Pelagios 4: studying the places of our past through the Early Geospatial Documents that refer to them

Lead Research Organisation: Open University
Department Name: Classical Studies


Being able to link - to go from one document to another - is one of the great facilitating features of the World Wide Web. It is how you are able to find out more about or get a different perspective on something that interests you at the click of a mouse. But how are these linkages enabled? Since 2011 Pelagios ( has been developing the means of linking independently created and hosted online resources together via their common references to place. This Linked Open Data approach essentially means: (i) having your document (whether that is a text, image, map or database, etc.) openly online; (ii) annotating ('tagging') all place references in the metadata that underlies your online document; and (iii) aligning those references to a Web-based gazetteer service that provides a unique global identifier (i.e. a unique code number) for individual places in the world. These annotations collectively form a Web-based network connecting documents to places and thus to one another. By these means, Pelagios has been playing a crucial role in creating a World Wide Web of antiquity, whereby scholars, students, cultural heritage providers or general enthusiasts can not only make their resources more discoverable and usable, but also enable others to find out about the cities of antiquity and explore the rich interconnections between them.

Pelagios 4 builds on this essential infrastructural work to reflect on 5 key moments in the story of the history of geographic representation. In the pre-modern European and Mediterranean world (i.e. before the discovery of the Americas), geographic space was represented in a variety of ways - computational measurements of early Greek and Latin literature; accounts of sea voyages in the Mediterranean and Black Sea; itineraries of land routes in the Late Roman Empire; seafaring maps of coastlines from mediaeval Europe; and mediaeval pilgrimage literature. This project focuses on these sources and their contexts in order to identify and explore the many different ways in which the world was viewed and understood, before the development of standardizing global cartographic conventions (such as the Mercator projection) that followed the European discovery of the Americas in 1492. Taken together, these sources provide invaluable testimony to lost ways of thinking about the world that may serve to challenge our standardized image, which, if anything, has become even more dominant in the age of Google Maps and Google Earth. Yet, previously the study of Early Geospatial Documents has suffered from the difficulty of accessing the sources (particularly old maps) and finding information about places buried deep in lengthy texts. Due to digitization efforts, it is now possible to access these different kinds of information; and, thanks to Pelagios, these materials can now be easily linked together and aggregated, enabling texts to be read against other types of source (maps, archaeological data, etc.) and vice versa.

Using the enriched context that Pelagios's Linked Open Data provides to these Early Geospatial Documents, Pelagios 4 will work with expert scholars to bring out the distinctive contribution of each type of document to the development of geospatial knowledge production from antiquity through to the mediaeval period. In particular we will be keen to address the continuities and discontinuities in conceptions of geographic space, the comparison of these ancient witnesses to the archaeological record, and the difference between textual and pictorial representation of space.

Planned Impact

To date, Pelagios has shown itself to be interesting to a variety of parties beyond academia:
- Content sharers: Pelagios partners a number of institutions beyond Higher Education, including the British Museum, the British Library, The International Association for Classical Archaeology (AIAC) and the American Numismatic Society.
- News organizations: Pelagios has been featured in a variety of online news outlets including The Guardian, Russia Today and El Pais (Uruguay).
- Online portals: The online Spanish language classics portal Portal Clásico described the Pelagios interface as "the closest thing we've ever experienced to going back in time and knowing the landscape as it was in Antiquity" (
- The Pelagios Team has provided consultation on Linked Open Data approaches to cultural heritage for a variety of organizations including the German Archaeological Institute, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, the Getty Conservation Institute, the World Monuments Fund, the Linked Ancient World Data Institute, English Heritage, the British Library, the British Museum, Ordnance Survey, and Wikidata.
- Private individuals: There have been multiple expressions of interest from the general public worldwide, either to join our network ( or to volunteer to help build our annotations.

The reasons for this interest are varied:
- Value Addition: Resource Providers are able to enrich and contextualise their content more easily.
- Discovery: Resource providers are more likely to be found due to increased number of incoming links.
- Serendipity: users are more likely to encounter related content by chance, without having originally sought it.
- The Pleasure principle: many users (and the Pelagios team) enjoy playing with Pelagios data and finding new and unexpected patterns within it.
- Cultural connections: The wide geographic breadth, visual appeal, and emphasis on thehistoric transience of borders, along with a limited emphasis English text, make Pelagios relevant to people from a very wide (and increasing) range of countries, and encourage them to reconsider the world without contemporary borders.

Pelagios 4 will continue to work with these partners in enabling teachers, students, policy makers, memory institutions and general enthusiasts to benefit more directly from our digital data and tools and to explore the ancient and pre-modern worlds in new and exciting ways. These benefits operate on multiple levels. The ability to spatially locate people, places and events is extremely important for the comprehension of almost any ideas about historical development: Pelagios 4 will facilitate this process by allowing non-specialist or technical users (other researchers, teachers, students or the general enthusiast) to see how individual accounts refer to specific places, in contrast to the high level synthetic overviews typically found in secondary literature, whether written or drawn for a scholarly or lay audience.

At a deeper level the graph of connections between such sources will allow users to discover contextualizing related material. Because Linked Open Data is Web based, such resources are instantly accessible, reducing the barriers to entry which currently impede public engagement. This will be of significant benefit to Content Providers hosting EGDs who should not only see a rise in traffic but, by tracing its source, will be able to show directly its value within academic research. Content providers hosting data related to the places referred to in EGDs should also see increased use as users 'explore' the data. Policy makers, such as JISC, will benefit from several concrete examples of how Linked Open Data can be used to support the Arts and Humanities. Public agencies like Ordnance Survey will benefit from real use cases of spatial indexing and querying.
Description By enabling the linking and study of the invaluable space and place information contained by or related to early geospatial documents, the linked data network Pelagios offers a new way of thinking about how ancient or pre-modern authors used various means to grasp, represent and communicate spatial knowledge of the world around them.
Exploitation Route Pelagios has already demonstrated how a lightweight technical approach (linked data) can help transform a range of Humanities disciplines, from Classics to History and English. Its basic structure - linking digital documents through their references to places - can and *as been* be extended to other entities, such as people (see and periods (
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description We hosted a two-day workshop at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, involving the Pelagios team and people from the cultural heritage sector, including both museums (the Fitzwilliam, the British Museum, the Ure Museum) and web developers (e.g., We also met with similar representatives in Athens last year, including the British and American Schools in Athens and
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

Description Europeana Research Workshop "Using European Infrastructures for Humanities research: Scoping Content, Tools and Users"
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Description Europeana Research, workshop on Tools, Services and Content Priorities in Archaeology and the Classics
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Description Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Amount $770,000 (USD)
Organisation Andrew W. Mellon Foundation 
Sector Private
Country United States
Start 01/2016 
End 12/2017
Description Open Humanities Awards
Amount € 7,000 (EUR)
Organisation Open Knowledge Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2014 
End 12/2014
Description Scholarly Communications and Information Technology (Pelagios Commons)
Amount $500,000 (USD)
Organisation Andrew W. Mellon Foundation 
Sector Private
Country United States
Start 02/2016 
End 01/2019
Title Pelagios mapping tiles 
Description Pelagios map tiles depict notable place names (settlements, regions and physical features) against a high resolution topography for a range of historical periods. They are released under open license for use in other applications and services, providing a contextual backdrop for historical data. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2012 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The Pelagios mapping tiles for the ancient Roman Empire have been picked up by many user communities: - - - - 
Title Peripleo search map 
Description Peripleo is a map-based search engine for exploring data annotated by the Pelagios community. Its user interface allows for free browsing as well as keyword and full-text search, while offering filtering options based on time, data source and object type. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2015 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Peripleo is now being used by over 20 institutional groups for discovering information in the Pelagios Linked Open Data network 
Title Recogito: an annotation tool 
Description Recogito is a Web-based tool that makes it easy to identify and record the places referred to in historical texts, maps and tables. Recogito has features dedicated to both stages of the annotation workflow: i) a geotagging area, for identifying place names in digital texts, tabular documents or high-resolution maps; ii) a georesolving area, for mapping those place names to a global gazetteer, supported by an automated suggestion system. Recogito also provides basic features for cataloguing and managing documents and their metadata, as well as viewing annotations, usage statistics and bulk-downloading annotation data. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact It's now being used by over 20 individuals or groups in order to annotate "place" information in texts, maps or databases, including mediaeval maps held by the British Library