Time Capsule is a research platform that enables the exploration of complex interrelated data. By highlighting the temporal, geographical and informational context of the data, Time Capsule can foster research from various disciplines.

The system as it is presented on this website integrates

  • 8 datasets from 7 data providers
  • 55 million RDF triples
  • 9 GB data

All datasets used in this use case relate to the history of pharmacy and botany, but you can adopt the system for other datasets as well.

Wow, I want to use this system! 


Time Capsule is a research platform that allows researchers from various disciplines to explore complex interrelated data, by highlighting their temporal, geographical and informational context. For the integration of the data sources, Time Capsule uses a custom made ontology that formally defines the concepts, their properties, and interrelations of the notions salient to the case study at hand. However, the ontology has been designed in such a way that it is extensible and applicable to other domains.

Various heterogeneous datasets were mapped on this ontology following a linked-data approach. For the resulting RDF datastore, not only a SPARQL end-point is provided, but also a graphical interface, so that users may explore the content of the knowledge base by applying both exploratory search, as well as a user-friendly natural language wizard for ad hoc SPARQL queries.


Time Capsule as it is presented here links and displays data from the following datasets, provided by various project partners:

  • Three datasets with data on samples or specimens from plants:
    • RADAR (Cultural Heritage Agency): metadata on almost all archeobotanical samples from the Netherlands
    • BRAHMS (Naturalis Biodiversity Center): metadata on the complete botanical collection
    • Economic Botany Database (Naturalis Biodiversity Center): metadata on dried specimens from the collections of Naturalis, annotated with their economic use as for example medicine, food, or dye
  • Two linguistic datasets:
    • Chronologisch Woordenboek (Meertens Instituut): data on the origin of Dutch words
    • Snippendaalcatalogus (Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam): data on name variants and botanical information based on the first catalogue of the hortus by Johannes Snippendaal in 1646
  • One historical dataset:
    • Boekhouder Generaal Batavia (Huygens/ING): data on the circulation of commodities as found in the administration of the Bookkeeper-General of the Dutch East India Company in Batavia in the 18th century
  • DBpedia

The Farmaceutisch-Historische Thesaurus, provided by Stichting Farmaceutisch Erfgoed, serves as a backbone for the ontology.


All datasets used relate to the use case at hand: the history of pharmacy. In particular, the project focusses on cultural heritage data sources that reveal (parts of) trajectories of botanical drug components in the Low Countries, from the sixteenth century, when natural drug components from the East and West Indies started penetrating Europe, until the introduction of chemical and synthetic drugs, roughly in the mid-19th century.

Within historical research, drug trajectories are specific aspects of the history of drugs, which can be studied diachronically, i.e. tracing one such aspect over a longer period of time, or synchronically, i.e. studying/comparing the interplay of different spatial contexts at a given point in time. Studying the history of pharmacy through the perspective of trajectories of individual drugs is a fairly recent approach that allows researchers to trace larger developments in the history of therapeutics.



Wouter Klein and Toine Pieters, “The Hidden History of a Famous Drug: Tracing the Medical and Public Acculturation of Peruvian Bark in Early Modern Western Europe (c. 1650–1720)”, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 71.4 (2016) 400-421 (online version here)

Wouter Klein, “Review of: Samir Boumediene. La colonisation du savoir: Une histoire de plantes médicinales du "Nouveau Monde" (1492-1750) . 477 pp., figs., glossary, notes. Vaulx-en-Velin: Éditions des Mondes à Faire, 2016. €24 (paper)”, Isis 108.3 (2017) 692-694 (online version here)

Wouter Klein, Kalliopi Zervanou, Marijn Koolen, Peter van den Hooff, Frans Wiering, Wouter Alink and Toine Pieters, “Creating Time Capsules for Historical Research in the Early Modern Period: Reconstructing Trajectories of Plant Medicines” in: M. Hasanuzzaman e.a. (eds.), Proceedings of the 4th International Workshop on Computational History (HistoInformatics 2017), Singapore, November 6, 2017 (2017) 2-9 (online version here)

Overview of presentations and invited talks

Project team

prof. Toine Pieters Project leader
dr. Frans Wiering Supervisor Interaction Technology
Dr. Kalliopi Zervanou Postdoctoral researcher Computational Linguistics
Wouter Klein PhD student History of Science
Peter van den Hooff Project coordinator