University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > CRASSH > Uncertain Date, Uncertain Place: Interpreting the History of Jewish Communities in the Byzantine Empire using Geographical Information Systems

Uncertain Date, Uncertain Place: Interpreting the History of Jewish Communities in the Byzantine Empire using Geographical Information Systems

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This presentation will examine how uncertain historical data can be used to interpret the history of Jewish communities of the Byzantine Empire in a Geographical Information System (GIS). This research forms part of the ‘Mapping the Jewish Communities of the Byzantine Empire’ project which aims to use a GIS to integrate textual, epigraphic and archaeological evidence. The project is based at the Centre for Advanced Religious and Theological Studies, Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge and funded by the European Research Council (ERC). An important outcome of the project is the creation of an Internet GIS that will disseminate relevant data through a standard web browser.

The economy of the Byzantine Empire influenced the lives of Jews through their involvement in trade. A robust understanding of geography is essential to the interpretation of trade and a GIS approach is an excellent way of examining this influence. Attributes of Jewish communities, such as their location, dates, size and occupations of members, are crucial to evaluating their role in the wider economy. Yet historical references to these attributes are to varying extents uncertain: for example, they can be contested, ambiguous or unreliable. Such evidence is difficult to deal with in a GIS , in part because a conventional system of symbols can convey an unwarranted air of reliability. The challenges posed by the use of uncertain data in a GIS and the presentation of such data on the internet will be examined here. The solution offered quantifies qualitative attributes of Jewish communities and develops a system of symbols for use in the project’s Internet GIS . This presentation has implications for the historical study of economies and minority religious communities, as well as for the depiction and interpretation of varied humanities data in GIS .

This talk is part of the CRASSH series.

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