A tool for Web API harvesting

A medieval man harvesting metadata from a medieval Web API

As 2016 stumbles to an end, I’ve put in a few days’ work on my new project Oceania, which is to be a Linked Data service for cultural heritage in this part of the world. Part of this project involves harvesting data from cultural institutions which make their collections available via so-called “Web APIs”. There are some very standard ways to publish data, such as OAI-PMH, OpenSearch, SRU, RSS, etc, but many cultural heritage institutions instead offer custom-built APIs that work in their own peculiar way, which means that you need to put in a certain amount of effort in learning each API and dealing with its specific requirements. So I’ve turned to the problem of how to deal with these APIs in the most generic way possible, and written a program that can handle a lot of what is common in most Web APIs, and can be easily configured to understand the specifics of particular APIs.
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How to download bulk newspaper articles from Papers Past

Anyone interested in New Zealand history should already know about the amazing Papers Past website provided by the National Library of New Zealand, where you can read search and browse millions of historical newspaper articles and advertisements from New Zealand.

You may also know about Digital New Zealand, which provides a central point for access to New Zealand’s digital culture.

This post is about using Digital NZ and Papers Past to get access, in bulk, to newspaper articles, in a form which is then open to being “crunched” with sophisticated “data mining” software, able to automatically discover patterns in the articles. In my earlier post How to download bulk newspaper articles from Trove, I wrote:

Some researchers want to go beyond merely using computers to help them find newspaper articles to read (what librarians call “resource discovery”); researchers also want to use computers to help them read those articles.

To use that kind of “data mining” software, you first need to have direct access to your data, and that can mean having to download thousands and thousands of articles. It’s not at all obvious how to do that, but in fact it can be made quite easy, as I will show.

First, though, a brisk stroll down memory lane…

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How to download bulk newspaper articles from Trove

Before the internet, before TV, before radio, newspapers ruled. There were literally hundreds of newspapers, published in towns and cities all over Australia, and they carried the daily life of Australians in all its petty detail. For historians, newspapers were a diamond mine; the information content was hugely valuable; the hard part was all the digging you had to do. It used to be that you would have to go to a library where a newspaper collection was held, and search manually through text on paper or microfiche. You had to be prepared to put in a lot of hard slog.

But then everything changed. A humanities researcher once told me that for Australian researchers, the National Library’s of Australia’s “Trove” newspaper archive marked a radical break: “There was a Before Trove, and an After Trove”.

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