Representing Aboutness: Automatically Indexing 19th- Century Encyclopedia Britannica Entries


  • Sam Grabus Drexel University
  • Jane Greenberg Drexel University
  • Peter Logan Temple University
  • Jane Boone Drexel University



Representing aboutness is a challenge for humanities documents, given the linguistic indeterminacy of the text. The challenge is even greater when applying automatic indexing to historical documents for a multidisciplinary collection, such as encyclopedias. The research presented in this paper explores this challenge with an automatic indexing comparative study examining topic relevance. The setting is the NEH-funded 19th-Century Knowledge Project, where researchers in the Digital Scholarship Center, Temple University, and the Metadata Research Center, Drexel University, are investigating the best way to index entries across four historical editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica (3rd, 7th, 9th, and 11th editions). Individual encyclopedia entry entries were processed using the Helping Interdisciplinary Vocabulary Engineering (HIVE) system, a linked-data, automatic indexing terminology application that uses controlled vocabularies. Comparative topic relevance evaluation was performed for three separate keyword extraction algorithms: RAKE, Maui, and Kea++. Results show that RAKE performed the best, with an average of 67% precision for RAKE, and 28% precision for both Maui and Kea++. Additionally, the highest-ranked HIVE results with both RAKE and Kea++ demonstrated relevance across all sample entries, while Maui’s highest-ranked results returned zero relevant terms. This paper reports on background information, research objectives and methods, results, and future research prospects for further optimization of RAKE’s algorithm parameters to accommodate for encyclopedia entries of different lengths, and evaluating the indexing impact of correcting the historical Long S.