Thursday, December 20, 2007

Historical GIS 2008 at Essex

Ian Gregory wrote with the following call for papers:
Historical GIS 2008
University of Essex
21-22 August 2008

This conference will be the first major European conference concerned with the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in historical research. It follows on from the success of a previous Historical GIS conference held at the Newberry Library, Chicago in 2004. The main aim of the conference is to demonstrate how GIS can make a contribution to our understanding of the geographies of the past. We welcome submissions on all aspects of using GIS in historical research from database development to applied research in which GIS has made a contribution to understanding a historical topic. Contributions from PhD students are encouraged. Non-speaking participants who are keen to learn what is happening in the field are also welcome.
See further:

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Cool URIs

I've been yammering on and off about cool URLs for Pleiades ... now I should point and hoot at the very important W3C working draft, just posted, of Cool URIs for the Semantic Web. And in this context, how could I fail to whisper about an RDF future for HEML, mooted most recently at a November workshop on Cyberinfrastucture in the Humanities at chez Ross?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Open Knowledge Foundation Notes Pleiades

Yesterday, Sean pointed out that the Open Knowledge Foundation has been stalking Pleiades (in the best possible way). Most recently (on Monday), Rufus Pollock had nice things to say about how we're releasing our data. Thanks! It's as useful to get praise for specific aspects of our approach as it is to get criticism; it helps us keep tabs on what not to change.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

We Built It and the Coin People Came

Over at the American Numismatic Society, Sebastian Heath and his colleagues have been working on a new search interface to the ANS Collection Database. It's a friend of Pleiades.

Sebastian explains:

users can plot the location of the cities that issued [coins] on the basis of geospatial data drawn automatically from Pleiades .... An example is, a coin issued by the Lycian city of Xanthos. By clicking on the ‘[show map]’ link a user sees an embedded map from Google as well as a link to the Pleiades source. It is important to stress that the process by which the ANS incorporates Pleiades data is entirely open. We draw upon the Atom/GeoRSS feed at to populate our database of geographic entities.

They've hooked up all the mints in Lycia and Cyrenaica, pretty much the limits of our online content at present:

The age of Pleiades interoperability has begun. Thanks ANS! Sean and I have been looking forward to this day for a long time.

Epigraphy Unveiled

It's been a true pleasure over the past few days to watch a public display of collaborative epigraphic text editing unfold over at Current Epigraphy. If you've ever wondered how experts work together to try to sort out problematic aspects of ancient inscribed documents, this is a rare glimpse into a process usually conducted privately at one's home institution, via email or at conferences.

Does this exchange mark the dawn of digital epigraphy as something more than static online publication?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

TEI P5 Hits the Streets, What's EpiDoc Doing?

That substantial seismic WHOMP! you felt last Friday was the 1.0 release of the Text Encoding Initiative, version P5 making its official entry into the light of day. A hearty congratulations to the editors, the TEI Technical Council, and everyone else who worked so hard to make this major revision a reality.

As a sizable percentage of my legions of readers will know, the TEI underpins the work of the EpiDoc Community, which aims to provide guidance and tools for the XML markup of ancient primary sources -- especially documentary ones -- preserved in inscriptions, on papyri and the like. Right now, EpiDoc depends on the previous (P4) version of the TEI, but incorporates a number of P5 structures that are especially useful (or economical) for our needs. We'll hold at this point until sometime at least in mid-2008, when we'll look at revising EpiDoc to full P5 compliance. This delay recognizes that key members of the community will be pretty busy in the meantime on a number of projects that shouldn't be slowed down for a major revision.

A particularly important current project in this regard is the conversion of the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri (description somewhat out of date) to full EpiDoc conformance. This conversion underpins an effort to establish better interoperability with the Advanced Papyrological Information System and the Heidelberger Gesamtverzeichnis der griechischen Papyrusurkunden Ägyptens. This APIS/Duke/HGV work is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and it's driving major improvements to the EpiDoc Guidelines and software tools.

There's also an interesting, and rapidly growing, list of other EpiDoc projects.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Methodological approaches to Historical GIS

A session just announced for the 2008 meeting of the Association of American Geographers (April 15-19, 2008 in Boston):
The emergence of Historical GIS projects over the last decade has provided us with a variety of datasets and data models to use in our research. In some cases the HGIS projects are focused on providing a basic infrastructure for the historical geography of a particular region, in other cases the HGIS projects developed innovative tools for spatiotemporal analysis. This session will focus on practical approaches to Historical GIS with four case studies: first, how to develop applications for the study of change over time that makes use of existing Historical GIS data. Second, the representation of historical enumeration districts and how to use and interpret measures of spatial segregation. Third, the examination of cartographic uncertainty in georeferencing ancient maps. And fourth, an examination of the structural content of both Print Historical Atlases and Historical GIS.
You can also read the full panel description for Methodological approaches to Historical GIS, complete with individual paper abstracts.

The Mark Twain Project

I'll point in admiration at the Mark Twain Project, released in beta today. I stumbled across this little quote from a letter of October 1865, in a mere 10 minutes of browsing:
P. S. You had better shove this in the stove—for if we strike a bargain I don’t want any absurd “literary remains” & “unpublished letters of Mark Twain” published after I am planted.

Oh, well.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The least interesting thing

I always find that it's the most provocative assertions of others that help me get started writing something. Take, for example, this proposition from John Unsworth's oft-cited paper "Scholarly Primitives: what methods do humanities researchers have in common, and how might our tools reflect this?":
the most interesting things that you can do with standalone tools and standalone resources is less interesting and less important than the least interesting thing you can do with networked tools and networked resources

Citations =? links

I've been thinking a lot about scholarly citation and hyperlinking lately. I've been struggling to test mentally the degree to which the latter can support what I see as the distinct functions of the former:
  • attribution of argument or idea
  • source of fact or quotation
  • pointer to further information not directly germane to the issue at hand
  • disambiguation
  • classification
I'd be grateful for suggested additions to, and refinements of, the list of functions. It would also be helpful to learn of any literature on the subject.

Of course the goal is "computationally actionable citation."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Plone R-Tree Spatial Index

It's especially gratifying to be part of a humanities computing project that is doing more than just helping out the humanities. We're actually succeeding -- through collaboration with others and careful decisions about what to invent and when -- in identifying areas where we can contribute software that helps both humanistic and extra-humanistic endeavors alike.

Case in point: Sean's work with others across the Plone and geo-python spectrum to produce a spatial index for Plone. This mechanism takes spatial content in Plone (like that in our Pleiades site) and does some pre-processing to set up a data structure that's optimized for doing geographical search. This version focuses on the ability to find a subset of spatially referenced Plone content that intersects with a bounding box (a rectangle on the earth's surface).

The test results Sean showed me yesterday were impressive. As compared with a brute-force, live intersection query of our existing Pleiades data, the spatial index did the job more quickly ... by 4 orders of magnitude (brute force took about 12 seconds; index-aided less than 0.1 second).

We're continuing testing and development toward upgrades that will allow Pleiades users to exploit this new code as they try to find items of interest on our site. Stay tuned for the rollout!

Sean's participation in this work was funded by our grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

AtomPub rubber meets the road

They've done it:
The Atom Publishing Protocol, RFC5023, has been published. The HTML is here.

The Publication and Study of Inscriptions in the Age of the Computer

And here's another call for papers, this one for a panel co-organized by Paul Iversen and myself for the ASGLE Panel at the 2009 (sic) APA/AIA meeting in Philadelphia (8-11 January 2009):
The computer age has unleashed powerful new technologies that enhance the study of Greek and Latin inscriptions, yet most scholars, academic institutions and publishing houses are still not comfortable with the idea of publishing inscriptions in a form that takes full advantage of the new possibilities. The Society, therefore, welcomes papers that discuss current or possible future computer-enhanced initiatives in the areas of Greek and Latin Epigraphy. We are particularly interested in papers that discuss theoretical applications of new technologies to the field of epigraphy and the formulation of international standards and protocols of publication and institutional credit, especially digital projects that go well beyond the mere encoding of the appearance of epigraphical sigla and indicia (which is akin to putting old wine into new wineskins) to include the encoding of semantic and/or observational distinctions.

Abstracts will be adjudicated anonymously by a committee of ASGLE and should not be longer than one page. Please follow the instructions for the format of individual abstracts that will appear in the October issue of the APA Newsletter. Abstracts should be sent to: Paul A. Iversen, ASGLE Secretary-Treasurer, Department of Classics, Case Western Reserve University, 11201 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106-7111 or paul.iversen (at) The deadline is February 1, 2008.

Graduate Conference in Ancient Borderlands

By way of David Meadow's rogueclassicism, I spotted this call for papers for a Graduate Conference in Ancient Borderlands, to be held 22-23 March 2008 at the University of California Santa Barbara. Abstracts due 1 December 2007.
A forum in which participants from a variety of fields and areas of expertise can explore both physical and intellectual borderlands in the ancient world. The specific disciplines the Graduate Student Conference aims to involve include Anthropology, Archaeology, Art History, Asian Studies, Classics, History, Medieval Studies, Mesoamerican Studies, Near Eastern Studies, Philosophy, and Religious Studies.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Digital Humanities and Computer Science

Andrew Reinhard is blogging the Chicago Colloquium for Digital Humanities ...

Social War, Anyone?

So, there were plenty of folks (classicists and otherwise) throwing around ancient history as persuasive (or disssuasive) rhetoric in the run-up to the current land war in Asia. I'll offer only the example of Elaine Fantham.

Question: Why aren't we seeing the Roman Social War brought into the current argument about immigration in this country?

Don't like the Wikipedia article linked above? I've had no role in its content whatsoever. Send me a link to something else online, free and open, and I'll link it. Or -- better yet -- just pitch in to improve the article.

Friday, October 19, 2007

kodos: python regular expression debugger

How is it that I'm only just now discovering Phil Schwartz's Kodos python regular expression debugger? I think my life is going to get better ...

Thanks to Raffaele Viglianti for the tip.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pleiades data status

Thanks to Sean's code-wizardry, it's now possible for us to provide you with on-going information on what data has been added to Pleiades, and what's slated to come next. You can view the information:
Why "batlas" you ask? The page explains it all. Enjoy!

Or check it out in google maps directly.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pleiades and other projects: Atom, GeoRSS and RDF

It should be easy for projects outside Pleiades to assert relationships between their content (primary and secondary sources, images, find records etc.) and ours. It should be easy for Pleiades users to stumble upon (or search for) these assertions (via maps or other means). It should be easy to harvest these assertions and pump them through our editorial workflow.

We already use Atom + GeoRSS, as well as KML, to expose Pleiades content for discovery and reuse by others. It's clean, simple, standard and RESTful. No heavy architecture. No elaborate call-and-response rituals. No home-made schemas or protocols.

Can we turn the telescope around and ask other projects to use the same mechanisms -- maybe with a little semantic sugar in the form of a simple relationships thesaurus -- to communicate with us (and each other)?

So, I tried to imagine an Atom+GeoRSS feed for an inscription from Aphrodisias that's already published to the web. You'll see from the comments that there are a number of distinctions I'd like to see from the Pleiades side that just don't fit. Bruce Robertson has lately got me thinking about RDF, so I tried my hand at an RDF encoding of the missing stuff too. Maybe an XML version of the RDF could go into the Atom feed using its standard extension mechanisms.

Thoughts? Corrections? Suggestions?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

precario usi sunt

Joaquín Gómez-Pantoja just wrote to alert me to another land-use inscription that I didn't know:

Hispania Epigraphica Online, no. 1009

It's a ceramic rooftile, found in Garrovillas de Alconétar and first published in 1906. The text, incised in irregular letters, grants use of land to several distinct peoples.

Joaquín says that the tile has been recently re-edited with discussion in a couple of periodicals; the full summary details will appear shortly in HEp 13, no. 116. He also hopes to be able to post an image of the inscription to the website shortly.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Using New Technologies to Explore Cultural Heritage

I had to miss the Using New Technologies to Explore Cultural Heritage meeting in Washington last week (I was in Lexington, Kentucky for a workshop on cyberinfrastructure in the classics ... more on that anon). But Sean and Richard went (their slides are here).

To judge from Dan Cohen's post, it was a great meeting. And he gave Pleiades some very nice press too.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Trailing slashes in Pleiades

In his comment on my Pleiades URLs post, Sebastian writes:

For places, is it significant that there are sometimes trailing slashes, sometimes not?

It's not significant; that's copy-and-paste sloppiness on my part. Plone automagically deals with either formulation. We could get pedantic and say that some of these are containers and therefore ought to have no trailing slash, but then there's the fact that implementation-wise a place object is a container too. But I don't think users need or want to have to think about these things this way.

So, I think canonical URLs for places and names and lists of same have no trailing slashes; however, our application will pleasantly handle trailing slashes.

Stay tuned for responses to Sebastian's other points anon ...

Comments Policy

I moderate the comments for this blog, and reserve the right to reject or retract any comment at any time, and to turn commenting off for particular posts. I'll consider the following factors (non-exhaustive list) in making moderation decisions:

  1. no spam; this includes blog spam like "if you're interested in that, you might want to look at my site" or "visit this site to learn more about this subject"
  2. no personal attacks, hate speech or the like
  3. no flamebait
  4. relevance: the comment should address in some substantive way the content of the blog post to which it is attached. Feel free to include relevant links in your comments, but the comment itself should provide substantive content (this is the counter-point to the no spam rule above).

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

URLs for Pleiades

Lorcan Dempsey is thinking about URIs, with some good links. Among other things, he points at this tidbit from Richardson and Ruby:

a resource and its URI ought to have an intuitive correspondence

Sean's been a positive influence in this area for Pleiades. Here's what we're doing:


We surface information about our place records under the intuitive URL fragment We elaborate URLs below that level using various intuitive labels for thematic, non-hierarchical groupings of records, as well as the unique identifiers for specific place records. So, for example you get:

Geographic Names

Names are trickier. We'd like to provide users with an intuitive lookup of names like, but that's problematic because names (whether geographic or personal) are non-unique proxies for identifiers (see recent excellent postings from Karen Coyle and Stuart Weibel). For example, when conversion of our legacy dataset is complete, we'll have 17 places with the name Apollonia.

Our names interface at points users first to our search form. Individual name records are surfaced there too, using ASCII (sic) transliterations of the name strings (our model aims at one record per unique attested variant in original language and script). Duplicates are presently handled by postfixing a hypen plus a one-up numeral (e.g., I should point out here that right now we lack backlinks from the name records to the associated place records; that's an urgent to-do. At the main names page, we do have a link to a complete list, which will get unmanageably huge; we'll probably need to add alphabetic and/or max-per-page chunking of that list soon. But I digress ...

URL-wise I'm thinking we could do more to help our users get at the name records. Perhaps we should take a page from Wikipedia and implement name disambiguation pages. Under such a scheme, a URL like would take a user either to the one-and-only record appropriate record or to a disambiguation page containing links to all the relevant records.

These disambiguation pages would have to surface enough additional information from the records themselves (including their associated places and locations) to facilitate selection of the desired name record. Here we'd want to echo long-standing practice in print works for classical geography. When name ambiguity is a problem, add a regional qualifier (something like "Antioch in Pisidia" or "Pisidian Antoich"). Would that look something like When we implement place-to-place relationship tagging, maybe we can leverage that information for this purpose. It probably won't be foolproof for certain edge cases though: some unlocated places with common names may require an alternative or more verbose mechanism for disambiguation.


The right kind of intuitive access to locations (i.e., feature geometry and coordinates) is a geographic one. I'll table that for a separate future post.

Bibliographic Records

URLs for our bibliographic records are constructed on the basis of human-friendly short titles. For most modern works, these are either abbreviations or author-year combinations. For ancient literary works we follow conventional humanist practices for author and work short titles. For example:

Alternative Formats

Where we offer alternative formats (e.g., Atom+GeoRSS and KML, or MODS for our bibliography), we align them under the appropriate URL fragment. For example:

Now What?

I'd be grateful for critiques or suggestions for improvement. Now's the time to get this stuff right.

Recipe for a Riot?

Now, I don't really know a thing about this sort of thing, but this aspect of the Huntsville Fallout Shelter Plan (most recently covered by the Associated Press) seems like a recipe for trouble:

Unlike the fallout shelters set up during the Cold War, the new ones will not be stocked with water, food or other supplies. For survivors of a nuclear attack, it would be strictly "BYOE" — bring your own everything. Just throw down a sleeping bag on the courthouse floor — or move some of the rocks on the mine floor — and make yourself at home.

"We do not guarantee them comfort, just protection," said [Kirk] Paradise, who is coordinating the shelter plans for the local emergency management agency.

Hmmmm .... 20,000 people in Three Caves with no cots, water, food, diapers or formula above and beyond what they snatched and grabbed on the way in.

And that's not even a comment about the overall goodness of the plan.

In a future random post, I may explore just how accessible Three Caves would be for a freaked-out crowd of 20,000 North Alabamians.

All the usual IANABOHSE caveats apply.

Mediterranean Ceramics

Sebastian Heath is in the house!

Monday, October 1, 2007


Since this blog has emerged (by virtue of its title's obscurity) as the top Google result for "horothesia", I'm surely obligated to explain the word!


τὰ ὁροθέσια, ἡ ὁροθεσία 1
τὰ χωρίζοντα τὴν γῆν; 2
the dividing of the earth;
a cadastral, technical term for the survey and demarcation of land and, specifically, the written (or recited) itinerary of property or territorial boundaries, which was considered a legal document

The word (equivalent to the Latin determinatio) shows up in some of the Roman imperial era boundary inscriptions I worked on for my dissertation, including the following text.

Example: The Horothesia of Laberius Maximus

IScM 1 68 ll. 1-8 (whence PHI72734); EDH HD026625; IScM 1 67 ll. 1-4; Oliver 1965, 154 s.v. "Decision of the Consular Laberius Maximus"; AE 1919.10.

This document is the first in an important dossier from the city of Histria (modern Istria in Romania) dating to the first century CE (AD). The dossier concerns a dispute between the city of Histria and the contractor who had purchased the portorium ripae Thraciae. The dispute centered on rights to tax revenues and required an authoritative boundary demarcation by the governor of Moesia Inferior as part of his verdict in the case.

Octavian Bounegru delivered a paper on this dossier entitled "La horothésie d'Histria: une nouvelle approche épigraphique d'un dossier douanier à l'époque romaine" at CIEGL 2007, but unfortunately it was during my session, so I missed it!

Text (after IScM):

ὁροθεσία Λαβερίου Μαξίμου ὑ[πατικοῦ] / fines Histrianorum hos esse con[stitui - - - - - - Pe]/ucem laccum Halmyridem a do[minio - - - - - - - - - - - ] / Argamensium, inde iugo summo [ - - - - - - - - - - ad c]/[o]nfluentes rivorum Picusculi et Ga[brani, inde ab im]/5[o] Gabrano ad capud eiusdem, inde [ - - - - iuxta rivum] / [S]anpaeum, inde ad rivum Turgicu[lum - - - - - - - - - ] / a rivo Calabaeo, milia passum circi[ter D?XVI]


Official boundary demarcation (horothesia) of Laberius Maximus, consular.

I have established these ... (as) the boundaries of the Histriani ... Peuce ... Halmyris lagoon from ... of the Argamensies, thence along the top of the ridge ... to the confluence of the Picusculus and Gabranus streams, thence from the lower Gabranus to its headwaters, thence ... Sanpaeus, thence to the stream Turgiculus ... from the stream Calabaeus, 516(?) miles around the perimeter.


  1. transliterated: horothesia. The word appears in both the neuter plural and the feminine singular. A search of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae on 1 October 2007 turned up 207 discrete instances in Greek literature. Its earliest appearance outside the epigraphy appears to be in the Acts of the Apostles (17.26) and the majority of the later citations seem to derive from the church fathers, monastic acta and Byzantine lexicographers and grammarians.
  2. Hesychius, Lexicon 1278

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Volunteered Geographic Information

I'm bummed that I'll be missing the Workshop on Volunteered Geographic Information this December in Santa Barbara. VGI is at the core of the Pleiades vision.

Mike Goodchild has recently posted a paper on the workshop site entitled "Citizens as Sensors: The World of Volunteered Geography" [pdf; 1.1MB]. In the 15-page treatment, G. provides background and context; overviews a number of recent trends, key services and sites and glosses various enabling technologies.

He also introduces or glosses several underlying issues and concepts, no doubt in part laying out tracks and themes for the workshop:
  • Spatial data infrastructure patchworks (rather than comprehensive mapping strategies)
  • Humans as sensors
  • Citizen science
  • Participant populations (the who-may-volunteer vs. quality axis)
  • Early warning (e.g., of the magnitude of natural disasters)
  • Motivating factors for participants
  • Authority and assertion
  • The digital divide
G. concludes with the following reflection:

VGI has the potential to be a significant source of geographers’ understanding of the surface of the Earth. It can be timely ... it is far cheaper than any alternative, and its products are almost invariably available to all ...

It is already clear in many fields that such informal sources as blogs and VGI can act as very useful sources of military and commercial intelligence. The tools already exist to scan Web text searching for references to geographic places, and to geocode the results. Thus the most important value of VGI may lie in what it can tell about local activities in various geographic locations that go unnoticed by the world’s media, and about life at a local level. It is in that area that VGI may offer the most interesting, lasting, and compelling value to geographers.

Duck and cover?

Am I asleep, or shouldn't I have heard about this first from the Huntsville Times (links mine):
Huntsville will outfit an abandoned mine capable of holding 20,000 people. Other residents will be housed in college dorms, churches, libraries and research halls. City planners hope they can develop enough shelter space to house 300,000 people; enough space to provide every person in Huntsville and the surrounding county a safe refuge.

Maybe Lee can find out what it's all about.

Bibliographic Proximity

Shawn is trying out the Pleiades Atom+GeoRSS feeds in Yahoo Pipes, and is also thinking about geoparsing locational data from regular bibliography.

Seems to me it would be fun to throw something like Sean Gillies' Mush into the mix to get spatial correlations between the Pleiades gazetteer (if I can call it that in this context) and Shawn's geo-bib.

Then, if we could apply some version of the combined process to, say, the new acquisitions list of the Burnam Classics Library in Cincinnati, we'd have some nifty pre-processing that could speed identification of new works to cite in the Pleiades bibliography.

Mine, it's all mine

Technorati spiders, behold: Technorati Profile

evolve librum manualem futue!

Over at classics-l they're asking:
When is it ok to be incompetent?

Feeds for Pleiades data

Shawn Graham has tried pumping Pleiades data through Yahoo Pipes. That's exactly the sort of thing we want people to be able to do. In looking at his post, however, it's clear that we could be doing a better job of revealing our data interfaces to users. We've got a big rev coming up in October (we're moving to Plone 3), and we'll address this UI issue then. Meanwhile, maybe this post will help.

Shawn wanted to grab a feed and map its content. He did the obvious thing and navigated to our places section. Then he chose one of our pre-packaged subgroups: archaic places. Then he looked for a feed. Out of the box, Plone gives us a <link rel="alternate"> as well as an "RSS" button on the interface. Transiting the corresponding URL gets you an RSS feed listing titles, descriptions and other Dublin Core metadata for whatever Plone content is surfaced at that location.

As Shawn observed, pumping that list of ancient names through a presentist geocoder (like Yahoo!'s) gives you suboptimal results.

Pleiades in fact stores locations for every feature (at least when we can determine their locations). In our customization work on Plone for Pleiades, we've tacked on a couple of other interfaces that aren't as obvious to users as they should be. Anywhere Pleiades displays or lists spatial content, we also provide an Atom feed that's extended with GeoRSS tags, as well as a KML feed.

So, for those archaic places, Shawn could choose to use either of:
Both provide the coordinates, and therefore get you around the geocoding problem.

Pleiades needs to add <link rel="alternative"> tags for both our Atom and KML serializations, as well as clear UI hooks everywhere the feeds are surfaced. We do the latter in some places already, just not everywhere. See, for example:
Shawn: thanks so much for taking a hack at this! It's great to know that folks out there are interested in our data, and interested in using it in some of the same ways we've been thinking about. We'll try to meet you closer to half-way next time.