Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Place Based Computing, Pleiades, and other mapping stuff

William J. Turkel has been active in the field of "Digital History." One aspect of his work that has caught my attention is "Place-Based Computing." He is not really working with biblical history at all, but read how he describes his work, and think of how it might apply to work in locations associated with biblical events.

The convergence of handheld computing devices and GPS receivers makes it possible to augment any place with layers of digital information. This is place-based computing. It has the potential to radically change the way that we experience places and understand the past.

All of our research projects start from the premise that places are archives, and that by studying places it is possible to reconstruct past events. Some of this work is archival in a traditional sense, and builds on work in microhistory, the history of science and environmental history. Some is methodological, aimed at developing new techniques for extracting information from representations of places or from places themselves. Some is public history, designed to be presented to the public in the places that are being interpreted.
Quoting from the work of Schuyler Erle, Rich Gibson and Jo Walsh in Mapping Hacks: Tips and Tools for Electronic Cartography (Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly, 2005),
Imagine a world in which we can move about physical places, accessing not only what is stored in our brains but also multiple layers of information that have previously been inaccessible ...

Invisible layers of information that are arguably already implicitly available in the people and objects in a landscape will become visible and explicit. The relationship of physical and virtual objects will become obvious as well. We’ll be able to use a variety of devices to tap into geocoded text, images, media, and maps. Tags will link nearby objects to a universe of commentary on their history, value, safety, and meaning. Suddenly, any point in space will be able to be annotated, and those annotations aggregated.
Now think about what your next trip to Israel, Turkey, or Greece might be like with this kind of information available. I'm guessing we will be accessing such info using cell phones, PDAs, or netbook type devices, but it sounds as if the future will involve something more along the lines of holographic displays that can be toggled on/off. I.e., rather than interacting via a device, we will be able to interface more directly with the environment. The blending/confusion of real/virtual continues...

BTW, I regret that I forget the person's name whom I met at the Boston SBL (who teaches at a college in Wisconsin?), but he had a great idea on leading a trip for students to Turkey. Armed with GPS devices, they would try to locate roads from the biblical period and provide precise data in a field that is rather lacking.

And finally, the Pleiades Project...
... gives scholars, students and enthusiasts worldwide the ability to use, create and share historical geographic information about the Greek and Roman World.
Pleiades is a joint project of the AWMC Ancient World Mapping Center, the Stoa Consortium for Electronic Publication in the Humanities and the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. It brings together a global community of scholars, students and enthusiasts to expand and enhance continually the information originally assembled by the Classical Atlas Project (1988-2000) to support the publication of the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World (R.J.A. Talbert, ed., Princeton, 2000). Our name, "Pleiades" (the daughters of Atlas in Greek Mythology) reflects both this heritage and the forward-looking goal of collaborative diversification.
If you simply want to check out what is available, start here at the "Places" section. Keep in mind that this is work in progress, so you won't find every location, and it is based with classical and not biblical interests in mind. I found this KML file of all the ancient places in Pleiades which will open in Google Earth, and you will see that that the main work has been done in what is now south central Turkey and northern Libya. It is an ambitious project that is cataloging places, place types (e.g., bridge, temple, spring), names, and time periods. There is bibliographical data provided with references to the Barrington and other atlases, latitude/longitude info, and sometimes a KML link for Google Earth or the inclusion on the page of a Google Map. Here are some biblical locations I checked: Perga in Acts 13:13, Attalea in Acts 14:25, Patara in Acts 21:21, and Myra in Acts 27:4.

There is also some info available on the wiki where work is ongoing, and a little poking around and a few clicks down the line turned up some interesting stuff.

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