Where in the World?

As the BASIRA Project team gets closer to finalizing schema revisions, one confounding issue has been how to treat geographic terms. Our schema includes designations of artists’ nationality and locations of artwork installations, among other locales. We’re among good company with other DH projects in grappling with the anachronisms of modern nation states: Florence was not in “Italy” in the fifteenth century, not was Nuremberg in “Germany.”

Our current compromise is to use the modern country designations listed in the Getty Vocabularies as our default. We’ve discussed whether to include an additional field for “historic name,” using the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names as the authority file. But doing so would almost certainly impede our data entry process by requiring us to certify the name for a locale in effect at the particular time of a citation. So we were resigned to omitting historic name citations for this iteration of the BASIRA database, and to tucking away ambitions for time/space accuracy until future revisions.

Happily, that future may be closer than we’d initially imagined, thanks to the work now underway in the World Historical Gazetteer projects at the University of Pittsburgh and at Harvard University. There are probably other similar endeavors also under development elsewhere; if you have information about these, we’d be glad to learn of them.



These ambitious undertakings give us optimism about a future in which the BASIRA Project might be able to link to cartographic overlays that could provide our users with place names that were contemporary for early modern cultural objects. We welcome more information about historic world gazetteer efforts and look forward to their implementation.

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