11 Feb 2011

Pelagios: Mapping the culture of antiquity online

A project which will make it easier to discover and map online information about ancient places begins this month. Dr Elton Barker (The Open University) and Leif Isaksen (University of Southampton) are leading a global consortium to develop a method of integrating data from existing ancient world research.

For the next nine months, the Pelagios (PELAGIOS: Enable Linked Ancient Geodata In Open Systems) Project aims to create a common format for referencing ancient locations in online resources. One of a dozen projects supported under the jiscGECO funding stream (and the only one Arts-based), Pelagios develops the researchers’ ongoing work on the Google Ancient Places (GAP) project which aims to identify classical locations in Google Books and other digital libraries.

Dr Elton Barker, Lecturer in Classical Studies, says: “Pelagios is extremely exciting for the scholar or enthusiast of the ancient world, since it's going to bring together web-resources of very different kinds - not only books (which is what GAP is doing), but also visual and tabular documents that reference ancient places. Moreover, like GAP, the outcome will empower users from all communities to find out about, query and then visualise that data, be it the scholar, whose main research activity lies in the ancient world, or a member of the public, who takes an interest in a place while on holiday and finds out more about it then and there using their iphone.”

David Flanders, Programme Manager at JISC, said: "The Pelagios Project offers the exciting potential to make historical texts more real to students and researchers than ever before: imagine being able to generate maps of the stories by Herodotus or even know if the journeys spoken about by Euripides and Sophocles were similar in nature. By adding geospatial data to these classical texts new insights will be added, making data otherwise hidden in the texts explicit and real at a new level of understanding."

The consortium is keen to work with digital librarians and other online resource curators participating in Ancient World research and will host a workshop (24-25 March) aimed at involving potential user communities. For more information, see link (right).

Consortium project partners are:
Faculty of Arts & LUCERO, The Open University
Archaeological Computing Research Group (ACRG), University of Southampton
Pleiades, New York University
Perseus, Tufts University
Arachne, University of Cologne
Supporting Productive Queries for Research (SPQR), King’s College, London
Digital Memory Engineering (DME), Austrian Institute of Technology

Editor's Notes
1. The Open University is the UK’s largest university and the world leader in distance education, and celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2009. It has more than 200,000 students in over 40 countries. Of these, some 1,300 are postgraduate research students.

The Open University climbed 23 places to 43rd in the UK’s latest Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2008), securing a place in the UK’s top 50 higher education institutions. Results showed that more than 50% of the University’s research is internationally excellent (3*), with a significant proportion world-leading (4*).

The latest edition of the Open University’s Research Highlights brochure can be downloaded from:

Open Research Online (ORO), the University’s freely accessible repository of research publications, is available at: ORO has around 35,000 visitors from over 170 different countries each month, and is currently ranked the fourth best higher education repository in the UK by the Registry of Open Access Repositories (ROAR).

2. JISC ( inspires UK colleges and universities in the innovative use of digital technologies, helping to maintain the UK’s position as a global leader in education.

3. Google Ancient Places (GAP) is a Google Digital Humanities Award-funded project, between the University of Southampton, the Open University, the University of Edinburgh and UC Berkeley, that is developing algorithms to identify references to classical locations in massive corpora such as Google Books. More information and a regular blog can be found at:

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