Monday, May 28, 2018

Itiner-e. The Gazetteer of Roads

Itiner-e. The Gazetteer of Roads
Introducing Itiner-e. The Gazetteer of Roads
Greetings from Barcelona. Our team composed of Pau de Soto, Tom Brughmans, Josep Guitart and Santiago Muxach very proud to write the first introductory blogpost about our project: the first gazetteer of historical roads, integrated in the Pelagios Commons Universe.
Firstly, we want to thank Pelagios Commons for awarding us with one of the Resource Development Grants 2018.  This offers us the perfect opportunity to develop our ideas about new ways of connecting data and projects by focusing on historical Roads. So…

Why a Gazetteer of Roads?
From Antiquity to the present-day (well, maybe until the creation of the Internet), roads and routes have represented one of the main modes of communication linking cities, territories and people. For that reason, the study of historical routes connecting places is a crucial aspect to enabling a better understanding of the structure, performance and evolution of past and present transport systems around the world. Routes can be documented from their collection in historical sources, such as itineraries and inscriptions in the Roman Era, books of pilgrimages in medieval times or drawn maps in more modern times.
However, the study of historical routes is currently faced with a crucial issue: there is an increasing gap between our rapidly increasing knowledge about the physical connections between places, and the research community’s ability to access and aggregate this mass of information to improve our understanding of the past and present flows of people, goods and ideas these systems facilitate. By building on the Pelagios platform and community, and on the recent growth in the scholarly practice of linked open data, this project will overcome this challenge.
Itiner-e will develop the first online gazetteer of historical roads, to enhance our ability to collect, aggregate and debate historical roads, and to enable the linking of this important source of information about past societies with other resources by linking related places. In this initial resource development phase of Iitiner-e we aim to develop a pipeline methodology for linked open road data, set up an online platform and implement the method using the Roman routes in the Iberian Peninsula as a proof-of-concept.

A Paradigm shift
Until now, the most common way of approaching the study of communication routes has been to focus on the places where the routes started, ended and passed through. This approach is crucial and partly inevitable, but Itiner-e will explore an alternative to this.
The novelty in this project is that each possible route between every pair of places is understood as a single element that is either historically documented or not, but can all be unambiguously referred to. In other words, it is not the sets of places conceptualised as points that create a route, but the opposite: we conceptualise routes as entities connected through places. This is a change of perspective as compared to many other gazetteers: in this gazetteer the roads become nodes and the places become edges. Each potential route between a pair of places can receive a unique URI to refer to it, if it is historically documented or even merely mentioned or theorised. Doing so will enable for each route (segment) the linking of historical documentation, GIS vector-based descriptions of its physical path, photos and other research outputs. This will  stimulate debate and multivocality of opinion in period-specific research including route data, but it also enables the documentation of different chronological phases of the same route. It will be possible to observe how a locality has some links with other places at a certain moment and how subsequently these relationships change.
Each of the created elements (tracks) will configure a new online gazetteer item accessible and linked with other sources of information such as Pleiades. In this way, it will be possible from any existing node in a route to quickly visualise all the information of the set: to which way (or routes) it belongs at a certain moment or in several time periods; which cities or settlements are related to it; explore the role this place played in the global network, etc.

First tests
The pipeline method for linked open road data and the creation of the gazetteer will be tested through a model focused on the Roman Roads of the Iberian Peninsula. This case was selected due to the diversity and richness of the resources as well as the availability of the most up-to-date knowledge on these routes through the Mercator-e project led by PdS. In these territories we can find different Roman roads attested in ancient written and depicted sources such as the Vicarello Cups, the Itinerarium Antonini Augusti, and the Tabula Peutingeriana.
Through the Itiner-e gazetteer and the places associated with routes, this data resource will be linked with other Gazetteer projects such as Pleiades ( and the TIR-FOR Project ( for places and ( for time-periods. All the data generated will be stored in GeoJson format where all the information will be stored (id names, places within the roads, chronology, etc…).
Roman Map
Fig 1. The Roman Roads documented in the Mercator-e Project
Itiner-e in the future (plans & benefits)
This project is conceived as a continuation of the Mercator-e Project (, the actual project of the lead applicant, Pau de Soto. After storing and digitising all the available information about the historical roads of the Iberian Peninsula, an appropriate next step is to create new ways to share some of the new produced data. At the same time, this project is conceived as the seed of a bigger project which will be focused on the creation of a digital resource of all the roads of the Roman Empire. The main roads of this future project will be uploaded to Itiner-e. Hence the proof-of-concept nature of this proposal. The final result of Itiner-e will be the creation of the biggest Historical Road Gazetteer and all scholars and others will be able to benefit from this online linked open data  resource.
After testing this methodology in a small territory, all the historical roads of the Iberian Peninsula recorded in historical sources will be uploaded into the system. The collaboration with the Institute for Catalan Studies and with the TIR-FOR project assures the continuity of the project and its maintenance online. In a future step, an open tool will be created to allow other researchers to easily upload their own roads and information.
All the information and code produced in this project will be hosted on Github and released under CC licenses.
The beneficiaries of this project will be researchers interested in historical places and roads. At the same time, the Open Data community will be benefit from this tool as they could link their project and information not only to places but also to bigger entities, as in this case, roads.

And more in the future…
Well, after this long introduction, we will continue posting information about our project (a brand new webpage, the firsts results,…)

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