and 4 “charge hands” (all men). The men listed as “charge hands” were most likely managing a other men (not named and credited for their labour in the final report) who were undertaking the heavy digging. The “charge hands” and the men who they managed were probably all paid for their work, though only access to the paylists from the excavation will tell us how much.

The Colchester dig was organised by the Colchester Excavation Committee and the Society of Antiquaries Research Committee – we have used a property [organised by] to link to entries for each group. The President of the Colchester Excavation Committee was Annie Pearson, Viscountess Cowdray. She served alongside various Colchester notables, and representatives from the Society of Antiquaries. The Society of Antiquaries Research Committee also provided funding out of their designated pot for the Colchester dig.  

The excavation model that we have used for Colchester is expandable. If, for example, we find the names of other people working (either as paid or unpaid labour) on site, we can add them using the property [member of the excavation team]. We can adjust job titles for any of the individuals listed, should we find more specific information elsewhere. We can add specifics about where people were working within the area being excavated, which could be useful if particular areas of the excavation are now designated archaeological sites with individual entries on Wikidata. If a particular named individual is associated with the discovery of an artefact in a museum collection, and the artefact is discoverable through a museum collection database, we could add a link to the artefact to their entry.

The model works for smaller-scale excavations as well. In 1904, the artist Jessie Mothersole, who is on our database, worked as a “lady artist” copying tomb paintings at Saqqara, Egypt, an ancient Egyptian necropolis and (both then and now) an archaeological site and tourist attraction. We created [Excavations at Saqqara 1] (because there were multiple seasons with slightly different staff) as an item and linked it to her entry. The director of this season at Saqqara was Margaret Murray, whose report on the dig provides details on some staff.  But one of the most valuable sources for outlining the staffing of this excavation is a short article written by Jessie Mothersole for the popular illustrated magazine Sunday at Home.   

In this article, Mothersole outlines that eleven Egyptian men and boys were clearing the tombs (digging out sand) to lay bare the tomb paintings so that they could be copied: “eight basket boys, two turyehs, and a reis”. She does not name any of these men and boys. In order to include them with what little information she provided, we created an item for [name unrecorded] which we could use to indicate the existence of each person, and give them a job title.

There were two Egyptian men that both Mothersole and Murray named in their writings on this season of work at Saqqara: Reis Khalifa and Reis Rubi, two experienced foremen who were based at Saqqara during the time. They were father and son. Both are also mentioned in the Service des Antiquities journal. Mothersole also names the servant who attended the three women on site, Ibrhim Abd-el-Karim. We added him and his job title to the members of the dig team.

We hope that this model for excavations helps to emphasise the critical factor on any dig: people. We may not know who they are, or even what exactly they were doing, but if we view any excavation as an organisation we can begin to give people the credit they are due for their work to reveal the past.

More Working Lives at the Society of Antiquaries

By Amara Thornton (Co-Investigator)

The Beyond Notability team has been busy going through records at the Society of Antiquaries. Among the lot are the Society’s Council Minute books. Alongside fellowship administration and the scholarly agendas of the day. the Council Minute Books also reflect the day-to-day logistics of running the Society.

Keeping my eye out for mentions of women in the Council Minute books, I came across one woman whose work for the Society was integral to its day-to-day functioning in the Victorian era. This woman is Mrs Baldwinson, who was married to the Society’s Porter, Mr George Baldwinson.

The minute noting her work at the Society was made as part of a Council Meeting in June 1874. George Baldwinson had asked for a raise for himself and his wife (whose first name is, sadly, not recorded), and the minute included information on their work and pay. Mrs Baldwinson’s rate of pay was quarterly, with an annual sum for making tea, in contrast to her husband’s weekly salary. After her death a few years later, a Mrs Knight took over her duties. Another very recent find was a reference to “two girls” (unnamed) who were to help with the Library Catalogue in 1884.

As I tweeted on our launch day, The Antiquaries Journal also includes brief references to other staff who helped the Society function on a day-to-day basis. There we can find acknowledgement of the work of Louisa Hurren, the Society’s housekeeper, who retired in 1945 after 40 years working at the Society.

In 1935, another staff member’s departure was acknowledged in The Antiquaries Journal – this was Miss Warrand, who was leaving the post of ‘Library-cataloguer’ at the Society after 10 years of working. It appears from the Journal that she was one of two cataloguers employed, and that her post was not to be filled because the cataloguing work had been so thoroughly done it was felt that the Society could manage with only one catalogue from that point.

We want to acknowledge the lives and work of these women in the Society’s history, and make sure that their work is recognised alongside the contributions of the Fellows to the Society. We hope that this brief post is a start.

Building the Beyond Notability Knowledge Base: 4 reasons why we chose Wikibase

By James Baker (Co-Investigator, Beyond Notability)

For all that people like to moan about the things that are wrong on Wikipedia (and there is much that is wrong on Wikipedia), it is the place people go to when they want to know something: together with the other sites run by the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia is the knowledge infrastructure of the web. Since 2010 cultural institutions have formally contributed to this ecosystem through Wikimedian-in-Residence programmes, typically resulting in digitised material appearing on Wikimeda Commons, the home for every media artefact you encounter when browsing Wikipedia.

More recently a number of those Wikimedian-in-Residence programmes have directed attention towards Wikidata, a multilingual knowledge graph that is a common source of open data used on Wikipedia. More significantly, every time you search Google and a little info box pops up on the right side of the screen containing useful – typically biographical – information, that is probably drawn from Wikidata. In turn a person without a Wikidata page is unlikely to get a box. And so if less than 20% of Wikipedia Biographies are about women, and if most Wikipedia biographies have a corresponding Wikidata page, then it follows that enriching Wikidata with otherwise neglected histories of women active in archaeology, history and heritage is something worth attention. Hence, our project.

Wikidata is a wiki (a collaboratively edited hypertext publication) whose technical infrastructure is based on a combination of the software MediaWiki and a set of knowledge graph MediaWiki extensions known as Wikibase, the workings of which are explained in the ’Introducing Our Database’ post. We have built the Beyond Notability Knowledge Base on the same infrastructure, using Wikibase-as-a-service, first via WbStack (with amazing support from Adam Shorland) and latterly via the Wikimedia Deutschland hosted Wikibase Cloud (with thanks to Mohammed Sadat). In this blog we list the Top 4 reasons why we took this approach.

1. Aligning Biographical Approaches

We can’t record the evidence we find directly onto Wikidata because many of the women we encounter in our research do not meet Wikidata’s ‘notability threshold’ – in some cases because evidence for their work in archaeology, history, and heritage is fragmentary, in other cases because the evidence needs to be assembled first to get over that threshold. Despite this, it wouldn’t make much sense for us to design from scratch a biographical database. And so we align our approach with Wikidata because, in part, it gives us an ontological platform to build on, a template for how to represent things like familial relations, office holding, and residences.

2. Beyond Notability as a Trusted Source

It made sense then to use the same technical infrastructures as Wikidata for our knowledge base. But whilst alignment is useful we cannot – as discussed in our recent blog ‘On Working with Gender – faithfully follow the Wikidata model for representing biographical information: the historically-specific circumstances in which women were working in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century are an awkward fit for a data model orientated around modern ways of being in the Global North: indeed, our project is a test of the capacities of data models like Wikidata to capture and represent these women’s lives. Given this need to diverge, given the choices we are making to diverge from Wikidata-as-canon, using the same software platform as Wikidata, the same visual and ontological aesthetic, supports our ambition for the Beyond Notability Knowledge Base to be regarded as a trusted source of biographical information. This is important because we think our work can make vital contributions to Wikidata. Take as an example Gwenllian Morgan, the subject of our previous blog. Prior to our project she was not listed on Wikidata as being a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (the construction of which on Wikidata uses the’award received’ property). But now she is, with the amended Wikidata entry using Beyond Notability as the source of this information.

3. Querying Between Knowledge Bases

Recording Gwenllian Morgan as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (FSA) means that any queries that use Wikidata to return a list of FSAs will now include her, as one of the many people that link to the Wikidata item Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (Q26196499). These queries can be made through the Wikidata Query Service, a SPARQL endpoint, “SPARQL” here meaning the query language used to interrogate graph databases. Building the Beyond Notability Knowledge Base on the same technologies as Wikidata means not only that we too have a SPARQL Query Service but also that both sets of data are organised using the same underlying principles, allowing us to more easily write queries that simultaneously interrogate both knowledge bases (and, indeed, any other knowledge bases that take a similar form).

We are already doing this kind of cross-querying to help our data entry. For example, we are using this..

PREFIX bnwd: <>
PREFIX bnwds: <>
PREFIX bnwdv: <>
PREFIX bnwdt: <>
PREFIX bnp: <>
PREFIX bnps: <>
PREFIX bnpq: <>
PREFIX wdt: <>
PREFIX wd:  <>

SELECT ?person ?personLabel ?item ?WD_DOB ?WD_DOD
  ?person bnwdt:P16 ?isFSA . #select FSA
  FILTER NOT EXISTS {?person bnwdt:P4 bnwd:Q12 .} #filter out project team
  ?person bnwdt:P14 ?url . #look for wikidata URL on person page
  BIND(IRI(REPLACE(?url,"","")) as ?item ) 
  SERVICE <> {
        ?item wdt:P21 wd:Q6581072 . #select women
        OPTIONAL {?item wdt:P569 ?WD_DOB . } #recall date of birth
        OPTIONAL {?item wdt:P570 ?WD_DOD . } #recall data of death
  SERVICE wikibase:label { bd:serviceParam wikibase:language "[AUTO_LANGUAGE],en-gb". } 

..query to return a list of all woman on our knowledge base with corresponding Wikidata entries and – where present – their dates of birth and death as listed on Wikidata (and yes, it could be a better query, I’m still learning). This is important to know, because we intend to use Wikidata to run queries that rely on this information – for example, return all the women who became Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries before they were 40 – for those women on Wikidata (for those who aren’t, we will record that data on our knowledge base).

As we develop more research orientated queries, using a comparable infrastructure to Wikidata gives us more example queries to draw on for inspiration and guidance. One such query is helping to develop our understanding of the interpersonal connections that women relied on to get recognition for their work, and who were key allies for women in the period. Other queries we are starting to imagine and this is helping shape the data we include in the Beyond Notability Knowledge Base. For example, in order to successfully run a queries that returns a list of all women in our knowledge base who undertook professional activities within 3 years of becoming a mother, we need a record of when their children were born, data which only exists in Wikidata for women whose children are all considered ‘notable’. We therefore have started to formulate plans for how to record information about motherhood, and other life events, in a way that preserves our imperative to centre women in our data.

4. A Community

Finally, we choose Wikibase because it isn’t just a piece of software, it is a community. The Wikibase Stakeholder Group is providing a space where we can gain expertise, share ideas, and demonstrate our commitment to trustworthy linked open data infrastructures. Our particular thanks go to Adam Shorland, Laurence ‘GreenReaper’ Parry, Lozana Rossenova, Maarten Brinkerink, and Maarten Zeinstra. We look forward to continuing to work with you over the next few years of our project.

Working with Gwenllian Morgan

By Amara Thornton (Co-Investigator, Beyond Notability)

As a team, we have been talking a lot about work lately. In order to test out our evolving ontology for cataloguing women’s work, we’ve started to create quite detailed entries for a few women in our database. These detailed entries are based on the initial archive research we have done over the past few months, and associated desk-based research in primary and secondary source material. 

Working through the source material and figuring out how to catalogue what we are finding about women’s work most effectively has highlighted the need for us to construct a flexible and contextually relevant framework to represent what can be quite complex forms of activity into statements that work as linked data.  

We are using this framework to reflect the wide range of activities we are seeing in the records. And where possible, we are noting whether or not “positions held” – which we are deliberately separating from employment – are paid or unpaid, with salary specifics where we have them. To that end, we have decided to pull all these together by making a new item “public or professional activity”, each work-related property we create will now be united, and queryable, through the statement that it is an “instance of” a “public and professional activity”. 

Let’s take the example of Gwenllian Morgan, one of the women in our database. She was elected as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in the 1930s, toward the end of her extremely active life. Her blue paper reflects the wide range of her activities – beginning with her name, after which are the letters J. P., indicating that she was a justice of the peace.  

The “Addition, Profession or Occupation” field on the blue paper reveals that she held the position of Mayor in Brecon, Wales, where she lived, in 1910, and that she was Governor (equivalent to a Trustee position) of the National Library of Wales.  

The “Qualification” field introduces yet more areas of “public and professional” activity that Morgan undertook: her co-founding of the Brecknock Society and Museum, her role as Correspondent (effectively local reporter) in Brecon and district for the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments, and her association with the “restoration” of the Cresset Stone in Brecon Cathedral.  

This last detail took a bit of time and research to unpack. On first glance, it might look like Morgan had a role in conserving the stone, which had been found in a nearby garden. But in fact, courtesy of the National Library of Wales’s digitised newspaper collection, the “restoration” refers to Morgan’s purchase of the stone and (presumably) her donation of it to the Cathedral. As an aside, I’d highly recommend watching this beautiful film of a specially composed piece of music played near the Cresset stone, which is illuminated with candles. 

Turning to secondary source material, we find yet more evidence of Morgan’s activities in local government beyond her positions as J. P. and Mayor as indicated in her blue paper. An article in the Review of Reviews, published to coincide with her inauguration as mayor, notes that she had further positions as a town councillor and a poor law guardian

It remains to be seen how far Morgan’s local government work fed into her antiquarian interests. But it is clear that Morgan felt very strongly about championing women’s work in local government. She outlined her thoughts on the matter at a meeting of the National Union of Women Workers, which took place in Manchester in 1895.  Her speech there was published as a pamphlet, which is now accessible through the LSE Women’s Library digital collection.  

Alongside this local work, Morgan took part in national and international campaigns for temperance, holding positions in the World Women’s Christian Temperance Association and the British Women’s Temperance Association in the 1890s. As Superintendent of Petitions and Treaties for the WWCTA, she led on the collection of signatures of Great Britain and Ireland for the Polyglot petition, which called for governments to prevent trade in opium and alcohol. The founder of the WWCTA, Frances E. Willard, noted in her announcement of Morgan’s appointment that Morgan owed the role to her friend Lady Henry Somerset – an indication both of the role of patronage in these appointments and of Morgan’s social network. 

Morgan’s public and professional activities encompass some key areas we are planning to highlight through our database, including the intersection of proto-feminist campaigning with heritage-related and philanthropic activities. We won’t be able to cover every woman in our database in this much detail, but Morgan’s active life gives us a useful template for thinking through how we represent various aspects of women’s work through time.  

References/Further Reading 

Brecon County Times, 1913. Builth Wells Naturalists At the Priory Church, Brecon, 31 July, p 6. 

Chapin, Clara, 1895. Thumb nail sketches of white ribbon women. Chicago: Women’s Temperance Publishing Association. 

Morgan, Gwenllian E. F. 1895. The Duties of Citizenship: The Proper Understanding and Use of the Municipal and Other Franchises for Women. 

Willard, Frances E. 1890. A New World’s Secretary. The Union Signal, 4 December, p. 12. 

International Women’s Day!

The Beyond Notability project is taking over the Society of Antiquaries Twitter feed for this year’s International Women’s Day!

As part of this event, we are featuring two audio recordings from the correspondence of two women who are now featured on our database: Eliza Jeffries Davis, a historian, and Margerie Venables Taylor, an archaeologist.

These recordings of letters in the Victoria County History (VCH) archive have been created by Professor Catherine Clarke (Davis) and Claire-Louise Lucas (Taylor). The project is particularly grateful to Victoria County History for permission to record the extracts and make transcriptions of them available here. We’re also very grateful to Professor Catherine Clarke and Claire-Louise Lucas for agreeing to record them.

Eliza Jeffries Davis worked for the Victoria County History as a researcher and writer in the first decade of the 20th century. She became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1929.

Margerie Venables Taylor worked for the Victoria County History at the same time as Eliza Jeffries Davis. She became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1925.

These two recordings feature letters sent to William Page, the general editor of the VCH, by Davis and Taylor respectively. They illuminate the working lives of these two women. Davis’s letter is celebratory, sent on the publication of the VCH volume on which she had worked. In it, she makes suggestions for publicity and in so doing highlights her non-VCH working life, as a London County Council teacher. Taylor’s letter, sent after she had been working for some years at VCH, reflects her continuing concerns about the rate of pay for VCH researchers. She also reveals the expansion of her research work beyond VCH, enabling her to push more effectively for a salary increase.

Eliza Jeffries Davis

VCH Archvie EJ Davis read by Catherine Clarke March 2022

Eliza Jeffries Davis letter to William Page, dated 5 Oct 1909, on London County Council Moorfields Training College, White Street, Moorfields E. C. letterhead (VCH 2/22/3)


Dear Mr Page,

Thank you for your note. I am glad the London volume is really coming out at last – though I shudder to think of the negligences + ignorances in my part!

I am writing to suggest that you tell the publishers to send a prospectus of it to the heads of various London schools and colleges. I think we discussed this once, + you asked me to remind you again. It would be so very useful in teaching, + luckily the board of Education is awake to the importance of local history just now, so the heads of schools might think it worth while to spend so much money on a book!

In the case of institutions under the LCC it would be well if the notices were sent as soon as possible, as the “Requisition” for new books (only allowed once a term) are made up about the beginning of November. I enclose lists which may be useful.

Yours sincerely,

EJ Davis

Margerie Venables Taylor

Extract from MV Taylor letter to William Page dated 24.IV.1910 from 48 Watton Crescent, Oxford (VCH 1/3/210)


Dear Mr Page, 

I have been considering the question we discussed since I last saw you. I should very much like to work for the History again, but I think I ought to have more than 1/6d an hour. If you work out £2.10 a week, working 5-6 hours a day, inclusive of all holidays etc, it comes to more than that. At the present moment for Research work at the Bodley I am paid 2/- an hour + other workers-transcribers are paid 2/6 an hour, while the ordinary, not very skilled, catalogue assistant receives 1/6 an hour. So that I think I ought to have 2/- an hour, especially when it is not certain that the work will continue for more than two years. I put the facts before you so that you will understand my position. I really feel it is not fair to take research work at 1/6 an hour, after some years’ experiences. I am sorry to trouble you in this way, but I think you will understand + tell me exactly what you think.  […]

**If you would like to explore the lives of Eliza Jeffries Davis and Margerie Venables further, you will find them on our database at: (Davis); (Taylor).

On Working with Gender

By James, Katherine and Amara.

The subtitle of our project, is ‘Re-evaluating Women’s work in archaeology, history and heritage in Britain, 1870 – 1950′. We aim to create a large-scale study of women’s contributions to these fields by rendering visible previously unknown ‘professional’ (both salaried and unsalaried) activities of women through the study of archival sources. This requires us to identify instances in our sources of women conducting various activities we would categorise as ‘work’, and to express those as data. But how do we identify these women?

This has led the project team to chew over two issues in recent meetings:

  • How to work within, or modify, the conventions of Wikidata to deal with gender (and indeed other sensitive personal) characteristics in our database
  • The ethics of ascription of gender to people in the past

To begin, let’s consider the conventions governing how the property of gender (or ‘sex and gender’, since Wikidata currently conflates the two – and this is in itself controversial) is handled in Wikidata, the collaboratively edited knowledge graph whose linked data underpins Wikipedia and Google Search. Like other systems for the organization and systematization of knowledge, Wikidata operates by using (relatively) controlled vocabularies: lists of key terms with agreed definitions that allow records to be tagged/described in ways that render them searchable.  In order to link our data to other data sets it is important to work to some extent within conventions in order to make those links. If we were to create an entirely unique, bespoke set of categories to classify our historical data, our database would be limited in usefulness, since it would not be discoverable through standard searches or interoperable with other data ecologies. On the other hand, conventions developed in Wikidata (term lists etc) are simplifying/flattening and can be inadequate when dealing with historically constructed categories, including gender. Crowd-sourced editing of Wikidata (in which we are participating) can also lead to changes and allows for modifications.

We are constructing our database by writing statements that ascribe information to individual or classes of items/objects, including people, by linking them with particular values of properties (known in data design as key-value pairs). For example, the English language statement “milk is white” would be encoded by a statement pairing the property ‘color’ (P462) with the value ‘white’ (Q23444) under the item ‘milk’ (Q8495).

The category (property) of ‘sex or gender’ (P21) is defined in Wikidata as follows:

sex or gender identity of human or animal. For human: male, female, non-binary, intersex, transgender female, transgender male, agender. For animal: male organism, female organism.

The issue here is not only that this gloss is contestable (and indeed contested – check out the discussion on the property talk page (content warning: transphobic language)). It is also that no caveats exist around the ascription of values of this property to historical or living individuals.

The absence of caveats for ‘sex or gender’ contrasts with cases such as ‘ethnic group’ (P172)’ and ‘sexual orientation (P91)’, properties the definitions of which are hedged about with caveats:

subject’s ethnicity (consensus is that a VERY high standard of proof is needed for this field to be used. In general this means 1) the subject claims it themselves, or 2) it is widely agreed on by scholars, or 3) is fictional and portrayed as such)

the sexual orientation of the person — use IF AND ONLY IF they have stated it themselves, unambiguously, or it has been widely agreed upon by historians after their death

We are not the only people to notice Wikidata’s blunt flattening of sex and gender. The wonderful Homosaurus, a linked data vocabulary of lesbian, qay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and others (LGBTQ+) terms, gives us a range of narrower terms we might use instead: gender identity, gender expression, assigned gender.

These narrower definitions draw attention to what we, as historians, are doing in this project. We are dealing overwhelmingly in assigned gender rather than gender identity or gender expression, i.e. gender as ascribed to historical agents in our sources and/or as perceived by us in our interpretation of those sources. We have no direct access to the gender identity of the majority of our subjects (they do not ‘state it themselves, unambiguously’). And gender expression varies over time and between places, making our particular perception of gender a determinant of how we ascribe gender.

In the sources we have been looking at so far, sources that (partially) record work in archaeology, history and heritage in Britain, ‘sex or gender’ (P21) property-values such as womanhood are either ascribed to the people that feature in them, or our sources are silent on the matter. Sometimes the (ascribed) gender of individuals in our sources is signalled in explicit fashion, e.g. by use of gendered titles such as ‘Mr’, ‘Mrs’ or ‘Miss’. In other cases there is indirect or implicit evidence of gender-ascription – not least, evidence of the various kinds of barriers and exclusions to which women were subject in 19th and early 20th century Britain.  Most obviously, individuals to whom womanhood was ascribed were excluded from being Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries until 1920, but (in the UK until 1918/1928) they were also excluded from suffrage, from taking their degrees in certain universities, from pursuing certain kinds of professional work once married, and so on.

Data Feminism gives us ways to respond to the inadequacies of Wikidata P21, both as a tool for representing the past lives that are the focus of our study and – in turn – all people effectively misgendered by its flattening effect and binary assumptions. As D’Ignazio and Klein write “data feminism requires us to challenge the gender binary, along with other systems of counting and classification that perpetuate oppression” (D’Ignazio and Klein, Data Feminism (2020), 97). Not only is questioning a classification system a feminist move, so is acting in opposition to it, refusing to contribute to it on its terms. If what gets counted counts, we need to ensure that not only are more women counted, but that they are counted in ways that make clear when their womanhood is an ascription, an identity, and an expression.

What does this mean in practice? It means a number of interventions in the way we make statements about gender and sex, none of which we claim to have got entirely right, all of which we are working though in real time as we encounter the archive and the lives therein. These include assigning gender as ‘woman’ (Q3 in our data) if:

Where gendered honorifics are absent and only initials and surname are given, even if the individual’s name appears in relation to a context and activity in which normative actors in our period are men, we do not assume that the individual indicated is a man. Rather, we investigate that name, indicate uncertainty when ascribed gender is unclear, and record ‘unknown value’ when no evidence can be found.

Finally, we are committed to using a technical infrastructure that tracks our changes, timestamps them and gives each edit an author. This enables our attempts to resist the presumption of gender ascription to be recorded, and when new information is found that revises a claim, ensures that our uncertainty – however fleeting – remains entangled with the linked data we produce.

All these solutions are provisional and imperfect. We welcome constructive feedback on the procedures we have developed so far.

Introducing Our Database

We are now three months into Beyond Notability. We gave our first overview presentation of the project at the Society of Antiquaries Christmas Miscellany last month, for which we pulled together some initial findings. It’s the start of a new year, and so it seems an opportune moment to introduce the first iteration of one of the main project outputs: our research database. 

The research database was set up by Co-Investigator James Baker, and currently operates on WbStack, a shared hosting platform for Wikibase sites. You can find it at the web address (though note the address will change in Spring 2022 when we migrate to Wikibase.Cloud, a new service that will be managed and maintained by Wikimedia Deutschland). You can also find a link to it on our website, by clicking on “Database” in the menu. This post will take you through a few key parts of the database at this early stage of its development. Please note:  if you are using Chrome as your browser, you may need to make sure your language settings are set to British English in order to see all the data.  

And so, to begin. At the top of the main page of the database site you will find a short description of the aims of the project. This section also links to our statement of project values, which has a related bibliography. 

Screenshot of the main page of the Beyond Notability project database, Jan 2022.

Below the first section you will find a section called “Where to start”. The links under this section will take you to a list of all the items (currently) in the database, each of which has an individual Q number, the unique identification number for each item. The list includes people, organisations, events, titles, publications and sources, all linked in some way to individual women’s records. You will also find a list of properties in this section. These are words or phrases that allow us to link items together, or qualify information in a given item (with, for example, an approximate date for the information given, or a reference to source material).  

We have begun creating records for women who were proposed as Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries.  For these entries we began by using the information available in one key source for our project, the Certificates of Candidates for Election (also known as “blue papers”). The “blue papers” have been bound into volumes, each volume representing papers from roughly a 10-year period. The volumes are held in the Society of Antiquaries’ archive. Eventually, we intend to add to these entries with information from other sources. 

Scrolling down the page, under the Additional Resources section of the website you will find a link called “Meta“. This will take you to a page where we will be documenting our decision making and our source material. Under the “Item Templates” section is a list of information we will be prioritising in our dataset, and also information we intend not to prioritise. The following section “Key Sources” will link to pages with descriptions of some of the most important sources for our dataset, such as the “blue papers”, with details on why they are useful for our project.  

Let’s look at an individual entry. 

In 1924, the archaeologist Marjerie Venables Taylor became the first woman proposed and elected as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries through the same route as a man – that is to say, she was proposed by another Fellow and not by the Society’s Council.  We have extracted data from the  “blue paper” for M. V. Taylor (as she was more commonly known) to begin representing Taylor’s life; our current efforts are on our website at this url: This url will be the main ‘address’ for Taylor on our database for the present, and in due course more information from other sources will be added to supplement the information given on Taylor’s “blue paper”.  

Screenshot of the Beyond Notability database entry for Margerie Venables Taylor, Jan 2022.

The box at the top indicates Taylor’s name as it was given on the blue paper. Alternative names are also listed under “also known as”.  The alternative names are important as women frequently appear in different sources with different names (this is particularly true if they were married).  

Below the top box, is the “event” of the proposal, given as a single statement. This includes the propertyelection to SAL proposed by“, with the name of the person who initially proposed Taylor (who we have assumed is the first signatory on the list) following. The property “evidence (free-text)” is next, enabling us to transcribe of the information on the blue paper. Another property “point in time” is used to indicate the date that the blue paper was submitted. All the people who signed her blue paper are listed with the property “proposed election to SAL signed by“. Each person has been given their own Q number, and are included in the list of “items”. The property “is elected” allows us to indicate whether or not the person was admitted as a Fellow.  The property “evidence (item)” is used where we have created individual items for individual pieces of evidence, such as a job, or a publication, that were used as supporting details for admission to the Fellowship.    

Below this are separate statements with properties to indicate an individual’s sex/gender, whether or not they are already included in Wikidata, whether they have been given a person ID by the Archaeology Data Service (which links to a list of their publications), their residence including locality (given in the blue paper), employment or degree information.  

The information given in the blue papers can sometimes be difficult to isolate as an item. In Taylor’s case, while there was specific information about the positions she held at the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, there was also an explicit statement about her “distinguished service to the study of Roman Britain”. To capture this more ambiguously framed but important information, we have created a free-text property called “area of expertise“.  Each of the statements described above has been given a reference, using the property “stated in“, which links to the item “Society of Antiquaries Certificates of Candidates for Election“. 

There are currently three statements on Taylor’s page that do not come from her blue paper, and they show the potential for adding information from other sources to enrich the data given in the blue papers. Two of these – “described at URL” and “Archaeology Data Service person ID” – link outward to other websites that describe Taylor’s life and work in the form of statements, connecting our data to those sites, and enabling cross-referencing and querying. The third uses the property “member of” to indicated that Taylor sat on the (item) “Society of Antiquaries Research Committee“. This information has come from another recently added item, the publication “Camulodonum: The First Report of the Excavations at Colchester“. This excavation was conducted in the 1930s as a collaboration between the Society of Antiquaries (through the Research Committee) and the (item) “Colchester Excavation Committee“. Creating the publication as an item enables us to use it as a reference for the work of other women mentioned in the report. From the “Camulodonum” item, you can use “what links here” on the left-hand menu to see the other women included in the report. Some of these women were proposed and elected as Fellows in the years that followed. We will be adding their blue papers in the months to come. 

Detail from Margerie Venables Taylor’s page showing the what links here link (see bottom left hand corner), Jan 2022.

We hope that this post will help you navigate our database site, which grows larger every day. This site is a work in progress, and the ways in which we are cataloguing the data will change as we continue discussing, thinking about and analysing the records. We encourage all of you to take a look at the women we’ve already been able to represent with the data available to us to date. And we hope that you enjoy engaging with the data as much as we do. 

Gertrude Rachel Levy in the Archives

By Amara Thornton (Co-Investigator, Beyond Notability)

My first guest post for the project is on Gertrude Rachel Levy (1883-1966) who was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1947, while she was working as Librarian of the Hellenic & Roman Societies in London. I focus on her work in the 1920s and 30s in Mandate Palestine and Iraq, and spent a morning in the archive of the Palestine Exploration Fund to track her down, coming across many other women in archaeology, history and heritage along the way! “Gertrude Rachel Levy in Mandate Palestine” is published on the Institute of Classical Studies blog.