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GIS Day Celebration: Linking Pasts with Historical Gazetteers (Lecture)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017,
  • Location: Community Room, Jean and Alexander Heard Library • Vanderbilt University • Nashville, TN 37204

Linking Pasts with Historical Gazetteers

The “spatial turn” within the social sciences, stimulated in the 1990s by the advent of geographic information systems, has increasingly spread to many fields in the humanities. In order to explore geospatial questions in their research, historians, literary scholars, archaeologists, and philologists are encoding place references found in the historical texts, maps, and tabular records that comprise their sources. In order for spatial patterns to be discovered and visualized in maps, or analyzed in specialized spatial software, those tagged places must be georeferenced—associated with one or more physical locations specified by geographic coordinates or topology. For modern source documents, this set of tasks has become fairly routine, but historical sources present distinctive challenges: place names and administrative boundaries change continually, and within any given time period, names can have numerous language and spelling variants; uncertainty in many forms is endemic.


In this talk, Karl will describe how a global community of historical scholars is collectively meeting those challenges, and leveraging Linked Open Data publication practice to connect and share the historical gazetteer datasets produced in the course of their research. Karl will also introduce the World-Historical Gazetteer, a three-year project just under way at the University of Pittsburgh’s World History Center that will become a significant node in the emerging web of historical gazetteers (http://whgazetteer.org).