Local gazetteers (difangzhi 地方志) are major primary sources for the study of China’s local history. An estimated 8,000 titles of local gazetteers dating from the tenth to the twentieth century are still extant, covering nearly all populated regions of historical China (including Taiwan). Written by officials and local gentry, these gazetteers documented topics far beyond geographical landscape, including flora and fauna, local products, temples and schools, officials and celebrities, local culture and customs, and much more. Given their consistent and database-like structure, Chinese local gazetteers as a genre are uniquely suited for research with a digital humanities approach.
Since 2013, we have been conducting research on Chinese local gazetteers by transforming printed materials into a scholarly, enhanced database for new forms of digital historical analysis. Local gazetteers are well studied, but scholars often struggle to encompass in their analyses the vast amount of information contained within local gazetteers. The Max Planck Institute for the History of Science thus embraces digital humanities’ potential to realize this genre’s full utility for addressing large-scale key questions in Chinese history. Central to this effort is the development of a suite of digital tools—the Local Gazetteers Research Tools (LoGaRT).
LoGaRT is a software for searching, analyzing, and collecting data from digitized Chinese local gazetteers. It provides historians with a bird’s-eye view on a collection of gazetteers beyond browsing and reading individually. The philosophy behind LoGaRT is to treat all the digitized gazetteers available as a conceptual database for historical inquiries. Thus, LoGaRT allows historians to ask larger-scale questions that are not necessarily bounded by geographical regions, time periods, or individual efforts. There are many collections of digitized Chinese local gazetteers with differing quality and licensing conditions. Currently, two high-quality collections are accessible via LoGaRT:
- Rare Local Gazetteers at Harvard-Yenching Library: An open-access collection available to the public, this a joint digitization project between MPIWG and Harvard-Yenching Library and funded by the Max Planck Society and the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation.
- Erudition’s Zhongguo fangzhi ku (中国方志库): A commercial collection produced by Erudition, access to it via LoGaRT is granted by the Berlin State Library and available to MPIWG affiliates only.