Resources, Tools & Methods For Historic Place Name Analysis – Report

JISC last year supported a workshop looking into the issues related to creating, exploiting and sustaining gazeeteers of UK place names. It was hosted by the Institute for Name Studies at the University of Nottingham, and organised by Professor Lorna Hughes (now of the National Library of Wales) and Dr Paul Ell (Queen’s University Belfast)

The report is available to download here.

The discoveries of the workshop were

  • Current contemporary place‐name gazetteers are not fit for purpose in linking historical resources. They lack chronological depth and do not attempt comprehensively to record variant place‐names. Spatio‐temporal gazetteers should link to contemporary gazetteers but cannot be seen as merely an extension of existing resources.
  • England is unique in the British Isles in that through the work of the English Place‐Names Survey a very comprehensive analogue historical gazetteer exists. Interim findings from the CHALICE Project indicate that EPNS content can be digitised using optical character recognition software and the content restructured to form an electronic gazetteer. The development of a gazetteer will be a significant and costly undertaking but, reflecting close to 80‐years of detailed archival work by EPNS which directly records place‐name variants from a large variety of historical sources, such a project represents very good value for money.
  • For Ireland, Scotland and Wales nothing approaching the comprehensiveness of EPNS exists although place‐name work is taking place. Here it would be desirable to access current work and augment this with readily available place‐name lists. For Ireland a key source is likely to be the Census which from 1861 publishes a hierarchical gazetteer for townlands. With 60,000 townlands listed this in itself provides significant content. For Wales and Scotland, Vision of Britain provides a growing number of place‐names. Separate, but interlinked, projects for each country would most likely attract funding. The extensiveness of a gazetteer will depend on the ingestion of existing digital content (which for Ireland is significant), the work of place‐name scholars to interlink variant names over time, and crowd sourcing to further populate and verify the content. A ready crowd sourcing audience is most clearly in place for Ireland reflecting the interest in Irish Studies and the relevance to genealogists reflecting the Irish diaspora.

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