Research team

Expertise

Historical GIS, Historical Cartgraphy, Spatial Humanities, Landscape history

Mapping the Urban History of Europe. 01/02/2023 - 31/05/2023

Abstract

This project will produce a large series of maps to be published within the "Cambridge Urban History of Europe", a three-volume showcase of the achievement of fifty years of research on European urban history. Each volume will cover a major upsurge in levels of urbanization: Greek and Roman Antiquity, Middle Ages and Early Modern, Modern Europe from 1850 to the present.

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  • Research Project

Hic Sunt Dracones. Data-driven analysis of the (un)changing nature of toponyms and its implications for toponym-based landscape reconstructions. 01/10/2022 - 30/09/2026

Abstract

The landscape surrounding us contains countless toponyms or place-names, representing an enormous time depth. Extracting historical information from these impressive sources of information, however, has one major pitfall: not all of these toponyms have a 1-on-1 relationship with 'real' historical landscape features. A medieval cartographer could easily add 'Hic Sunt Dracones' ['Here be Dragons'] as a dummy toponym to label an unexplored area, and toponyms can shift in space or meaning. A concrete and satisfactory method to deal with these complications is still to be developed. Hic Sunt Dracones models the nexus toponym-meaning-landscape for a region well documented by sequences of historical maps, and subsequently uses machine learning to map landscape change of an area for which limited cartographic evidence, but only toponyms are available in order to: (1) understand the potential of toponyms to shed reliable light on a landscape, (2) construct toponym and landscape datasets via new methodologies for extracting text and landscape features from historical maps, (3) apply machine learning for a data-driven landscape reconstruction and (4) investigate the scalability of the methodology. Hic Sunt Dracones will lead to considerable advances in the fields of toponymy and landscape history by providing innovative answers and methodological solutions to the fundamental question when and under which circumstances toponyms change in meaning and space.

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  • Research Project

A Connected History of Medieval Mediterranean Diplomacy: The Mamluk Sultanate, Italy, and the Crown of Aragon (14th-15th century) (Diplomaticon). 01/01/2022 - 31/12/2025

Abstract

The Mediterranean is often seen as a dividing border between two worlds: North and South; Christian and Muslim. This pattern has been mostly influenced and supported by national historiographies, which tended to create borders and accentuate differences between areas that were originally connected. DIPLOMATICON will break free from this one-sided view on the history of the Mediterranean region. It will do so by presenting the very first example of a History of Diplomacy that truly reflects the late medieval context of interactions and exchanges between the Islamic and Christian worlds. Based on the approaches and methodologies advocated by the New Diplomatic History and Connected History, the project will focus on the three most important actors of the late medieval world: the Mamluk Sultanate of Cairo on the Islamic side and the Italian polities as well as the Crown of Aragon on the Christian side. DIPLOMATICON will challenge the common narratives of political and cultural antagonism between the two worlds by pointing at the spheres of contact and interaction, where an informal type of diplomacy could be performed. This approach will allow to reveal the whole set of actors and agents involved in diplomatic processes, as well as the huge and extended networks they built throughout the entire region, which facilitated a broad range of cultural transfers among the various participants.

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  • Research Project

Digital maps and archives: activating cartographic collections in a digital world (DIGHIMAPS). 01/09/2020 - 31/08/2030

Abstract

For a long time cartographic collections have been cherished as objects of great value and beauty, illustrating the evolving representation of the world, the city or the landscape. Over the past decade, the massive high-resolution digitization of historical maps, for instance in Belgium through the Cartesius-project, enabled the general public to explore map collections using easily accessible geographic search engines. Over the next years however, it's time to move one step further: careful georeferencing and vectorization of maps, as well as the (semi-)automatic recognition of their content will allow us to link maps to other types of digital content (other maps but also textual sources and iconography). Nowadays, efforts of geo-spatialization, digitization and data-integration are still costly, time-consuming and fragmented. Several technologies – such as automatic transcription of old handwriting or automatic extraction of graphical forms from historical maps – are still in an experimental stage. However, initiatives like the European Time Machine bid, in which both the Belgian State Archives and the University of Antwerp participate, are aiming for a technological breakthrough creating the 'Big Data of the Past'. With this project, we aim to explore how historical maps can play a crucial role in this process. Building on existing efforts of digitization and geolocalization at the State Archives of Belgium and UAntwerp, DIGHIMAPS unleashes the full potential of digital cartographic collections as key to unlock a new digital universe in which space enables an entirely novel way to organize, search, analyze and visualize archival data and collections. DIGHIMAPS turns the unique cartographic heritage of the Belgian State Archives into the centerpiece of a spatial digital infrastructure, which once fully operational will provide A) a significantly improved knowledge of historical maps; B) Improved geographic search engines, fueled by an 'open' and map-based geohistorical gazetteer; C) a wealth of possible applications in the rapidly emerging fields of spatial history and spatial humanities; D) A 'virtual map room' allowing a highly diversified community of users to perform the searches and map analyses adapted to their individual requirements.

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  • Research Project

Virtual technology for resilient fortification heritage (VIRTUAFORT). 02/06/2021 - 31/07/2022

Abstract

The VirtuaFort project is building a Virtual Reality application that includes Fort Lillo and its immediate surroundings. Hereby, a historically correct 3D-reconstruction of the fort in the 17th century is brought to life by means of immersive technology. At the same time, various storylines will be linked to the fortress, in order to enthuse both inhabitants and local and sustainable tourism about this unique location. The VR application will also make it possible to switch between the past, the present and the future plans for the fortress. The application will be launched publicly in early 2022, after which a possible expansion towards other sites will be investigated.

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  • Research Project

Exploring the potential of digital historical maps for landscape history: crowdsourcing the Arenberg historical map collection. 01/04/2021 - 31/03/2022

Abstract

For a long time historical maps have been cherished as objects of great value and beauty, illustrating the evolving representation of the world, cities and (rural) landscapes. Recently, they tend to be seen as more than mere illustrations. Up until now, however, preparing historical maps and building spatial databases of directly deductible information to allow the use of these maps as primary sources for fundamental research, was a very labor-intensive process. This is caused mainly by the necessity of two time-consuming preparatory steps that have to be undertaken to (pre-)process historical maps: 1) the georectification (overlay of historical maps with present-day situation) and 2) the spatial annotation of toponyms (transcription and localisation of place names). Grasping the full opportunities of the recently started close FED-tWIN-co-operation between the History Department of the University of Antwerp and the Belgian State Archives, this project aims to offer an alternative to solve the bottle-neck in the processing and use of digital historical maps: the development of a web-application for crowdsourcing both the georectification and spatial annotation of historical maps. Teaming up with ICT-partner Webmapper, ca. 3.000 high-resolution scanned historical maps from the Arenberg collection, digitized by and held at the Belgian State Archives, will be opened to the 'crowd' in order to establish a spatial database of up to (or over) 100.000 toponyms. Once completed, this database serves a threefold research objective: 1) fundamental research on landscape history based on 'big data of the past', in this case large datasets of toponyms; 2) using local toponyms as a way to include other sources for spatial research and 3) an exploration of the possibilities and limitations of crowdsourcing when scaling-up the research in the coming years.

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Project type(s)

  • Research Project