GAP work-in-progress report 1 (Oct 10-Jan 11)

GAP has been running for just over three months, so we thought that now was an appropriate time to pause and reflect where we are in our attempt to extend the discovery and querying of ancient places from the HESTIA ‘gold-standard’ Herodotus (with all places verified by hand) to the unstructured 1.2 million books that comprise the Google Books corpus (where places won’t be identified in the XML mark-up). In the series of posts that follow, each member of the team attempts to summarize the work that they’ve done, the problems they’ve encountered, and the next steps they intend to take.

We believe that there are at least two good reasons for making this activity transparent and for documenting our procedure. First, it’s a useful exercise for us to go through as a team: taking the time at the end of our first quarter together to consider the point that we’ve reached is helpful in bringing back into focus the goals of the project, while alerting us to the direction that the follow-up work needs to take. Second, it gives us the opportunity to think about and process particular issues that may have arisen. One benefit of doing this may be to facilitate overcoming those problems; here, the experience of users will be of particular value, so we welcome any feedback you may have to give! But of even greater importance is the documentation of the problems themselves.

To give a short example: only last week I gave a presentation of HESTIA at a one-day workshop on GIS for historians at the Institute of Historical Research in London (, at the invitation of Ian Gregory ( One of the key points to emerge from the subsequent discussion (specifically raised by one of the researchers on a recently started project: was the crucial importance for digital humanists to record the issues that they encountered in the process of delivering on their outcomes: even if they themselves were unable to find an appropriate solution for any given problem, by making a record of the issues raised they might help other researchers (from not necessarily the same Humanities subject area) to avoid making the same mistakes or at least learn from the previous responses attempted. In this sense, the practice and recognition of digital humanities research may come to resemble work done in sciences, in which, even if the experiment ultimately fails, the process through which one goes has a value in and of itself.

With the greater good in mind then, let me allow Eric, Kate and Leif share with you their story so far of GAP in their own words.


About eltonteb

Lecturer in Classical Studies at the Open University
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