Friday, August 12, 2016

CALCS Project: : including Arabic names in the Greco-Roman atlas

Gabriel BODARD, in Pelagios Commons on 

With thanks to the Pelagios Commons team and especially the expert and generous SIG chairs, we’re happy to announce the CALCS Project has been funded with a small development grant. The aim of this project—which serves as a pilot for a much larger investigation into the afterlives of sites we think of as classical—is to add information about mediaeval Arabic and Ottoman, and modern Arabic and Turkish, names to sites in Pleiades.

The Pleiades Gazetteer, probably the most useful authority of any kind of the Ancient and Late Antique Linked Web, as Pelagios collaborators do not need reminding, is based on the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, the most definitive print atlas of classical antiquity. Although constantly under improvement, Pleiades is already as close to a comprehensive list of known Greco-Roman places and names as we have ever had. The majority of names in the gazetteer are those in use in Anglo-Saxon classical scholarship: either the classical names that were in the atlas (Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium; αἱ Ἀθῆναι), or the English/Italian rendering of a modern or other variant place name (Naples, Cirene).

This misses a huge part of the picture, obviously. Shortly after the end of what we call the Classical Period, and before the Latin Middle Ages or Renaissance, the Islamic world took control of huge swathes of the former Empire, and held parts of it for many centuries; Iberia and Sicily were Arabic-speaking for hundred of years, and most of the Balkans were part of the Turkish-speaking Ottoman Empire for centuries after the fall of Byzantium. Today, almost half of the former Roman Empire is still made up of countries whose first language are a form of Arabic. Many sources, from mediaeval maps and manuscripts, through Renaissance scholarship, to modern references in academic and popular works in North Africa and the Near East, will be inaccessible to the sort of computational study that Pleiades and Pelagios enable if we do not take into account the Arabic and Ottoman names for sites such as Alicante (أليكانته), Messina (مسينة), Thessaloniki (سلانیك) and Leptis Magna (لَبْدَة‎‎). More importantly, this one-sided recording of historical names runs the risk of (inadvertently) perpetuating the myth of European monoculture, the idea that there is an uninterrupted and pure line—politically, geographically, linguistically, genetically—from the grandeur of antiquity to the enlightenment of modern Europe, to which no one but white, Christian, Indo-European speaking people contributed. The inclusion of data from Arabic documents (in Pleiades) and the maps themselves (in Recogito) also helps to highlight the contribution to modern cartography (including some startlingly topological maps) from the Arabic tradition.

for more, see the original post in Pelagios commons: