Digital Historical Research on Southeast Europe and the Ottoman Space

by Dino Mujadzevic (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 228 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Historical GIS
  • Mapping the Nineteenth-Century Mediterranean Port-City: The Quay of Salonica, 1870-1911
  • Visualization of Ottoman Borderland in Early Modern Bosnia (Mid-15th – Late 16th Centuries): The Ottoman Serhat in Bosnia and GIS
  • Sovereignty and Space through GIS in the Early Modern Polish-Lithuanian/Ottoman Frontier
  • Textual Analysis
  • Representations of Turkey in Bosnian Mainstream Printed Media (2003-2014): A Corpus-Assisted Critical Discourse Analysis
  • A Literary Atlas of Turkey
  • Computer-Assisted Quantitative Approaches
  • The Patriarchy Index: A Comparative Study of Power Relations Within Southeastern Europe and Turkey
  • Reading and Mapping Mid-Nineteenth Century Ottoman Tax Registers: An Early Attempt Toward Building a Digital Research Infrastructure for Ottoman Economic and Social History
  • Other Approaches
  • Archaeological Perspectives for Climate Change and Human Impacts on Environment: An Agent-Based Modeling Approach
  • A Keyword Search System for Historical Ottoman Documents
  • Notes on the Contributors
  • Series index

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The papers published within this edited volume were prepared for the workshop a Data-Driven Research in the History of Southeast Europe and Turkey which was organized at the Center for the Mediterranean Studies of the Ruhr University Bochum in Bochum on 25-26 June 2015. The event was funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to the Humboldt Foundation as well as to the Center for Mediterranean Studies and the Chair for the History of the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey at the Ruhr University Bochum, especially Prof. Markus Koller, Dr. Nedim Zahirović and Victoria Junkernheinrich.

In addition to the papers contributed by the participants, I attempted to give a general introduction to the field of digital historical studies of Southeast Europe and the Ottoman Empire, accompanied with examples from literature and projects, but I also tried to give an outline of the general developments and trends in the wider field.

The publication of this edited volume would not have been possible without the kind help of Prof. Christian Voß (Humboldt University), the editor of the series Studies on Language and Culture in Central and Eastern Europe (Peter Lang), who finally provided me with opportunity and encouragement to finish and publish this long-overdue project within his series. The research stay at the Institute for Slavic and Hungarian Studies at the Humboldt University in Berlin in 2019-2010, sponsored by the Humboldt Foundation, enabled me with necessary networking and impetus to finalize the edited volume. Also, many thanks to Megan Nagel for proofreading and formatting as well as to Dr. Ivana Crljenko for the help with tables.

Dino Mujadžević

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Dino Mujadžević

Digital Humanities and Digital Historical Research: General Developments

Rapidly emerging fields in the digital humanities, including prominently digital history, have profited significantly from new computing tools developed in recent decades in the context of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) boom. Among the most interesting recent developments in computational data analysis and visualization in these fields are the following: the emergence of large, readily available “cultural data sets” (i.e., huge corpora of digitalized texts in media archives), innovative text-mining analysis software (e.g., topic modeling and keyword- and relation-extraction tools), and breakthroughs in computer graphics (e.g., interactive 3-D dynamic imagery and visualizations of complex systems and spatial data). The application of these methods in historical research is usually called digital – sometimes even data-driven – history or historical research. When they are applicable, digital historical research methods provide much more extensive empirical backing than more traditional methods, sometimes supporting inductive conclusions, and many intuitive ways of presenting results. Consequently, digital history and related fields have begun to take root in major international research.

Digital historical research emerged as an important part of the digital humanities movement which was known in the 20th century usually under the umbrella term humanities computing. This movement adopted the name under which it is currently known, digital humanities, in the early 2000s. A widely influential book, A Companion to Digital Humanities, appeared in 2004 influencing the adoption of digital humanities as a new umbrella term. During the early phase between the 1960s to the 1990s, various disciplines as diverse as history, electronic literature, library and archival science, media studies, and cultural studies contributed to this nascent area of scholarship.1 Can digital humanities be defined?2 The University College of London Centre for Digital Humanities approaches digital humanities “as the application of computational or digital methods to humanities research or, to put it another way, the application of humanities ←9 | 10→methods to research into digital objects or phenomena.”3 According to a useful definition found in the influential A New Companion to Digital Humanities “doing digital humanities involves the creation of an academic workspace where scholarly methods assume the form of computer-based techniques that can be used to create, analyze, and disseminate research and pedagogy.”4 Nevertheless, the status of digital humanities as a separate discipline (“discipline in its own right”) is debated even today. For example, Jeffrey Schnapps and Todd Presner claim that digital humanities are not a single, unified field, but “an array of convergent practices.” Despite this debate exceptional vibrancy and growth of research in digital humanities and neighboring fields have been noted.5

Over the course of years, methods ascribed to digital humanities have been standardized. According to the Taxonomy of Digital Research Activities in the Humanities, accepted by DARIAH-DE, the German arm of the European Research Infrastructure initiative DARIAH (Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities), following methods and their categories are used for digital research activities in humanities:6

Capture Analysis Dissemination
conversion content analysis collaboration
data recognition network analysis commenting
discovering relational analysis communicating
gathering imaging spatial analysis crowdsourcing
recording structural analysis publishing
transcription stylistic analysis sharing
Creation Interpretation
designing contextualizing
programming web modeling
development theorizing
Enrichment Storage
annotating archiving
cleanup identifying
editing organizing
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As can be seen, particular methods of research activities in digital humanities include not only analysis and interpretation of data, and dissemination of scholarly results, which can be seen as most related to the work that digital historians do but also comprise activities that are focused on the digitalization of primary sources (capture, enrichment) that are associated with other disciplines (archival studies, linguistics, archaeology). The latter are, nevertheless, indispensable for historical research and sometimes also done by digital historians. For example, historians may be involved in the creation and annotation of corpora of naturally occurring language or digitally scanning, editing, and publishing of archival documents or newspapers that can be used in historical research.

The development of digital humanities is now more than seventy years old. In the early period of the collaboration between humanities and computing the field was focused on quantitative analysis and the modeling of data. The influential work of Jesuit scholar Roberto Busa (1913-2011) and English professor Josephine Miles is often seen as the starting point of computer-assisted research in the humanities. In 1949, they initiated their major work on a lemmatized concordance of the works of Thomas of Aquinas, widely known as Index Thomisticus, which was realized in the next thirty years with the help of the giant of computer technology, the IBM company.7 An important moment in the development of digital humanities as a discipline took place in 1962 when an international conference on the use of computation in anthropology took place in the Austrian town of Burg Wartenstein.

Since the 1960s, much of the humanities computing focused on the implementation of computational research in literary criticism and linguistics, but history also quickly included digital research methods into its own repertoire. The first computer-assisted historical research appeared already in 1963.8 It was primarily used by historians who were involved in cross-disciplinary historical social science. The economic and social history in the USA in the 1960s and 1970s became the most important propagator of computer-assisted analysis which was used for the purpose of quantitative analysis, but these approaches lost ground in the 1980s when more culturally oriented history became dominant. Similarly, in the 1960s and the 1970s, computer-←11 | 12→assisted demographic research flourished as a sub-discipline in Western Europe. The interest for computational tools among European historians led to the establishment of the London-based Association for History and Computing (AHC) in 1985.9

Further transformation of digital historical research occurred with the arrival of the personal computer in the mid-1980s and WWW at the beginning of the 1990s. Due to these changes, according to Gerben Zaagsma, the work in the field of computer-assisted history and related disciplines “has focused on the construction and use of historical databases and the creation of text-based digital editions.”10 As a result of this, in the next decades the European and Northern American libraries, archives, museums, and universities came into the possession of large collections of digital content. The rise of research in digital humanities and digital historical research to greater visibility, even prominence, after 2000 was driven by the availability and the increase in the size of these collections of sources for the study of history, linguistics, classics, musicology, and related disciplines. The ease of access to digital primary sources led to greater acceptance of the digital scholarship.

The fast development of ICT in the last several decades had an enormous impact on history and related humanities and social sciences disciplines. Besides providing scholars with a much faster and/or interactive way to write, communicate, disseminate their results, teach (e-learning), collect and protect sources (online digital collections) and publish their work (e-publishing), the application of new computational methods also enhanced the empirical and visual-representational side of their research. Increasingly better quantitative analysis (data/text mining, statistics, information retrieval, etc.) of a large amount of data and much more refined techniques of data visualizations have since the 1990s become popular with historians as well as other humanists and social scientists in the framework of rapidly emerging interdisciplinary fields of digital research. As previously said, the probably most interesting developments concerning computational data analysis and visualization in these fields are the creation of the so-called large cultural data sets (i.e., huge corpora of digitalized texts) and innovations in computer graphics (i.e., interactive 3-D dynamic imagery and visualizations).11 The appearance of Web 2.0 technologies ←12 | 13→(social networking sites and media sites, blogs, wikis, video sharing sites, etc.) in the same period also heavily impacted the way the results of historical research are disseminated and discussed in the online environment.

Some authors even claim that readily available and unprecedently large data/textual collections (e.g. Google books, digitalized media archives, on-line social networks or the internet itself) and numerous powerful interactive data visualization and exploration software tools paved a way for the next revolution in humanities and social sciences, sometimes called the digital turn or even data-driven turn. According to Scharloth, Eugster and Bubenhofer, the main feature of the data-driven approach and the difference to previous computer-assisted (“data-based”) research methods is that it provides excellent empirical assistance to the research and possibly enables completely inductive conclusions (“große Datenmengen nicht nur zu befragen, sondern induktiv Strukturen in den Daten zu entdecken”). When applicable, the data-driven historical research methods and tools provide much more exhaustive factual and verifiable backing for the research and much more accessible and intuitive ways of presenting its results.12

The shift in the position of digital humanities was especially visible after 2006 when the United States National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) established the Office of Digital Humanities (ODH) and began directing funding towards digital projects.13 In the EU the European Commission’s eInfrastructures program led to the emergence of digital infrastructures such as DARIAH, Common Language Resources and Technology Infrastructure (CLARIN), and European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI).14 In 2013 a digital history working group was created within the German Historikerverband making it, according to Zaagma, the first national professional organization of historians to give digital history an organizational expression.15

Several approaches used in digital historical research and relevant neighboring disciplines have come to the foreground of this type of historical study and attracted great numbers of practitioners: GIS (Geographical Information Systems) and various approaches to text mining/text analysis. Basically, GIS, which was released commercially in 1981, is a powerful ←13 | 14→software that uses location to enable researchers to visualize quantitative data and other sets of information on a map-like surface. Changes in time that are related to the stored geospatial data can be also tracked and visualized. Researchers “can discover relationships that make a complex world more immediately understandable by visually detecting spatial patterns that remain hidden in texts and tables.”16 After establishing itself firmly in archaeology in the 1990s,17 GIS has seen a considerable rise in popularity since the early 2000s in various historical sub-disciplines, particularly in historical geography and economic and social history but it seems that this approach has much more possibility to spread among historians. The rising interest in the “spatial turn” in more qualitatively oriented sub-disciplines of history and other related humanities which are increasingly dealing with a rediscovery of geographical space in an interdisciplinary fashion presents an opportunity for the spreading of the use of GIS.18 Ancient history and histories of other periods that do not dispose of a great number of written sources and rely more on archaeological records seem to be especially open to the use of GIS.

Alongside GIS, another major approach, or set of related approaches, in digital historical research is computer-assisted textual analysis. This type of computational analysis was first adopted in linguistics, especially lexicography and language teaching, and literary studies, and later also became associated with historical research. The most important research paradigm associated with computer-assisted textual analysis is corpus-assisted studies which are based on the investigation of electronically encoded texts or collections of naturally occurring language or, in other words, real language use. Computer tools enabled the analysis of relative or absolute frequencies, most important collocations of search words, and their concordances. Corpus linguistics should be seen as a methodology for linguistic or related research rather than some sort of distinct theoretical ←14 | 15→paradigm.19 As the large collections of digitized historical sources became available in recent years (books, newspapers, documents etc.), the possibilities of the study of the use of specific concepts and associated discourses across a chosen period became apparent. The corpus-assisted approach in association with Critical Discourse Analysis for the study of the historical use of language has gained popularity in recent years. Examples of this are monographs on historical topics such as the language of New Labour, media discourses on Islam, Russian political speech, and many others20 In addition to the corpus linguistic paradigm, another useful methodological approach used as part of textual analysis is topic modeling, which uses algorithms to discover hidden thematic structure in large collections of texts21

Both above mentioned computer-assisted textual analysis approaches in historical digital research are complementary with the concept of “distant reading” that was introduced by Franco Moretti in his seminal work Conjectures on World Literature.22 Moretti’s “distant reading” is a quantitative approach that aims at the analysis of “world literature,” opposed to the study of national literatures. Additionally, Moretti also questioned the methodology of previous literary studies that were predominantly based on the analysis of a limited literary canon and were not taking other works into account. For Moretti, “distant reading” must include also these other, previously omitted, works in order to achieve more relevant research. Computational tools used for textual analysis are providing precisely what is needed to apply “distant reading” on large amounts of textual sources. This theoretical paradigm is also applicable to historical research. “Distant reading” in the context of historical research would provide more stress on the quantitative investigation based on much larger collections of historical data instead of focusing on selected smaller examples of historical information (e.g. historical documents, collection of narrative sources, newspapers, etc.).

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Historical Digital Research on Southeast Europe and the Ottoman Empire

This overview is an attempt to give a broad outline of the impact the digital movement had on historical Southeast Europe and Ottoman studies. The list of digital projects and researchers that will be mentioned here does not intend to be exhaustive or detailed. Its goal is to provide only a general outline and describe main developments. The number of institutions and researchers, both in the West as well as in Southeast Europe and former Ottoman territories, especially those that have been participating in the digitization of the primary sources for areas of our interest, has been huge and we cannot but name only a few of them that either stand out or are very representative for the developments in digital historical research.

Biographical notes

Dino Mujadzevic (Volume editor)

Dr. Dino Mujadžević is historian and lexicographer. He is currently researcher at the Institute for Slavic Studies and Hungarology at the Humboldt University Berlin and associate contributor to the Encyclopaedia Croatica at the Lexicographic Institute "Miroslav Krleža" in Zagreb. Previously, he worked at the Croatian Institute for History and the Ruhr University Bochum, where he resided as Humboldt Fellow. His research interests include the Ottoman and post-Ottoman history of the Western Balkans and digital history.


Title: Digital Historical Research on Southeast Europe and the Ottoman Space