Imperiia: a spatial history of the Russian Empire

How our gazetteer makes your life easier

The Imperiia gazetteer has two functions:

If scholars are going to work across time periods, from a multiplicity of sources, across geographical space, and in collaboration with one another, we need a mechanism for creating relationships between the geo-temporal features of one dataset and the corresponding geo-temporal features of another dataset. We need a way for a scholar collecting demographic data for a certain time period, for example, in locations A, B, and C, to be able to compare her data with that of a scholar working on literacy rates for a certain time period in locations A, B, and C, taking into account differences in time period but also the differences in the (geo)spatial identities of locations A, B, and C at different time periods. (Moscow in 2016 is hardly the same as Moscow in 1991, let alone in 1700.)

The ability to connect datasets is crucial. In fact, it is essential to the future of both collaboration and the presentation (and evaluation) of geospatial research, regardless of discipline. At the moment, the literal and figurative costs of locating historical places - of establishing their positions on the surface of Earth and expressing those positions as spatial data - is perhaps the single biggest obstacle preventing scholars from exploring the geospatial contexts of their work. The lack of established standards for locating historical places runs a close second: if three different scholars working on Kazakhstan in the same period define Kazakhstan differently in geospatial terms, the possibility of comparison and cross-fertilization between projects is lost.

The obstacles are significant, but the potential for ground-breaking collaboration looms just as large. The Imperiia Project contains spatial data describing more than 50,000 toponyms. At the moment, when another scholar or student has data they would like to map using the Imperiia system, they have to manually go through the database to identify matches between their own data and the relevant entries in Imperiia. Toponimika will dramatically reduce - and ideally eliminate - the costs of establishing relationships between datasets. It will also offer the opportunity for new projects to avoid this problem entirely by adopting a flexible, extensible, fully documented standard for geolocating the places of the past.

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