I’ve written previously about the Barrington Atlas of the Ancient World which took 12 years to produce (1988-2000). It’s a wonderful example of interdisciplinary collaboration using, as it did, the talents of a multitude of classical scholars as well as many cartographers. In that earlier post I pointed out that, unfortunately, none of the underlying geodata available (only the images) but that it had a fairly hefty price tag — even though much of the work was ‘up-front’ funded and digital distribution would be practically zero-cost.

However, it seems that, thanks to a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ancient World Mapping Center at UNC have been able to start a project entitled Pleiades to:

provide on-line access to all information about Greek and Roman geography assembled by the Classical Atlas Project for the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World (R. Talbert, ed., Princeton, 2000. Pleiades will also enable large-scale collaboration in order to maintain and diversify this dataset. Combining open-content approaches (like those used by Wikipedia) with academic-style editorial review, Pleiades will enable anyone — from university professors to casual students of antiquity — to suggest updates to geographic names, descriptive essays, bibliographic references and geographic coordinates.

This is fantastic news and I do hope that all the geodata, both that already in the atlas and that which will be contributed, will be made open by attaching an appropriate open license. It would be a real shame if was one of those classic: “you’re free to read this (at least as long as this website stays around) but not to reuse or redistribute it”.

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Rufus Pollock is Founder and President of Open Knowledge.

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