Technical Essay

Fordham’s Center for Medieval Studies developed “Exploring Place in the French of Italy” in three stages: Data Collection, Map Visualization, and Website Creation. This page details each step and describes the programs and platforms we used to create EPFOI.

Stage 1: Data Collection

The first stage of EPFOI, Data Collection, was completed in four steps. First, we examined the printed index of each selected text to compile a list of place names mentioned in the edition. We did this manually to ensure that we had properly identified a place name, rather than a person’s name or another non-place name. In some instances, the edition had no index but the text itself was so short (such as Chanson du Roi de Sicile), we simply skimmed the text for place names and included them in our data.

Second, we used digital gazetteers, or geographical directories, to identify modern locations that might correspond to each of the place names found in the index. Our preferred gazetteers were Geonames.org and Geohack, which is the gazetteer developed by Wikipedia.[1] After locating the corresponding name and place, we copied the latitude and longitude assigned to each locale and inserted the coordinates into our datasheets.

Third, we scanned our texts electronically and uploaded the images into ABBYY FineReader, a type of optical character recognition (OCR) software. ABBYY FineReader allowed us to convert the scanned images, of each text into a different text format, called a plain text file.

Finally, we used the freeware program AntConc to determine the number of occurrences of each location in the plain text file. AntConc searches plain text for instances of a string of characters (i.e. the place name) and creates a concordance to aid textual analysis. We then added the number of occurrences to our datasheets.

Stage 2: Map Visualizations

After we collected the data and inserted into our datasheets, we used the mapping platform CartoDB to present our information geographically. CartoDB is a web mapping tool built on open-source software that is offered as a “freemium” service, meaning it is free for accounts up to a certain size. CartoDB users can upload datasheets or connect them to their account and manipulate the code to display the perfect map. Once a visualization (map) is created, it can be published via the url or embedded into a website via an iframe, available through the “Publish” button in the upper right hand corner. We have chosen the embedding option, placing the iframe for each visualization in the HTML code for the corresponding profile page on Omeka.

Stage 3: Website Creation

EPFOI is built on Omeka, a free open-source platform initially created to curate online exhibits. We created each page of EPFOI in the “Exhibits” plugin, using HTML to format each page. Some pages, such as the profile pages and the “Download Our Data” page, include downloadable datasheets that can be shared via the “Items” plugin Omeka. Items are cataloged by the Dublin Core Metadata standards and allow for documents, images, and other media to be displayed on Omeka websites.

For an in depth step-by-step guide to the technical work of EPFOI, please visit our codebook.

[1] Geohack is accessible through the Wikipedia entries for different locations by clicking on the coordinates in the upper left corner of a place’s page.