CISTERN is building a database and a virtual research space that bring together a wide range of geographical books, atlases, land descriptions, and maps in Turkish, Arabic, and English produced between the 15th and early 20th-centuries. Initially rare artifacts, these objects gradually became part of everyday life, reflecting the rise of territorialized states, intensifying militarization, and sweep capitalization of Middle Eastern economies. That Islamic geographers were instrumental in the transmission of classical spatial knowledge, such as Ptolemy’s Optics, to the European Renaissance is well known. Subsequent knowledge production, however, remains overlooked.
As a team, CISTERN has been working on a database and a virtual space that enable researchers to dive into the depths of this material, map its stratified flows of data, and explore the undercurrents of politics, economy, and culture from the perspective of objects such as atlases, compendiums, and maps. The searchable database incorporates existing bibliographical repositories, reframing them to respond to the needs of current users across fields and disciplines. This tool is housed in a virtual space that has the basic architecture of a cistern, a calm underground space sustaining a bustling city. It includes an exhibit hall and a reading room where the database can be searched and visualized. The pairing of the database with a virtual space is designed to generate new research questions in the history of the Middle East, North Africa, and Eastern Europe while offering an immersive environment to conduct research, engage with heritage, and focus one’s attention.
Adrien Zakar, Merve Tekgürler, and Umar Patel will introduce the project for 40 minutes and then open the floor for questions and input. Adrien is a Mellon postdoctoral scholar at the Stanford Humanities Center and will join the University of Toronto as Assistant Professor of Near and Middle East Studies and the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology in the fall of 2021. Merve is a Ph.D. student at the Stanford Department of History and a graduate mentor at CESTA. Umar is an undergraduate student at Stanford majoring in Computer Science and Archeology and a CESTA intern working on the project.