23 Feb 2012

Google gives further funding to investigate geography of the ancient world

A joint Open University and University of Southampton project exploring how people of antiquity viewed the geography of the ancient world has received further funding of $50,000 from Google, Inc. via its Digital Humanities Awards Program.

Google Ancient Places (GAP) is developing a web application which allows users to choose a classical text or book (500BC - 500AD) and then search for references to ancient places within it, presenting the results in a user-friendly interface.

GAP uses specialist software to identify where and how often places are mentioned within a text, displaying references to the locations and plotting results on a map using an independent digital gazetteer (Pleiades).

Digital Humanities specialist Dr Leif Isaksen of Southampton University explains, “A GAP user can not only see how an author’s narrative moves from place-to-place, but also how a town or city’s relative importance varies throughout a historical text. We hope it will interest scholars and users with a general interest in antiquity alike.”

GAP is also part of a larger network of open data on antiquity called Pelagios, which is made up of several similar online projects. By integrating GAP with this network, the researchers hope to give users access to more varied types of data, such as archaeological artefacts or historical documents.

Open University classicist Dr Elton Barker says: “Previous projects have tended to result in closed silos of information which have reinforced barriers between disciplines. By developing a common way of refering to data, whether they are archaeological or literary or visual, it becomes possible to navigate directly between them. These projects will make it easier for online users to explore ancient texts and artefacts in their spatial, cultural and literary context.”

Editor's Notes
Google Ancient Places is an international collaborative research project between The Open University (Dr Elton Barker), the University of Southampton (Dr Leif Isaksen), the University of Edinburgh (Dr Kate Byrne), University of California, Berkeley (Dr Eric Kansa) and independent developer Nick Rabinowitz. This Digital Humanities Research Grant is the second round of funding GAP has received from the Google Research Awards Program, and will allow the team to expand their project to a wider variety of books and texts.

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