Proposal for Leipzig meeting, 4-5 April, 2019

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Bogumił Szady
Proposal for Leipzig meeting, 4-5 April, 2019

It would be great to work on the types of the territorial political and administrative units in European history. As Francesco Beretta noticed here it is not easy task. In my opinion, the basic problem lies in the lack of uniform criteria that define and designate such units. The most important concept here will be the category of territorial sovereignty. In the history of political units there are several models: medieval, postwestphalian, neo-medieval etc. The literature of the subject is quite extensive here. In my opinion, it will be a key evolution from the political units as patrimonial entities (feudal) to administrative and modern states as objects of international law. For this reason, I believe that it is necessary to start with easier elements, for which there are already international regulations, that is after the Congress of Vienna 1815. Then we can continue with more difficult early modern and medieval entities. 

On the other hand I have my personal experience with religious and confessional territorial units in historical context. I could share my taxonomies and classifications relating to the history of religious groups and denominations in East Central Europe, especially in early modern times.

To sum up I see a short list of topics important for international collaboration and discussion, all in the context of spatial history:

  1. Types of territorial political and administrative units
  2. Types of territorial confessional and denominational units
  3. Types of localities and settlements units (optional, perhaps as a separate task)

As I wrote, I will be happy to contribute to such a work. I hope that we will be able to set up a working group in Leipzig. It would be great to have partners from different parts of Europe. We should start with collecting information about existing or functioning ontologies, taxonomies or controlled vocabularies related to these topics. As far as I know there are few documents or articles dedicated to this problem. One of them is QVIZ project, especially one of the documents: Administrative Unit Ontology Report and Schema D3.2. Another interesting proposal was prepared as thesis in Switzerland in 2010 (Felix Gantner), then published as an article in Transactions in GIS. The next examples we can use as a starting point of our discussion are models used in TGN and ADL (categories: administrative divisions, political areas, populated places). Apart from this there are many list of types without clear, descriptive or structural form, for instance – Another way is to start with general and contemporary well disseminated structures and taxonomies like wikidata, dbpedia or and to discuss how historical territorial entities and localities are presented in these collections. If you are interested in these topic(s), this kind of problems and possible collaboration, place your comment in forum or write an e-mail.


While I am very interested in the topic and have brought it up in the other thread, I must confess that I am (by far!) no expert in this area. So I am eager to join the discussions and learn about practices and even more aspects of the problem, but I am not so certain that I can contribute very much out of my own expertise and experience.

That being said, I would think that, at the moment, and up to now, information such as taxonomies and repertories of such administrative units most often are by-products of projects that actually have other goals. We have at least two databases in our institute that immediately come to my mind and that concern very different regions (but overlapping timespans), that each have had to build lists of such units for "technical reasons". The same seems to hold for a project called the Corpus Synodalium who have published their repertory of French local ecclesiastical legislation as a standalone dataset, and it probably also holds for many more projects.

Due to this character of being "instrumental" or technical by-products, I assume that it is quite difficult to find such information, since the projects' communication and "advertising" rarely are going to emphasize these resources that they have. Therefore I wonder if we should at some point (probably rather later, when there is a more solid working group who could process such submissions) issue a kind of "Call for repertories", complementing our working from a "top-down" perspective, i.e. beginning from ontologies and norm databases.

Or do you think that doing so, we would risk running into a chaos that cannot really be handled well?

Bogumił Szady
CfR and not only....

I think it's a very good idea. I also do not know many collections that approach this problem in an orderly (theoretically and practically) manner. However, I know a lot of resources that use categories of settlements and administrative units in an instrumental way, for example: historical-geographical dictionaries, historical atlases etc..

I think that CfR is one of the ways. I would add the second element, i.e. direct call for cooperation to selected persons and institutions. The conference of historical geographers in Warsaw has shown that in many countries such groups or researches exist.

I do not know just whether to start this gathering of people and projects now, or only after the conference in Leipzig after the discussion. I think we can wait until April and as we determine at the meeting basic content then we can think together who can be invited to cooperate.

Call for vocabulaires and creating a SIG

I think we should discuss in Leipzig, starting from the points you both make, how to create a network of interested researchers in  these aspects. Several options are possible and complementary. We can start from ONTOHGIS vocabulary, import it into some collaborative tool (OntoME with the advantage of project-based rights management ?) , and then try to promote the cration of a community of specialists around this issue. We can also start from the Getty vocabulary: see here a visualization of the vocabulary of place types of this project. (it's a huge radial graph, go down to the right to fint it on the given URL). And definitly we should start asking projects and colleagues we know if they'd like to participate in this project.

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