Monday, 29 September 2014

Taking to the high seas: introducing Pelagios phase 4

This month sees the start of another new and exciting phase of Pelagios. With funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council's Digital Transformations programme, we will be exploring the transformative potential of our linked open data network for doing research. In short our brief is to address the question, "ok, now we can link stuff online—so what?"

In response to the challenge posed by "data silos" (the mass of independently produced material uploaded onto the Web), since 2011 we have been developing the means of linking online resources via their common references to place. This has involved "annotating" the place names found in documents and aligning those references to a global gazetteer service (for the ancient world, this is Pleiades). Using Pleiades's Uniform Resource Identifiers (or "social security numbers") for each ancient place as our glue, it is now possible to agree that places mentioned in different materials are one and the same (e.g. Classical Athens and not "Athens, Georgia"). Users are now able to move seamlessly between and search the records of a growing list of international partners.

Thus each place annotation made in the document doesn’t just attach useful spatial information to a resource; it also provides a way of linking to other resources. But, as Andrew Prescott, leader of the AHRC’s Digital Transformations strand, has recently written: 'Scholarship is much harder than [the ability to link]: we need to be clear about why we are linking data, what sort of data we are linking, and our aim in doing so'. Our one-year grant from the AHRC looks to unlock the potential of our place network to reveal previously unknown connections between different places and different documents (texts, databases, maps, etc.).

In particular what we want to do is to use these new links between different documents to rethink key periods in the history of cartography. Until now digital resources have largely concerned issues of accuracy and visualization; i.e. to pinpoint the locations of ancient places with respect to our contemporary topography. What we want to do, rather, is to try to reconstruct and interpret the markedly different ways in which pre-modern authors and mapmakers conceptualized the world. Turning the spotlight on to five moments in time, Pelagios 4 will explore how ancient or pre-modern authors used various means to grasp, represent and communicate spatial knowledge of the world around them.

To conduct this research Pelagios is happy to announce the following scholarly collaborators:

  • Pascal Arnaud, Professor of History at Université Lyon 2 and senior member of the Institut universitaire de France (IUF), is the leading specialist in ancient geography and navigation.
  • Tony Campbell is former head of the British Library’s ‘Map Room’ and the pre-eminent expert on Portolan Charts.
  • Marianne O'Doherty, Lecturer in English at the University of Southampton, has published on medieval European travel narratives, geography and cartography.
  • Klaus Geus, Chair of Ancient Geography at FU Berlin, co-ordinates the TOPOI Excellence Cluster in ‘Common Sense Geography’. He is joined by Irina Tupikova, a leading mathematical astronomer with an interest in the history of science.

We look forward to working with these scholars and rethinking the ways in which geographic space was imagined and represented before the advent of modern Cartesian cartography.

Portolan chart by Jorge de Aguiar (1492), the oldest known
signed and dated chart of Portuguese origin.

Citation: "Jorge Aguiar 1492 MR" by Jorge de Aguiar - Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Yale, New Haven, USA. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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