Workshop Overview

Chinese Local Gazetteers (difangzhi 地方志): Historical Method and Computerized Data Collection and Analysis

Monday, April 27, 2015 - 09:30 to Tuesday, April 28, 2015 - 17:00


Shih-Pei Chen, Digital Content Curator
Martina Siebert, Research Scholar


Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG)
Main Conference Hall (ground floor)
Boltzmannstraße 22 | 14195 Berlin | +49 030 22667 1532

** Registration is required for this event. Please register online via this form: **

Ever since the 10th century, a huge number of local gazetteers (difangzhi 地方志) has been produced throughout China. Popular from the time of their publication up until today, local gazetteers have always been important sources of knowledge about a place, as they assemble extensive information on a variety of topics about a locality: geography, infrastructure, local products, customs, population, officials, literature, hydraulics, weather records, disasters, and more. The large quantity of digital versions of local gazetteers available now makes it possible for historians to collect and make new use of the ‘big data’ that this unique genre contains. This workshop brings together historians of China and computer scientists experienced in exploring the possibilities and challenges in working with Chinese local gazetteers.

Triggered by pre-circulated statement papers and short presentations, this workshop critically reflects on the historical role and frame of the data presented in local gazetteers, and explores what new questions can be generated and what new knowledge can be produced when looking at not just dozens but hundreds, thousands, or more of these texts. What can be achieved analytically after transforming the information these texts contain into ‘data’, that is, computer-digestible pieces? What questions would historians ask, if local gazetteers were not prose texts but a big relational database? Can computer scientists design systems that are powerful for specific questions and, at the same time, generic for questions to come? What analytical tools and interactive visualizations are needed for users to explore and understand the tendencies and changes in this stream of data coming from local gazetteers?

Presenters will each introduce a specific case study of close reading or digital analysis and visualization of the Chinese local gazetteers. Discussants will link the case studies to general questions of historical methods, digital analysis, and the future of academic research. GIS and digital tools that are designed to mark up and analyze Chinese texts will also be presented.

*** Program ***
======== Day 1 (Monday, 27.04.2015) ========
Welcome and Introduction

Historical Studies on Local Gazetteers – Part I
Chair: Andreas JANOUSCH (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)

CHEN Hsi-Yuan (Academia Sinica)
Dagmar SCHÄFER (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science)

Coffee Break

Historical Studies on Local Gazetteers – Part II

WU Micha (National Taiwan University)
Joe DENNIS (University of Wisconsin)


Computational Methods on Local Gazetteers – Part I
Chair: Jakub HRUBY (Oriental Institute, Czech Academy of Sciences)

CHANG Sufen (Taiwan Normal University)
Peter BOL (Harvard University)
Adam MITCHELL (Harvard University)

Coffee Break

Computational Methods on Local Gazetteers – Part II

CAO Ling (Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology)
CHEN Shih-Pei & Martina SIEBERT (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science)


======== Day 2 (Tuesday, 28.04.2015) ========

GIS and Local History
Chair: HSIANG Jieh (National Taiwan University)

Lex BERMAN (Harvard University)
ZHAO Siyuan (Shanghai Jiao Tong University)

Coffee Break

Text Mining and Analysis

HO Hou Leong (Leiden Institute for Area Studies)
TU Hsieh-Chang (National Taiwan University)


Round Table Discussion
Chair: Siyen FEI (University of Pennsylvania)

Pierre-Etienne WILL (Collège de France)
Joe DENNIS (University of Wisconsin)
HSIANG Jieh (National Taiwan University)
Peter BOL (Harvard University)

Coffee Break

Discussion: Using Local Gazetteers in the Digital Age
Chair: CHEN Shih-Pei (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science)


Local Gazetteer Flyer_s.pdf

MPIWG LG workshop report_FINAL.pdf