Changing Geographical Names as a Challenge for Research and Gazetteer Management. Expectations and Perspectives for Future Development

Workshop, 09.–11.09.2019, Herder Institute, Marburg

Christian Lotz (Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe),
Francis Harvey (Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography)

Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe, Marburg/Germany, Lecture Hall (Vortragssaal)

In the course of history, geographical names (places, settlements, regions, etc.), as well as administrative entities (districts, countries), have changed many times. In several regions of the world, geographical names are the subject of heated debate, since some names express political or territorial claims.

While printed gazetteers have gone out of fashion, in recent years, various disciplines have been contributing data in an increasing amount related to place names through the creation of multiple digital gazetteers. The increased number of gazetteers reflects the high demand for this structured data in various disciplines, such as history, geography, archaeology, climate change research etc. However, existing gazetteers demonstrate great variation in content and metadata structure. These variations prove a severe hindrance to research that aims to compare data from different databases.

In 2019, researchers from the Herder Institute, the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography in Leipzig and the Justus Liebig University Giessen have started work on a project exploring the content and metadata structure of existing gazetteers. The project is financed by the Leibniz Association. The project team will bring together historians, geographers and computer scientists. With a focus, as the project signals "The Challenge of Developing Geodata-Based Gazetteer Research Technologies and Methods" we would like to take the opportunity of this workshop to address central questions for the future developments of gazetteers through an international network of scientists that this project helps create. For the first project workshop we identify four areas to structure these contributions:

  • How can we analyse both analogue and digital gazetteers?
  • How can we address both technical and conceptual issue and contribute to standardisation?
  • What are the goals for a novel and innovative Gazetteer-Tool?
  • Which structural and content analysis functionality should a Gazetteer-Tool support for the near future?

The workshop is open for guests. If you want to participate, please send an e-mail to and register until August 30, 2019. In addition, we can assist guests to find appropriate hotel accommodation in Marburg.


September 9, 2019

13:30-14:00 Welcome (Coffee and refreshments)

14:00-14:15 Christian Lotz (Herder Institute) / Francis Harvey (Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography): Introduction

14:15-14:25 Eric Losang (Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography): General aspects of toponomy in cartography
14:25-14:45 Discussion

14:45-14:55 Bent Ahrens (Herder Institute): Linking entities between gazetteers
14:55-15:05 Grigori Chlesberg (Herder Institute): Exploration of toponyms in East Central Europe
15:05-15:25 Discussion

15:25-15:40 Break

15:40-15:50 Daniel Nyangweso (Eötvös Loránd University [ELTE] Budapest): Open source data and technologies in gazetteer service development
15:50-16:00 Ahmed Shams (University of Oxford): On-and-off the Maps: Geographical Names in Sinai Peninsula and the Middle East
16:00-16:10 Malak Alsli (Eötvös Loránd University [ELTE] Budapest): Transliteration in attempt to avoid the intricacy of the Maghreb’s toponymy
16:10-16:30 Discussion

16:30-16:50 Break

16:50-17:00 Andreas Weber (State Archive of Baden-Württemberg Stuttgart): Approaches to persistent identification of geographical entities in the project GND4C
17:00-17:10 Pier-Giorgio Zaccheddu, Jörgen Spradau (Federal Agency for Cartography and Geodesy Frankfurt/Main): An Open Regional Gazetteer for Europe - challenges and opportunities
17:10-17:30 Discussion

19:00 Dinner

September 10, 2019

09:15-09:45 Welcome (Coffee and refreshments)

09:45-09:55 Vít Voženílek (Palacky University, Olomouc), Zdeněk Stachoň (Masaryk University, Brno): Czech geonames and related gazetteers issues
09:55-10:05 Zsolt Bereczky (Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca): Street name changes and historical monuments in the Transylvanian town of Târgu Mureș
10:05-10:25 Discussion

10:25-10:35 Break

10:35-10:45 Tomasz Panecki (University of Warsaw): Localities in cartography
10:45-10:55 Wiesława Duży (Polish Academy of Sciences): Localities in written source
10:55-11:05 Bogumił Szady (Polish Academy of Sciences): ontoHGIS
11:05-11:30 Discussion

11:30-12:00 Introduction of Work Groups around four project themes (For details, see below)

12:00-13:00 Break (lunch)

13:00-16:30 Group work (Coffee etc. available around 14:30)
16:30-17:30 Presentations from the work groups and discussion

19:00 Dinner

September 11, 2019

09:15-09:45 Welcome (Coffee and refreshments)

09:45-10:00 Overview of work group activities
10:00-11:15 Group work (Coffee etc. available around 10:30)
11:15-12:00 Presentations from the work groups and discussion
12:00-12:15 Next steps
12:15 Conclusion of workshop

Group Work Organisation

The four work areas correspond to project work packages:

1) How can we analyse both analogue and digital gazetteers? What should be done to improve researchers’ access and use of digital resources? How should expertise support new user groups and new historiographic methodologies? What are the opportunities and challenges for current work with gazetteers of Central Europe that an online platform should address? To what extent are existing analogue and digital methods compatible, and how do they match up (or not)?

2) How can we address both technical and conceptual issue and contribute to standardisation? How were analogue gazetteers managed? What can we learn from this? How can we apply it to the management of digital gazetteers? How can we draw on this expertise to support digital access to gazetteers, especially among novel research methodologies? To what extent do these existing gazetteers vary regarding structures and methods for allocating/assigning geographical places and coordinates? What ‚functionality‘ should the web-based Gazetteer Tool support?

3) What are the goals for a novel and innovative Gazetteer-Tool? Between the focus on metadata structure and quantitative analysis, and the methodological historical focus on qualitative study of power-knowledge, what goals should a new and integrative Gazetteer-Tool strive to support? How can the tool account for known differences (languages, spelling and administrative changes) and unknown differences over time that impact gazetteers? How should curation and institutional aspects (sustainability, archival requirements, etc.) be taken into consideration?

4) Which structural and content analysis functionality should a Gazetteer-Tool for the near future support? Which metadata structures are used in existing gazetteers and what features do they provide? Which features do they lack? What would a “best practice” metadata structure look like? What are the indicators in regard to structure (semantics, description of metadata) and content (reliability of assignment between place names and coordinates) to support scientific analysis?

The circa 20 workshop participants will be split into four equal-size groups in each group work time slot (Tuesday 13:00-16:30 and Wednesday 09:45-11:00). For the second time slot the group memberships can be revised. The new groups provide a way to take up matters of interest that individual participants in their group could at best only tangent in the first group work session.


Project details:

Dariusz Gierczak
Herder-Institut für historische Ostmitteleuropaforschung –
Institut der Leibniz-Gemeinschaft
Gisonenweg 5-7
35037 Marburg
+49 6421 184-195