Taking a GAP year

Google has so far digitized over 12 million books in over 300 languages, much of which was previously available only in prestigious university libraries. The amount of data now available, then, is enormous, which is both very exciting and has huge potential for us as researchers, but, frankly, is quite bewildering in scope. What’s there? And how can it be used? In a call that went out in April of this year (2010), Google threw down the gauntlet to the academic community to come up with some suggestions.
That’s where the GAP (or Google Ancient Places) project comes in…

As a team of experts drawn from the fields of Classical Studies, Archaeology and Computing, we―that is Elton Barker (The Open University) , Leif Isaksen (Southampton) and Eric Kansa (Berkeley)―aim to address these two primary concerns, the what and the how, first by pioneering a search-facility that facilitates the discovery of data that is of general interest to humanities scholars (in this case, locations associated with the ancient world), and then by experimenting with ways of visualizing the results.
So with GAP you’ll be able to discover all references to a particular ancient location, and then visualize the results in GoogleEarth to gain a unique snapshot of the geographic spread of the references. Or you’ll be able to discover all ancient locations mentioned in a specific book, and visualize them in GoogleMaps as and when they are mentioned alongside the actual text. In the former case you know about the place, and want to find the books; in the latter you have the book, and want to find out about the place. Moreover, you’ll be able to do this either as a scholar whose research has a historical or geographical basis, or as a member of the public visiting, for instance, an ancient location and wanting to download information related to it on your iphone―a case of literally putting knowledge into people’s hands…

The important thing is that this information is now available to all―and that is tremendously exciting as well as testing. Not only are digital resources transforming dissemination practices (in, for example, how scholars/experts communicate their message to a broader public); no doubt they will also change the way that we―both as researchers and members of the public―do things.

We don’t yet know where this GAP year will take us, but thanks to the challenge that has been set us, we have the chance to start shaping research practice and help bring the knowledge derived from it out of ‘ivory tower’ institutions into everybody’s homes.

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About eltonteb

Lecturer in Classical Studies at the Open University
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2 Responses to Taking a GAP year

  1. Sheila Jagan says:

    I have two questions:

    1. Why is it so difficult to find out about the Google Ancient Places project? There was wide coverage in July, 2010, then silence. Only now have I found more recent information by simply poking around on the internet. Isn’t there anywhere a site to follow progress in this project, which I find of great interest? (I live in Mallorca and investigate local history, particularly the period from the arrival of the Romans and about 1400 a.d.)

    2. How is ‘ancient’ defined in terms of an historical period; particularly, when does it stop?

    Thankyou for any help you could give me.

    Sheila Jagan

    • leifuss says:

      Good questions!

      The first is somewhat harder to answer – we’ve been hard at work and posting here on our blog so we haven’t been silent but if you have suggestions about how we might raise our public profile we’d be glad to hear them 🙂

      As for the second we have a concrete, but somewhat more pragmatic answer: we are using the Pleiades gazetteer which is specifically focused on classical antiquity, but includes places up to the ‘Late Antique’ period which they terminate at 640CE. Of course, many of the places we refer to (especially the well-known ones) may continue into the Dark Ages and beyond but it’s fair to say that if it wasn’t on the map before then and after 550BCE it won’t make the cut at GAP.

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