Pelagios: linking the places of our past
Pelagios Commons provides online resources and a community forum for using open data methods to link and explore historical places.
Pelagios Commons is a (i) community and (ii) infrastructure for Linked Open (geo) Data (LOD) in the Classical World and the Humanities more broadly. The basic premise of LOD is that, wherever possible, online information resources should be connected to related content. While this occurs to some extent with standard HTML hyperlinks, they provide only unilateral links between specific documents. The technologies behind LOD allow us to introduce meta-links that create multi-lateral connections between clusters of content related to a specific concept. Pelagios focuses on geographic concepts, and brings together historical materials associated with particular places.
Pelagios Commons operates through the activity of multiple Special Interest Groups (SIGs). Each of these SIGs host forums dedicated to the discussion of the challenges facing both communities working on particular historical periods and those developing the resources for discovering and representing historical geography. All are welcome to sign up to the SIG (or SIGs) of their choosing: no technical experience is required (although techies are extremely welcome too!). SIGs also play an important role in the governance of Pelagios through its Commons Committee. The 10 current SIGs are: Historical periods: ancient Greek; Roman; Medieval, Byzantine and Islamic; East Asian; Modern (post-1500) Technical: Maritime; Micro-region; Gazetteer; Archaeological; Linked Pasts
In order to help the community create links and make use of them, Pelagios Commons is developing open resources for both the production and consumption of LO(geo)D.
Recogito also provides basic features for cataloguing and managing documents and their metadata, as well as viewing annotations, usage statistics and bulk-downloading annotation data.
Pelagios map tiles depict notable place names (settlements, regions and physical features) against a high resolution topography for a range of historical periods. They are released under open license for use in other applications and services, providing a contextual backdrop for historical data.
Established in 2011, Pelagios has been developing the means of linking independently created and curated online resources together via their common references to place. In its first two phases, Pelagios worked with major partners specialising in different areas of the classical world—e.g. the Perseus Classical Library, the German Archaeological Database, Nomisma.org, the Pleiades gazetteer—to develop a simple but effective means of linking between their varying resources. In phase 3, we extended our work to encompass "Early Geospatial Documents" more broadly, including early Christian Mappae Mundi and pilgrimages, Portolan charts, and Islamic and Chinese maps. This centred on developing a user-friendly platform (Recogito) for annotating documents (both texts and maps), and trialling a map interface (Peripleo) for searching through the network. Pelagios 4 worked with scholars from these different traditions to test the extent to which digital tools could facilitate geospatial analysis, and encourage reflection on the process of annotation itself. Pelagios 5 ("Sea Change") trialled crowdsourcing annotation in university undergraduate classes.
The research output by Pelagios is having a significant impact in the development of ancient world web-infrastructure for academic and non-academic data providers alike. The open data service technology it has championed is now the de facto international standard for open linked geospatial data concerning the ancient world, and is being used by other Web and linked data projects (e.g. Standards for Networking Ancient Prosopographies; PeriodO: a gazetteer for period assertions). Impact is measured not just by the growing number of partners whom Pelagios has attracted but also by the process that each group undertakes to become a partner: by aligning their data to the Pelagios network, each partner changes the way they hold their data. This means that Pelagios’s research is transforming both the nature of these data and the way in which these organisations work or even conceptualise their activity.