Panel: Maps to the past. Open digital approaches to the investigation of historical maps.
LAD, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy
The Alan Turing Institute, London, United Kingdom
Historical maps have always been a precious source of information both for archaeologists and historians. Archaeologists have been both consumers of maps, in search for information about ever changing landscapes due to urbanisation and exploitation of the natural resources, and producers, documenting digs, expeditions and findspots. Historians, on the other hand, look at historical maps as primary sources, able to highlight several aspects of the social and cultural life at the time the maps were drafted. Cartographers and semioticians too, explore historical maps to better understand how the ways in which we represent space has been changing through time. Last, due to their communicative effectiveness and their value as triggers of personal and familiar memories, old maps have always been of great interest also to the eyes of the general public.
It is not surprising, then, that all major libraries are investing into digitising their map collections and making them accessible to the audience. Maps, though, are very complex objects, and the results of their digitisation (and datification) are complex, multi-layered, and change depending on who is performing them. Different theoretical frameworks lead to different methodological approaches: GIS-oriented approaches, based on georeferencing old maps against contemporary Earth data, have in the last years been expanded by semantic approaches and pushed towards new horizons by the introduction of machine learning applications.
In this panel, we would like to discuss the new role that open-source technologies are allowing for historical maps, in all humanities disciplines but especially in archaeology. Thanks to the contribution of different speakers, from academia and cultural heritage, we will explore different approaches and case studies, ranging from semantic enrichment, computer vision, and the use of crowd-sourcing platforms. The contributions, and the following debate, will highlight how the digitisation of these resources is only the first step of a rich workflow, that also requires solid methodological frameworks, open data policies, shared standards, and efficient metadata management.