Gazetteers

Before you fold up your map do but look at a place called there Konicepole: (it should be Konietzpol.) . . . it is within 3 miles of the site of Bohopol: whereas it is represented as if at least 20 miles distant. The same error is copied into a Russian map of the province of New Russia . . . . To the left of the Bog you will see a river called Rodeme, with an R; instead of Kodime, with a K, as it should be.

— Jeremy Bentham to Jeremiah Bentham (16 January–21 February 1786)

As Bentham notes, variations and errors in recording the location, form and spelling of placenames can make definite identification almost impossible without help.

The addresses and placenames in the tens of thousands of letters in Electronic Enlightenment — recorded in a dozen languages over a period of more than 200 years — provide a challenging collection of variant forms. These require disambiguation, clarification and identification. The linguistic forms and "tokens" also need etymological cataloguing, so as to demonstrate family groups and relationships along linguistic and historical lines.

Over the coming months, EE's Gazetteer will be populated with data drawn from the correspondences, covering the whole of Europe and numerous places in North and South America, Asia and Africa. In some cases, the data will be precise and certain. In others, inevitably, it will be best represented as a probability cloud. Over time, EE's accumulation of letters and biographical information, along with the application of refined analytical methodologies and technologies, will work to dissipate this "cloud cover". Some locations will become geographical fixed with a high degree of certainty; others may never be clearly identified.

Certainty of geographical location is only one of our goals. Categorical relationships are also of interest: locations recorded in a particular written form may be related by specific temporal or personal links. Associative analysis and plotting will allow users to consider locations as parts of differing semantic constellations.

To get an idea of how geographical data was presented in tabular form in the 18th century, before the word "gazetteer" was widely applied to such gatherings, take a look at the "general diviſions of the habitable earth", taken from the first edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica (1771).

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