LatAm: A Historical Gazetteer for Latin America and the Caribbean
Introducing LatAm, a collaborative effort to produce a historical gazetteer for Latin America at the end of the eighteenth century.
Early Modern Latin America is still a relatively unexplored geography as far as digital mapping applications are concerned. It is true that some recent initiatives have begun to make inroads into this space: the CAICYT-CONICET project focused on the annotation and mapping of 16th-18th-century Rio de la Plata chronicles with Recogito through in its Pelagios South RDG 2017 phase; LLILAS Benson is currently extracting geographic data from its extensive collection of manuscript descriptions of dioceses and towns in 16th-century New Spain -the Relaciones Geográficas of México and Guatemala– using FromThePage; and there are a number of projects using a range of other digital geo-resources, including Digging into Early Colonial Mexico (University of Lancaster), LOGAR: Linked Open Gazetteer of the Andean Region (Vanderbilt: Steve Wernke), the new Mellon-funded “Enslaved” project, the OpenGazAm project (IISG, Amsterdam), and Werner Stangl’s HGIS de las Indias. Nevertheless, most of these projects are not based in Latin America, while those that are tend not to take a Digital Humanities approach (e.g. La Razón Cartográfica in Colombia or AntropoSIG in México).
What is needed to enable a sea change in the use of digital resources and tools for exploring Early Modern Latin America are reliable and interoperable resources, including gazetteers that are region- and period-specific. Significant historical print gazetteers and maps for Latin America still need to be identified and worked through in order to extract and publish a robust dataset that could significantly address the issue.
LatAm will develop a linked dataset for colonial Latin America, based on two primary sources: Antonio de Alcedo’s Diccionario geográfico-histórico de las Indias Occidentales ó América (1786), a gazetteer describing places within the New World from a Spanish colonial perspective; and George Alexander Thompson’s Geographical and Historical Dictionary of America and the West Indies (1812), an expanded, English-language version of Alcedo’s Diccionario.
The primary goal of the LatAm project is to use Alcedo’s Diccionario to create a generally-useful dataset that can contribute to the emerging linked data network of historical places, including resources such as Pelagios’s Recogito and Peripleo applications and the World Historical Gazetteer. The secondary goal is to develop tools and protocols that will enable scholars working with historical gazetteers to prepare digital editions and GIS datasets from those documents.
Since the announcement of our grant by Pelagios, we have already made substantial progress. Team members from Brumfield Labs and HD CAICYT have conducted evaluations of the quality of available digitizations of both the Spanish and English language versions of Alcedo’s Diccionario, as well as developing protocols for tagging the OCR text. In addition, Brumfield Labs staff have extended the open-source transcription platform FromThePage to encode latitude and longitude attributes for tagged placenames, while World Historical Gazetteer members are nearing completion on a major revision of the Pelagios Gazetteer Interconnection Format.
The most important development, however, is the discovery of scholars working on similar projects and the creation of a community around HGIS for Latin America. Werner Stangl has joined the team, contributing data from his spectacular HGIS de las Indias. This will advance the project substantially, since the HGIS-Indias data provides toponym and administrative hierarchy information that can be straightforwardly converted into PGIF, as well as cleaned and tagged TEI-XML versions of Alcedo’s Diccionario which can be used as the basis for a digital scholarly edition. Werner’s own insights into Alcedo’s text (and indeed his mind-set) provide a valuable context for interpreting historical Latin American sources. Thanks to Werner’s contributions, the team will be able to contribute a PGIF dataset while also focusing on the OCR->PGIF workflow based on Thompson’s expanded and updated version of the text.
We hope that the LatAm project can serve as an example that groups concerned with other region/period combinations will be able to follow, and thereby demonstrate an effective workflow and tool suite for encoding historic gazetteers and producing datasets for use in the Pelagios ecosystem.
Members of this project will teach at the Getting to Grips with Semantic and Geo-annotation using Recogito 2/ Cómo abordar la semántica y la geoanotación con Recogito 2 workshop at this year’s ADHO conference in México. This international gathering represents an ideal opportunity to further extend Pelagios tools in to Latin American DH communities, building on work over the last four years, where Pelagios tools and resources have been presented at and/or used in several events in Spain and Argentina to serve the needs of the Spanish-speaking community. An early version of Recogito was first presented in a workshop form at the First Conference on Digital Humanities of the Argentine Association of Digital Humanities (AAHD) in November 2014 , and again two years later at the First International Congress of the AAHD in Buenos Aires (November 2016). That same year Pelagios funded the project Medieval Iberia (from the 2016 Microgrants scheme), and in 2017 Pelagios funded the aforementioned Pelagios South project.
Our international group is composed of textual scholars, geographers, and technologists from Argentina, Austria, and the United States:
- Gimena del Rio Riande, Nidia Hernández, and Romina De León from CAICYT-CONICET Humanidades Digitales Lab (Argentina)
- Karl Grossner from the World Historical Gazetteer (USA)
- Werner Stangl from HGIS-Indias (Austria)
- Albert Palacios from LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections (USA)
- Ben and Sara Brumfield from Brumfield Labs, principal investigators (USA)