Fabrice DUBERTRET, CNRS, France
Over the last decades, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) became central to many scientific disciplines. However, the use of GIS to offer a spatial turn to digital humanities, and more specifically history, comes with pitfalls to overcome with appropriate methods and procedures. This presentation gives a geographer’s perspective and feedback on the conception of the EGYlandscape Historical GIS (HGIS), exploring the evolution of Egypt’s landscapes since the XIIIth century through the association and spatialization of multiple ancient cartographic and textual sources.
Firstly, a recurrent issue faced by such initiative comes with the seldom seen digital humanist combining technical knowledge and historical expertise, both equally essential for appropriate HGIS conception. This calls for setting a common ground to transdisciplinarily approach projects where all technical, geographical and historical needs are met from data collection, through geodatabase design and querying, and to dynamic cartographic rendering.
A second issue rises with the critical aspect of toponymy in historical mapping. When place names are often renamed throughout centuries, as territories are successively constructed over the same spaces, historical geographic indexes (or gazetteers) need to include such temporal evolution, thus facing the challenges of transcribing linear textual sources into non-linear relational databases.
Last but not least, while GIS can offer a new and innovative perspective on historical data exploration and spatial analysis, this tool confronts intrinsic incompatibilities with history as a discipline. The exact nature of GIS, which deals with precise location and fixed boundaries, often falls short in representing the relative nature of historical knowledge as it hardly leaves space for the uncertainty associated with ancient sources.
This calls for a reconception of GIS to better fit its use in Historical Geography or, at least, for critical and informed designs of HGIS.
Mots clés : Geographic Information Systems|Historical Geography|Evolutive toponymy|Critical design|Transdisciplinarity