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 sweeping 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. Our database and virtual space will enable researchers to dive into this material, exploring 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, and 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 project aims to generate new research questions while offering an immersive environment in which to conduct research, engage with heritage, and focus one’s attention.

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