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

14 March 2012, 12:00 - 14:00

Alison Richard Building, ground floor, SG2

Dr Gethin Rees (Divinity) presents at the CRASSH Postdoctoral Research Seminar.

The event is free to attend but registration is required as a sandwich lunch is provided. To register please click on the link at the right hand side of the page.

Abstract

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 Yet historical references to these attributes are to varying extents uncertain: for example, they can be contested, ambiguous or unreliable.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.

About Gethin Rees

Gethin Rees is a research associate for the ‘Mapping the Jewish Communities of the Byzantine Empire’ project. He is based at the Centre for Advanced Religious and Theological Studies at the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge. Dr Rees received a PhD in archaeology from the University of Cambridge in 2010. He studied at Wolfson College and his thesis was titled ‘Buddhism and Donation: Rock-cut Monasteries of the Western Ghats’. In 2010 he was a Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science Research Fellow working at Kansai University, Osaka, Japan. His research interests are geographical information systems, archaeology of religion, landscape archaeology and digital applications in the humanities.