Placing Names: Enriching and Integrating Gazetteers

Placing Names: Enriching and Integrating Gazetteers


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Placing Names: Enriching and Integrating Gazetteers by MERRICK LEX BERMAN

Well before the innovation of maps, gazetteers served as the main geographic referencing system for hundreds of years. Consisting of a specialized index of place names, gazetteers traditionally linked descriptive elements with topographic features and coordinates. Placing Names is inspired by that tradition of discursive place-making and by contemporary approaches to digital data management that have revived the gazetteer and guided its development in recent decades. Adopted by researchers in the Digital Humanities and Spatial Sciences, gazetteers provide a way to model the kind of complex cultural, vernacular, and perspectival ideas of place that can be located in texts and expanded into an interconnected framework of naming history. This volume brings together leading and emergent scholars to examine the history of the gazetteer, its important role in geographic information science, and its use to further the reach and impact of spatial reasoning into the digital age.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253022448
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 08/08/2016
Series: Spatial Humanities Series
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Merrick Lex Berman is Web Services Manager and GIS Specialist at the Center for Geographic Analysis, Harvard University. Berman has developed (with Bill Hays) a Temporal Gazetteer web service, and was the project manager for the China Historical GIS.

Ruth Mostern is Associate Professor in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts at the University of California, Merced. Mostern developed (with Elijah Meeks) the Digital Gazetteer of the Song Dynasty and is author of Dividing the Realm in Order to Govern: The Spatial Organization of the Song State.

Humphrey Southall is Professor of Historical Geography at University of Portsmouth (UK). He developed the Great Britain Historical GIS, and the website Vision of Britain. He has been extensively involved with historical gazetteers in the context of GIS and spatial statistics and is now working on PastPlace, a linked data gazetteer of historical place names.

Read an Excerpt

Placing Names

Enriching and Integrating Gazetteers

By Merrick Lex Berman, Ruth Mostern, Humphrey Southall

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2016 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-02256-1


Gazetteers Past: Placing Names from Antiquity to the Internet

Ruth Mostern and Humphrey Southall


In recent decades, and especially in a computing context, gazetteers have often been defined as simple pairings of place names and coordinates, sometimes including feature types as well. However, in earlier centuries, texts organized around named places included a much richer range of information and occupied a more prominent position relative to that other and more familiar expression of geographical information, the map.

Today, the map apparently reigns supreme. Gazetteers are not just less familiar to most people than maps, they have become largely ancillary to them, so the archetypal gazetteer is usually derived from digital-mapping systems. It is little more than a dump of labels and their associated coordinates, and its primary purpose is as an index to a set of maps. Today's print gazetteers are indexes at the backs of road atlases and tourist guides, while online, GeoNames describes itself as a "geographical database" rather than a gazetteer, and Google Maps and its rivals simply present users with unlabeled search boxes that are intended to generate maps, though these, of course, access gazetteers.

As we go back in time, the dominance of the map becomes less clear, but so do definitions. For instance, expressing coordinates graphically on a map is unambiguously different from listing them in a gazetteer index. However, an itinerary, which is a list of places in order of visit, shares a topological logic with the visual representation of a route on a map, which itself may be heavily annotated with text. Historical East Asian place name encyclopedias are organized according to the spatial and hierarchical structure of administrative geography rather than the alphabetical format typical of the European tradition, so they too link the structure of the text with the spatial relationships encoded in it.

A systematic account of how all the earth's past cultures have documented places and their relationships is far beyond the scope of this book, and beyond our expertise. Indeed, there would be little academic literature for us to draw on if we did wish to write such an article. While there are scattered articles about particular gazetteers or gazetteer traditions, there is no historical overview about gazetteers more detailed than the Wikipedia article on the topic, although that can be recommended. Maps, mesmerizing visual and ideological artifacts that they are, have distracted scholars from the fact that they are only one aspect of the global and historical field of strategies for spatial discourse, orientation, organization, and wayfinding.

What follows can therefore be only a promissory note for future research, with three main elements: first, a general discussion of the practicalities of geographical writing relative to mapmaking in past times; second, an exploration of the Chinese tradition of administrative gazetteers; and third, an account how the European geographical text tradition evolved from linear itineraries into alphabetical gazetteers before vanishing almost completely at the start of the twentieth century.

Place Description and Map Making

It is by now a commonplace to state that maps have always been artifacts of persuasion as much as tools for spatial orientation. They are a special way of communicating spatial dominion with an arresting visuality, simplification of real-world phenomena, and aerial perspective that grant a sensation of inevitability and permanence to the landscapes they depict. However, there are many scenarios for which maps are not the most effective tool for supporting navigation and spatial decision making. Historically, and especially before the modern era, they were used in limited ways, and they have served only to communicate about certain kinds of spatial arrangements. However, because they are so visually compelling, their existence has made it difficult for geographers and historians to think about the other genres of spatial knowledge organization with which maps have always coexisted. In fact, maps were problematic both to create and to use for most purposes during much of human history, and name indexes and itineraries were more common than maps.

One common way to represent the experience of space and place is in the form of narratives of journeys. Itineraries bring structure and meaning to records of travels and serve as guides for others. The most basic itinerary is simply a sequence of named locations, and the second most basic adds journey times measured in days. Such listings can be absolutely without error even without the use of surveying equipment or timepieces. By contrast, for most of human history maps were always and necessarily simply wrong. Considered as coordinate data, well into the nineteenth century maps lacked the accuracy for wayfinding or cadastral purposes. Even the production of accurate sketch maps requires visits to elevated viewpoints usually away from major routes and the possession of large sheets of paper. Since maps were not only hard to produce and store but also unreliable, they were relatively rare, and few people knew how to read them. Maps existed, to be sure, but they were generally surrounded by text or viewed with expert interlocutors, they were often used for display rather than practical planning, and they were rarely made to be carried.

In an important article, geographer Michael Curry has examined spatial discourse in classical Greece (Curry, 2005). He explains that there were then three ways of thinking spatially about the world. Choros was the field of describing names and regions, and it is the basis of what we now think of as the gazetteer. Topos was the term that encompassed travels, itineraries, and the ways that discrete places existed in relation to one another. Only the third concept, Geos, was focused on mathematically oriented maps of continuous space. In other words, in the Ptolemaic imagination, for most purposes the world was envisioned as a collection of named places, not as abstract space, and therefore texts, not maps, were the most common forms of representing it. Curry notes that to this day, many phenomena are routinely and effectively represented as lists of named places or addresses, not as geographical maps, and as an example he explores postal delivery routes.

The Pelagios Project, described in a later chapter of this book, has undertaken a systematic survey of all surviving geographical writing from ancient Greece and Rome. At the time of this writing, forty-four documents from the Latin tradition have been identified and six documents have been identified from the broadly earlier Greek tradition. The earliest is Homer's Illiad (c. 760-710 BCE), a narrative of the Trojan War. Strabo's Geographica (c. 20 BCE-23 CE), an encyclopedia of geographical information, is spatially comprehensive and organized thematically. Pausanias's Description of Greece (100-200 CE) is a systematic work of chorographic reference. Each of its ten volumes describes a different region of Greece in the form of a tour, but with many digressions that focus on the natural and human history of each area rather than Pausanias's personal experiences as a traveler. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea is a mid-first century CE Greco-Roman itinerary describing navigation and trading opportunities throughout the Indian Ocean region and the Red Sea as far as the mouth of the Ganges and overland to the Han capital at Luoyang.

In the Latin tradition, the Antonine Itineraries, dating from the early third century CE, lists places along Roman roads, with distances. The inclusion of a place is an indication of importance, listing in sequence makes it relatively easy to associate Roman names with modern locations, and the multiplicity of routes means we can start to treat this as a systematic enumeration of places of a certain importance; however, there is no descriptive information at all. The earliest Christian itinerary is the Itinerarium Burdigalense, describing a pilgrimage from Bordeaux, France, to the Holy Land and back in 333-334 CE, almost purely through a very detailed list of the places through which the pilgrims passed.

Catherine Delano-Smith explains that in medieval and early modern Europe, people of all social classes were highly mobile and there was significant demand for information about routes, but this continued to be supplied mainly as written itineraries, not maps, while famous maps of road networks, like the Peutinger Map and the Gough Map, were intended for armchair readers, not travelers. Even after the invention of map printing, maps were rarely attached to practical travel guides until the late seventeenth century, and when maps started to appear more frequently, they served the needs of commercial traffic, not private travelers. The commonest medieval assemblies of geographical information were tax lists and inventories of property holdings, organized hierarchically. For example, the Domesday Book of 1086 groups places and people together according to the feudal lord who owned them, and these holdings often did not form contiguous blocks (Darby, 1977).

Maps are ideal for simplifying and organizing the abstract expanse of space, but text does better at conveying information that differentiates particular and similar places from one another. As Paul Carter explains in the classic spatial history Road to Botany Bay, the first stage of eighteenth-century European colonization of Australia was a concerted and deliberate practice of place naming. It was by naming places and writing a narrative about them that James Cook and his contemporaries developed a story that made the unknown space they encountered into a set of places they could possess and inhabit. It was the names and the text about them, not the maps themselves, that clarified and ordered the events of exploration into an account of conquest. As Carter emphasizes, spatial history "begins and ends in language" (Carter, 1987, p. xxiii).

In short, texts that catalogue and list named places along with their locations, relationships, and other characteristics have been at least as ubiquitous and significant as maps, despite being less visible to historical geographers. People who came of age in Europe or America in the twentieth century lived during the brief reign of the road map. However, that abundant, portable, and workaday exemplar of cartography, depicting a novel landscape of paved roads built for automobile travel, was a serious historical outlier (Delano-Smith, 2006; Akerman, 2007). With that exception, maps were often made to be mnemonic, entertaining, or hortatory, and when they were practical (as they were, for instance, during wartime and for property surveys), they were most often fragile, precious, and ephemeral objects in manuscript form. Some maps represented cosmic, metaphorical or fully imaginary worlds. Until well into the industrial era, these were the kinds of purposes that maps served best, at least at the regional scaled The historical record reinforces Curry's conclusion that in most times and places, gazetteers and itineraries were the main tools for workaday spatial decision making, reasoning, and wayfinding. Maps were too political, too difficult to make, too unwieldy to transport, and too difficult to preserve for them to be used for these purposes.

Case Study 1: Maps and Gazetteers in China

Cartography has an illustrious history in China, beginning with exemplars from the fourth century BCE. The famous third-century BCE silk maps from the Mawangdui [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] tomb site in Hunan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] include topography, military settlements, and administrative seats. Classical and medieval texts make consistent reference to maps. Dozens of extant stone-carved and block-printed maps date from the Song [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] dynasty (960-1276 CE), in one famous case even including a graticule and a depiction of the empire's river systems with an accuracy that rivaled that of the modern era. However, as Cordell Yee demonstrated in his masterful survey of Chinese cartography, Chinese maps were rarely intended to stand alone. Whether carved on stone or embedded in books, they were generally accompanied by extensive documentary material that described in text the same landscapes that were depicted on the maps.

Moreover, as in other locations in the preindustrial world, workaday maps were a source of frustration. Eleventh-century documents detail unsuccessful efforts, spanning decades, to create accurate maps of the Chinese-Tangut battlefields on the northwestern frontier, only to find that the maps rapidly became obsolete or went missing before they were even filed. During the next century, efforts to create land registration maps in the aftermath of war with the Jurchen Jin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] regime met the same fate. In both cases, text documents fared better than large, fragile maps, which were difficult to make and reproduced

Gazetteers were a different matter. Their history in China has been documented for English-language readers in important articles by historians James Hargett (1996) and Peter Bol (2001), which are the basis for much of the following discussion, and Ruth Mostern (2011) has written about the spatial discourse of Chinese gazetteers/ The fourth-century BCE Book of Documents (Shu jing [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), one of the Chinese Five Classics, includes one section, "The Tribute of Yu" (Yugong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) that describes the provinces of China, their commodities and tax responsibilities, and their water courses (Mostern, 2011, pp. 61-69). Official dynastic histories, which each ruling house compiled to summarize its predecessors' activities from the second century CE onward, generally included monographs about both administrative units and water courses. The oldest Chinese gazetteer dates to the fourth century CE, and over 8,000 Chinese gazetteers survive today. Beginning in the Sui dynasty and extending through the Tang and into the early Song (a period covering approximately the seventh through the tenth centuries), local government officials were required to compile official gazetteers known as map guides (tujing [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) every three to five years, succinct indexes totaling a few chapters each, which recorded information about the population, tax revenue, and personnel of official administrative districts. There were approximately 300 to 400 prefects at any one time, and they based their documents on submissions from county magistrates, who generally numbered about 1,200 to 1,500: thousands of map guides would have been completed during these centuries. Individual map guide submissions were compiled into massive imperial compendia.

By the eleventh century, in the context of rapid growth in the population and economy of an urbane but militarized and politically factionalized state, the Song court ceased to update the official map guides. Local officials were no longer required to submit new information about the jurisdictions they governed. Map guides had been written in manuscript form, their only purpose was to fulfill a bureaucratic mandate, they had no readership, and none survive today. However, as the map guides declined, a new genre of gazetteer arose in their place, the local encyclopedia (difangzhi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). In contrast to map guides, local encyclopedias were funded and written by residents of the jurisdiction in question. Like the map guides, they described administratively recognized units, primarily counties and prefectures. Also like the map guides, they did include some information that would have been of interest to the state, such as the population and tax revenue of each township in a county, the spatial extent and boundaries of the jurisdiction, and the location of the government offices. However, they also focused on the characteristics of the unit's unique local identity and sources of its distinction: poems and literary works that mentioned the jurisdiction or its scenic sites, biographies of its past and present illustrious residents, and famous historical occurrences that transpired there. They were printed works sold for profit in a commercial economy. Many items in the local encyclopedias were spatially referenced, including locations of towns, waterways, mountains, and bridges. Generally, each chapter in a geographical encyclopedia was a list of named places in the jurisdiction with a topical article about each place. For instance, one chapter might describe each township's temples and their locations, and another its characteristic agricultural products and the places where they were produced. As both Bol (2001) and Hargett (1996) conclude, the shift reveals a great deal about the declining role of the state in local affairs and the rise of a local gentry class.


Excerpted from Placing Names by Merrick Lex Berman, Ruth Mostern, Humphrey Southall. Copyright © 2016 Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Preface / Peter K. Bol
Introduction / Ruth Mostern, Humphrey Southall, and Merrick Lex Berman

Section 1: What is a Gazetteer
1. Gazetteers Past: Placing Names from Antiquity to the Internet / Ruth Mostern and Humphrey Southall
2. Gazetteers Present: Spatial Science and Volunteered Geographical Information / Michael F. Goodchild
3. Gazetteers Global: United Nations Geographical Names Standardization / Helen Kerfoot
4. Gazetteers Enriched: A Conceptual Basis for Linking Gazetteers with Other Kinds of Information / Ryan Shaw

Section 2: Using Gazetteers in Combination
5. International Standards for Gazetteer Data Structures / Raj Singh
6. Place, Period, and Setting for Linked Data Gazetteers / Karl Grossner, Krzysztof Janowicz, and Carsten Keßler
7. The Pleiades Gazetteer and the Pelagios Project / Rainer Simon, Leif Isaksen, Elton Barker, and Pau de Soto Cañamares
8. Historical Gazetteer System Integration: CHGIS, Regnum Francorum, and GeoNames / Merrick Lex Berman, Johan Åhlfeldt, and Marc Wick

Section 3: Exemplars
9. Building a Gazetteer for Early Modern London, 1550-1650 / Janelle Jenstad
10. Digitally Exposing the Place Names of England and Wales / Paul Ell, Lorna Hughes, and Humphrey Southall
11. Standardizing Names Nationally: The Work of the United States Board on Geographic Names / Michael Fournier
12. The Yeosi Project: Finding a Place in Northeast Asia Through History / Youcheol Kim, Byungnam Yoon, Jonghyuk Kim, and Hyunjong Kim

Section 4: Doing History with Gazetteers
13. Mapping Religious Geographies in Chinese Muslim Society / Mark Henderson and Karl Ryavec
14. Core-Periphery Structure of the Nobi Region, Central Japan, With Reference to the Work of G. William Skinner / Tsunetoshi Mizoguchi
15. Gazetteer GIS and the Study of Taiwan Local Society and its Transition / Pi-ling Pai and I-Chun Fan
List of Contributors

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