Digital methods afford larger scale and integrative analyses of historical materials, provided that source material may be reliably organized and brought into meaningful contact. One such contact is often achieved through situating multiple documents in the same geographical and temporal context, enabling researchers to examine spatial patterns in their data (e.g. relations between polities, clusters of financial activity, transportation networks, etc.). But to being doing this, we must first identify the place names embedded in our material and locate them in real-world coordinates.
In addition to large commercial enterprises such as Google Maps, Bing Maps, and others that provide navigational services for nearly the entire earth, several open source efforts (including OpenStreetMap, Geonames, and WikiData) are underway to develop comprehensive, authoritative location data for the world’s places. However, these efforts minimally address the needs of large-scale historical data analysis. Unfortunately, the task of developing these systems for historical geographies is fraught with complexity, ambiguity, conflict and uncertainty – particularly in places that have undergone significant change in population, language, identity, and nationality.
Our historical gazetteer is primarily based on the Ali Paşa Collection of Papers at the Gennadius Library Archives, a four-volume catalogue of some 1,500 diplomatic, military, administrative and private documents and letters of Ali Paşa predominantly from the latter half of his rule of Ionnina from 1789-1822. We have parsed the text of the Greek toponym index, from which one can identify primary place names, alternate spellings, alias names, present-day names, and some administrative hierarchies for 1957 sites in the Ottoman Empire, primarily in the region of Epirus. We are then seeking to identify the location of each site through web map services, modern gazetteers, georeferenced historical maps, open wikidata, and other sources. Searches are performed with Greek language names as well as transliterated and translated versions of each name. Whenever possible, locations are verified across multiple sources, given latitude/longitude coordinates, and additional attributes such as present-day country, province, administrative division, etc.
The Ali Paşa Collection archive provides an initial backbone to our gazetteer, particularly for areas of present-day Greece and Albania, but our interest is to expand this effort to encompass all of our sources by locating additional sites by similar means and matching sources to existing entries. While we do not seek to develop a comprehensive, authoritative resource, our collection of toponyms will be an invaluable aide to the interpretation of these and other materials. Ultimately, our archival documents elucidated through a historical gazetteer, will enable a rich, integrated spatial, temporal, and network analysis of Ottoman exchange and power. Once complete, the gazetteer will be made available through the Stanford Digital Repository and the World Historical Gazetteer project at the World History Center.