Data Criticism: a Methodology for the Quantitative Evaluation of Non-Textual Historical Sources with Case Studies on Silk Road Maps and Photographs

This paper proposes the concept of “data criticism” and demonstrates how this concept can be applied to non-textual historical sources such as maps and photographs. Data criticism deals with the evaluation of sources in the context of historical studies, which is the same role as textual criticism. Nevertheless, the criticism of data, especially non-textual (visual) sources such as maps and photographs, has not been well studied due to the lack of methodology for quantitative evaluation. Visual sources are essential for the spatial interpretation of historical facts, but the necessity of critical methods was relatively unnoticed. We believe that this is due to the appearance of visual sources, which look like the record of facts because the creation of those sources heavily depends on objective techniques and tools such as survey and camera. We show, however, that visual sources are not facts, and their quality needs to be evaluated before using them as reliable sources, in the same way as text. Hence we use old maps and photographs as case studies to demonstrate how data criticism will bring about new perspectives on the interpretation of visual sources.

We first introduce the computational part of data criticism. We developed a suite of geo-referencing techniques for maps, including support for different map projections, one-point vs. entire registration of maps, and the preservation of linear features of maps such as streets. This process is typically performed by a built-in geometric correction in geographic information systems (GIS), such as rubber-sheeting, but we show that these techniques have rooms for improvement, and propose new algorithms using ground control points and lines, or the latitude-longitude mesh on the map. The result is integrated into web-based tools, on top of geo-browsers such as Google Maps and Google Earth, and we also developed a new interface “mappinning” (map + pinning) for performing one-point registration on-the-fly.

We then discuss the historical part of data criticism; namely, how data criticism can lead to a new interpretation of visual sources and discovery of new historical facts. First, we criticized Central Asian maps from European expeditions by Stein, Hedin and others. We quantified the distribution of errors and explained the cause of errors in the context of technical limitation of survey technology available at the time. Second, we geo-referenced the old map of Beijing, “Complete Map of Peking, Qianlong Period,” created about 250 years ago. We identified mis-alignment of maps possibly due to incorrect restoration in the past, and revealed for the first time the original form of the map by connecting 203 sheets based on our proposed geometric correction method. Third, we focused on ruins located in a few regions in Tarim basin, and identified conceptual relationships between ruins that appear in expedition reports and current survey reports in different names and types. This suggests that consistent interpretation of facts is possible even when text is inconsistent across sources.

In the age of data, historical studies should incorporate and integrate larger variety of data, and we believe that ‘data criticism’ is a key methodology for the proper interpretation of data, and the discovery of historical facts. It is a natural extension of textual criticism that has been studied for a long time, but it focuses on the identical central concept of historical studies; namely, the evaluation of the value of sources.

Finally, most of the maps and photographs introduced in this paper are accessible at Digital Silk Road Website http://dsr.nii.ac.jp/geography/

Citation

Asanobu KITAMOTO, Yoko NISHIMURA, "Data Criticism: a Methodology for the Quantitative Evaluation of Non-Textual Historical Sources with Case Studies on Silk Road Maps and Photographs", Third Annual Conference of the Japanese Association for Digital Humanities (JADH2013), pp. 11-12, 2013-09

BibTeX Format

@InProceedings{ jadh13,
	author = {Asanobu KITAMOTO and Yoko NISHIMURA},
	title = {Data Criticism: a Methodology for the Quantitative Evaluation of Non-Textual Historical Sources with Case Studies on Silk Road Maps and Photographs},
	booktitle = {Third Annual Conference of the Japanese Association for Digital Humanities (JADH2013)},
	pages = {11-12},
	year = 2013,
	month = 09,
	note = {},
}

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