The Digital Periegesis’s technical environment

Usability and reach are the determining factors behind our choice of how to produce a digital Periegesis, though other important factors like efficiency, sustainability, collaboration and transparency have also played a role. Too often new digital initiatives devote time and money to building bespoke new applications that tend to “reinvent the wheel” or at least duplicate on-going efforts, which also lead to the unwelcome further stratification of resources. We have taken a contrary approach that puts the emphasis on the reuse and extension of data and tools that have already been produced and that have a community around them. Not only does this mean working closely with other groups; the Digital Periegesis will, we believe, greatly benefit from being located within a landscape of like-minded resources, as well as enabling us to concentrate on meeting the aims of our project.

There are three key background elements to our digital exploration of Pausanias. First, we use the text of the Periegesis from the Perseus Classical Library (specifically from their newly-launched Scaife viewer, recently reviewed for the Society of Classical Studies here). We use two forms of the text: its plaintext format for the English translation, and the TEI text for the Greek. While the translation of Pausanias is out-dated and not entirely satisfactory, both of these texts are openly licensed (in CC-BY) for reuse. For us, the benefits of being able to take the text and (re)use it as the basis for digital analysis far outweighs other considerations (such as of accuracy of contemporary English idiom), particularly when we are focused on analysing specific features within it, i.e. the category of place and other spatial concepts. (For similar comments on using the Perseus text of Herodotus, see Barker et al. 2010.)

The second key element is the platform in and with which we explore the text itself, the open-source Web-based platform Recogito developed by Pelagios. Recogito enables the user to easily upload texts (as well as images and tables), which can then be marked up with additional information, primarily about the places mentioned. Using a global network of gazetteers such as Pleiades (which covers the ancient world), Recogito enables the user to not only identify a character string such as “A-t-h-e-n-s” as a place, but also then to align that reference to an appropriate authority file, so that one, for example, can disambiguate between the “Athens” of Pausanias’s period and “Athens, Georgia” the hometown of the band REM. This is done by using what are known as Uniform Resource Identifiers, or URIs, essentially “social security numbers” for places, which allow them to be disambiguated from each other. The URI for classical Athens, for example, is 579885, or, giving the full web address:

Third, and following on from this: semantic annotation in Recogito conforms to a Linked Open Data model for connecting online resources. The two-step process of annotation noted above—where one asserts that a character string in the document represents a place entity and then aligns that reference to the global authority gazetteer on that place—enables the creation of a data format known as RDF, which is one of the outputs that Recogito produces. This means that by working on Pausanias in Recogito we will be able to connect our Digital Periegesis to other resources that hold information about the places referenced in the text. So, for example, if we use the Pleiades URI for Athens for references to this place in Pausanias, we will then be able to link to other resources that do the same. (For a prototype application of what a linked data ecosystem might look like, see Pelagios’s Peripleo search tool and the report on its use by Chiara Palladino here.) This will, in turn, enable the comparison of Pausanias’s deep description of various sites (the Athenian Agora, or Corinth, for example) to the archaeological data found there and the plans of them produced in modern research.

As part of a growing community, Recogito currently has c.3,000 regular users, who have produced c.1.90 million annotations. Having uploaded our different versions of Pausanias’s ten books to Recogito to work on directly, we are currently creating semantic annotations to do with place which essentially treats the text itself as a database of information. If you would like to check on our progress, our documents are open to read, both the plaintext English version and the Greek TEI version. Better still, contact us and get involved!