Placing Names: Enriching and Integrating Gazetteers

Placing Names: Enriching and Integrating Gazetteers

Placing Names: Enriching and Integrating Gazetteers

Placing Names: Enriching and Integrating Gazetteers


Well before the innovation of maps, gazetteers served as the main geographic referencing system for hundreds of years. Consisting of a specialized index of place names, gazetteers traditionally linked descriptive elements with topographic features and coordinates. Placing Names is inspired by that tradition of discursive place-making and by contemporary approaches to digital data management that have revived the gazetteer and guided its development in recent decades. Adopted by researchers in the Digital Humanities and Spatial Sciences, gazetteers provide a way to model the kind of complex cultural, vernacular, and perspectival ideas of place that can be located in texts and expanded into an interconnected framework of naming history. This volume brings together leading and emergent scholars to examine the history of the gazetteer, its important role in geographic information science, and its use to further the reach and impact of spatial reasoning into the digital age.


The ebb and flow of social life takes place in space. People are always somewhere. Governments claim territory; commerce moves goods between places. But social life also unfolds alone the axis of time. We live in the present, but the organization of places and spaces in which we live change over time; taken in aggregate the social organization of space is remarkably unstable. Places are created but they disappear. Places have names, but those names are not constant, and they are not singular. Named places have locations, but those locations do not stay fixed and the territory they encompass can expand and it can shrink.

We often act on the assumption that the situation at the current moment will last forever. in daily experience we know where we are going and we accommodate the changes in names, locations, and boundaries of the spaces in which we live. the relevance of these changes to us varies depending upon our interests. Although the tax collector pays attention to changes in territory that affect the tax base and the taxee needs to pay attention to the entity to which taxes are owed, few are aware of all the changes that are taking place in the spatial organization of their surroundings. and if one asks not only what has changed but also when it changed, personal experience and memory prove sorely inadequate. and the further into the past we go the harder it is to identify changes. This is of course, why we have authoritative reference works such as gazetteers.

The chapters in this volume are inspired by the view that contemporary gazetteers, whether produced by governments or private efforts, have given scant attention to time as an attribute of space, or to the complex historical and cultural contexts within which places have been named. Taken together they call for enriched gazetteers, consider various models, and propose paths forward. An enriched gazetteer, as this book frames it, is one that includes the best possible information on when changes in place names took place. But this is not quite so simple. Just as the representation of space depends upon scale, so does the identification of points in time. Did it happen on this day? in this year? in this century? What are the many names that a place has had over time? and there are names that refer to imagined places, or places for which the location in time and space is extremely uncertain.

Thus, the complexities of tracking historical place names goes beyond adding a “time element,” such as recording sequences of names used over time for a given feature or locality. From the perspective of historical research, each instance of a historical place name has its provenance: we need to know not just . . .

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