Tracing People, Places And Dates In An Early Modern Context

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Marnix van Berchum

    Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands (Huygens ING) - Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW)

  2. 2. Arno Bosse

    Oxford University

Work text
This plain text was ingested for the purpose of full-text search, not to preserve original formatting or readability. For the most complete copy, refer to the original conference program.

The accurate identification of people, places, and dates is fundamental to historical research. The letter records in
Early Modern Letters Online and their metadata rely on the correct identification of these entities. In practice each of these identifications raises considerable difficulties. Dating early modern letters accurately requires systems for mastering a complex landscape in which places transition between different calendars at different times. Accurately recording early modern places requires capturing data that describes changes over time in how places are both named and nested within larger entities. Confidently identifying letter writers and recipients requires the development of authority files for early modern individuals who are not found in national biographical dictionaries or library catalogues. To facilitate this process, the Cultures of Knowledge project at Oxford University and the Humanities Cluster (HuC) at the Netherlands Academy of Sciences (KNAW) are developing three Linked Open Data resources for people, places, and dates. This poster presents the current development of EM Places – a collaboratively curated, historical geo-gazetteer for the sixteenth to eighteenth century – and EM Dates, an early modern calendar resource and conversion service. A prosopographical name authority, Early Modern People (EM People), is being planned for development after these tools. It will be populated initially by the c. 25,000 unique early modern biographical and prosopographical person records collected thus far by Cultures of Knowledge.

The identification of places includes capturing data describing changes both in how places are named and how these are related hierarchically to other place-related entities, such as polities. But in practice, large-scale geo-gazetteers such as GeoNames can capture very little of this complexity. In particular, they lack data on the different contexts a given place has occupied throughout its history. Recently, greater attention has been paid to enriching and integrating gazetteers (e.g. Berman et al., 2016). Specialized gazetteers (e.g.
Pleiades), conceived from the outset not just for human readers but also for computation, have helped to establish standards for querying and exchanging datasets, while other projects are preparing data models capable of representing temporal entities (e.g.
World Historical
Gazetteer). Inspired by these developments, the Cultures of Knowledge project and the HuC are preparing a collaboratively populated, Linked Open Data geo- gazetteer for early modern scholars. EM Places has four goals: 1) to be a resource for identifying early modern places by means of their current and historical name variants, 2) to provide means for researchers to contribute additional historical contexts and place name attestations, 3) to fully credit and source contributions to the gazetteer by individual researchers and projects, and 4) to make the EM Places datasets and software infrastructure freely accessible and easily reusable, including via a Timbuctoo Graph QL API and asan OpenRefine reconciliation service. EM Places will also be able to share its data in the Linked Places Interconnection Format and participate in the Pelagios and World-Historical Gazetteer networks.

The precise dating of documents is complicated by the simultaneous use in the early modern period of a number of different calendar systems. Worse, the dates of transitions between calendars varied from place to place: most Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Until 1752, some Protestant countries (e.g. England) continued to use the ‘old’ style Julian calendar (New Year on March 25) while others used the ‘new’ style Julian with the New Year on January 1 (e.g. Russia employed the old style Julian until 1700, eventually switching from new style Julian to the Gregorian in 1918). However more specific data on when a particular historical polity such as a duchy switched from one calendar to another is often hard to identify and has never been collected in one location. EM Dates was designed to address this problem by providing a central resource for inferring the correct historical calendar for early modern place entities and carrying out the necessary date conversions. Given an ISO 8601 input date and an authority ID of a known place entity (from e.g. GeoNames or EM Places), it will attempt to infer the appropriate calendar for the requested date conversion. To accomplish this, it first queries the EM Places API for the date(s) at which the historical polity of which the place is a part (e.g. the 'Republic of Venice') transitioned from one calendrical system (e.g. Julian) to another (e.g. Gregorian), flagging uncertain (e.g. incomplete date or missing place) instances for review. Users are given an opportunity to view the inferred dates and calendars and make corrections as needed. EM Dates then converts and exports the converted dates in tabular format together with the necessary provenance metadata. The first release of EM Dates will support conversion to the Gregorian from the Julian and Roman calendars (including the parsing of dates in Roman nomenclature). Further calendars (e.g. Ottoman) are planned for future releases.
EM People and EM Places are both built on the
Timbuctoo RDF datastore platform developed by the KNAW HuC and will be available in pilot form in Autumn 2019. More information may be found at their respective GitHub repositories:

If this content appears in violation of your intellectual property rights, or you see errors or omissions, please reach out to Scott B. Weingart to discuss removing or amending the materials.