Vincent Ducatteeuw: Developing an urban gazetteer: modelling historical platial information

This talk presents early results on the development of an urban gazetteer useful for Spatial Humanities. The digital gazetteer can store historical place information and is designed with the CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model (CRM) as the upper-level ontology. In accordance with the FAIR approach, the gazetteer data is available as Linked Open Data and can be queried using (Geo)SPARQL.

This lecture is divided into five parts, each focusing on key aspects about the gazetteer development. Gazetteers are commonly understood as geographical dictionaries disambiguating places by providing unique descriptions. These dictionaries often take the form of tables listing platial information such as, place name, type and geographical location for each place. Popular examples used in Digital Humanities include, among others, World Historical Gazetteer and Pleiades. These digital gazetteers often act as knowledge organization tools (KOS) structuring historical data. However, some research is in need of more granular gazetteers that focus on intra-city places.

The first part of this lecture introduces Collective Action Belgium, a research project concentrated on the spatial dynamics of collective action in Belgium. The project exemplifies how spatial historical research can benefit from gazetteers. The research questions of Collective Action Belgium are discussed and contextualized within the broader field of Spatial History.
This section is followed by a brief overview on the use and evolution of gazetteers within the Humanities. Necessary considerations regarding gazetteers and the concept of place are especially highlighted. One of the unresolved questions when dealing with place is formalizing the concept in the context of database management. The urban gazetteer uses a place concept as defined by humanistic geographer Yi-fu Tuan and related scholars.

In the third part of this lecture, the semantic data model of the urban gazetteer is explored. In Spatial Humanities the Linked Places Format is becoming a de facto standard for structuring historical Linked Open Geodata. The urban gazetteer mirrors the structure of Linked Places in order to ease interoperability with other gazetteers, but is defined using the CIDOC CRM ontology. The CRM ontology is chosen because of the availability of classes and properties useful in modelling event data, which will be necessary for Collective Action Belgium. Special attention goes to CRMgeo, a CIDOC CRM extension that introduced the class Spacetime Volume, which can be used to document the extent of a place in spacetime. To increase the understandability of the data model the integration of historical street information will be discussed.

The fourth part of this lecture focuses on the practical implementation of the gazetteer and explains the workflow for processing historical sources. How data can be accessed and queried is visualized with some GeoSPARQL queries executed on gazetteer data.

Lastly, the final part of this talk discusses the current challenges in further developing the gazetteer. Attempting to integrate the urban gazetteer in two ongoing projects revealed necessary improvements which include: developing a semi-automatic place disambiguation method, the creation of a semi-automatic workflow for historical maps and the possibility to model different assertions.

Lecture within the Data for History Lectures series
Time: Wednesday, 12 January  2022, 4.15-5.45 pm
Place: via Zoom  – Request access via email (

More information

Related projects

Beitragsbild: Gérard, P, and V Corvillain. Plan Parcellaire De La Ville De Gand Et Une Partie De Sa Banlieue . . . D’après Les Plans Cadastraux, Revisés Par L. Gérard. [Gand: P. Gérard, 1855.]
(Provided by Ghent University Library, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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Digital History Berlin (Redaktion) (2022, 10. Januar). Vincent Ducatteeuw: Developing an urban gazetteer: modelling historical platial information. Digital History Berlin. Abgerufen am 20. Juni 2024, von

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