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Project information

Project team

Francis Harvey, Eric Losang, Ihor Doroshenko


Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe – Institute of the Leibniz Association, Marburg (Germany); University of Giessen, Germany

Duration of project

05/2019 – 12/2023

Funded by

Leibniz Competition, Funding Programme "Leibniz-Kooperative Exzellenz"

Further information

Prof Dr Francis Harvey
Tel. +49 341 600 55-111

Names change, places too. The challenge of developing geodata-based gazetteer research technologies and methods

Bildschirmfoto der Anwendung

Locational information plays an important role in many academic disciplines, from geography and archaeology through to art history and climate research. One difficulty for scientists is that they are dealing with various sources of such localized data which often are not "compatible" with each other. Another problem are changes of place names in the past and today.

For this reason, scientists from the IfL have joined with colleagues from the Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe and the University of Gießen to find solutions for the scientific use of inconsistently structured location information (gazetteers). Over the next three years, they want to develop a web application to make the contents and metadata descriptions of online available location registers comparable with each other.

In addition to this practical aspect, the project pursues a further, conceptual goal. The starting point is that geographical names represent more than just locations: The locations reflect power-knowledge constellations, i.e. geographical discourses and understandings. By setting place names and creating official location directories, scientific and state authorities define views of the world. Using the example of the gazetteers and their changing contents, it is therefore very easy to explore how power-knowledge constellations have changed and continue to change. The focus of the research project is on the following questions:

  • How do state and scientific actors in East Central Europe shape geographical discourses?
  • How have technical innovations affected Gazetteers, such as standardized map production since the 18th century or computer technology since the 1970s?
  • To what extent have geographic discourses been influenced by technical, political and economic factors?

Research on these topics is of scientific and public interest in many ways. On the one hand, they reveal mechanisms and consequences of digitisation processes that can be transferred to other fields; these include: the transformation from analogue to digital encyclopedias and localised specialised knowledge can be related to past locational information; the transformation of economic statistics and how they structured international trade and dependencies; new forms of environmental observation and how they define past and present boundaries. On the other hand, geographic names are frequently enough the subject of intense debate over local, regional and national identities, such as the dispute over the name of Macedonia challenges for scientific research.

Opening the resulting application for the public supports studies and comparisons by the scientific community and the public of different gazetteers’ locational information.