top of page

EGYLandscape Project
Emirhan Kabataş

Geographical Information Systems (GIS) are used in many studies and projects in the field of Digital Humanities with its increasing importance. EGYLandscape, which aims to explore place and landscape transformations in Egypt between the 13th and 18th centuries, is one of the most recent examples of the use of GIS. The most important goal and result of EGYLandscape is to geo-reference the information obtained from these sources on a map by using the sources that it centers on.

    WebGIS, which represents this main objective of EGYLandscape, combines textual sources from the late medieval (13th to 15th centuries) and modern (19th to mid-20th century) periods with cartographic sources available for the last two centuries, georeferencing the collected textual information on a map. The medieval textual sources provide a comprehensive list of the main administrative units and indicate their administrative status in their respective periods, so that the project provides a comprehensive panorama of Egyptian territory through these sources. In addition, the WebGIS tool allows exploring the geography of the Egyptian countryside over a period of seven centuries by combining all the information from the sources used, and therefore from the relevant time periods, in one place. The EGYLandscape project was carried out by the Centrum für Nah-und Mittelost-Studien, Philipps Universität Marburg, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and the Institut de recherches sur les mondes arabes et musulmans (Iremam - UMR 7310). It was also supported by the Institut français d'archéologie orientale (IFAO) in Cairo.


     The process of digitally mapping a historical region is one that presents many challenges. In order to overcome these challenges, researchers can resort to various methods. In the EGYLandscape project, mapping the Egyptian countryside and representing it in a geographic information system required a distinction between geographical/physical realities and settlements as administrative units. In addition, conflicts between sources and the identification of ancient settlements are also important challenges. In this case, the historical settlement identification method used by the project is to scan backwards, taking into account the most recent data available. In other words, if the location of a settlement (nahiye, village, hamlet, etc.) in the most recent source does not appear to be demonstrably different in an earlier source, we can say that the most recent information is taken as basis. In this context, it can be seen that the map showing the administrative boundaries in the project is largely based on the 1913 Survey of Egypt maps. However, it is clear that this raises a big question mark about the soundness of the historical reality in the determination of administrative boundaries, as well as its existence. On the other hand, medieval textual sources are used only for information on administrative units, with the exception of one exceptional source, Nablūsī.

     In order to ensure accurate data entry into the map and at the same time contribute to its use, digital mapping processes often use identification coding methods. In EGYLanscape WebGIS, each place or toponym presented on the map is assigned a unique identification code. On the other hand, a range of standardized information is available about a place, including names (including variants), its administrative status, and a type that briefly describes its physical existence. Any information in this section can be tracked by a pop-up tab on the left side of the WebGIS interface. In addition to the identification code, each of this information is processed as data linked to the source (textual or cartographic) from which it was taken, so that it is possible to follow the evolution of the place over time. The following example image (Annex 3) may help to illustrate the point.











        EGYLandscape relies on two types of resources to create a two-sided database for the project. The first of these two types of sources is cartographic sources; Atlas de la Description de l'Égypte, Survey of Egypt 1:50,000 topographic maps, OpenStreetMap, Satellite Imagery. The second type of textual sources are ibn Mammātī's Kitab al-Ḳawānīn al-dawāwīn, ibn Nablūsī's Tārihū al-Fayyūm, ibn al-Ji'ān's al-Tuhfa, Survey of Egypt 1:50,000 topographical maps, and Muhammad al-Ramzi's al-Kāmūs. It is possible to say that while sources such as Atlas serve as identification and base maps of settlements, sources such as OpenStreetMap are more oriented towards base map service. On the other hand, as mentioned earlier, except for Nablūsī, the sources are generally used only for information on administrative units. Detailed information about each of the sources can be found on the project website.

         In conclusion, the EGYLandscapes project and WebGIS can be considered a valuable supplementary source/study on an important time period in Egyptian history. The project is capable of serving many studies in terms of showing a lot of information about the Egyptian countryside in the time period it is based on, with a perspective of evolution. In other words, through the project, those interested can get a basic idea of the transformation of the Egyptian countryside and landscape, or quickly access information on toponyms on a singular or plural scale. However, as we have already mentioned, a number of questions remain about the field.

bottom of page