All posts by Vivian Strotmann

The “Historiography in Ottoman Europe (1500-1800)” Project (HOE) – Providing More through Metadata

Background and Genesis

Though the Ottoman empire controlled a significant portion of the Balkan region in the early modern era, the historiographical traditions established by historical texts created in the region during that period has received comparatively little attention as a research topic.[1] To fill this gap in research and to make the resulting data publicly available, the Historiography in Ottoman Europe project was developed with the support of the German Research Foundation (DFG) to create a database that would include metadata for several hundred primary sources from the years 1500 to 1800 and over 3,600 secondary works on the history of Ottoman Europe. The project’s funding is coming to an end this year, but the site will remain active and invites feedback, partnerships and additional submissions of relevant data.[2]

Historiography of Ottoman Europe project logo
project logo by André Hagenbruch (†)

The project is a collaboration between the office of the Chair for the History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey (Lehrstuhl für Geschichte des Osmanischen Reiches und der Türkei, ORT) of Ruhr University Bochum and Bochum University Library. Both institutions brought their specific expertise to the project and worked in synergy to create fresh research data and conceptualize a customized, optimized way of presenting these findings for added utility. The team members from the ORT office conducted research in libraries and archives worldwide to locate, examine and describe neglected sources and to compile relevant secondary material on these documents. Team members from the library oversaw the project’s web presence and entered data collected by the research team members into the jointly conceptualized system. They validated the information and complemented it with links, filters and further metadata to create the specific data sets that characterize the HOE corpus.

Currently, the collection contains metadata inputted for more than 4000 primary sources and related secondary literature in over 20 languages. The material encompasses a wide range of genres, from primary sources in the form of manuscripts, codices, and maps to secondary literature that includes monographs, edited volumes, journal articles, chapters, translations, editions, and websites. For each item, basic bibliographical information such as persons involved, title(s), length, date, and place of publication are provided. Depending on the source type, additional metadata has been included, such as geodata specifying the institutions holding manuscripts, links to DB-Pedia for keywords, different bibliographical identifiers for works (ISBN/ISSN, HBZ, ZDB etc.), links to person-identifier databases (VIAF, ISNI, GND/DNB), related websites, remarks on and descriptions of the sources, and more.

The project succeeded in negotiating the rights to include images of certain digitized materials (including scans of maps and PDFs of library manuscript catalogues) in related entries.[4] These files add considerable value to the collection, as some of them are not currently accessible anywhere else. A stemma depicting relationships between manuscripts created from research carried out by the team is a new and unique contribution. Providing access to digitized materials hosted on its own servers, however, is not the prime objective of the HOE project.

Where and How to Search?

The website is structured into three main components:

  1. The start page with a counter of materials included, a heat map indicating the geographical distribution of manuscripts treated, and general guidelines.
  2. The “Main Section”, containing all those primary and related secondary sources that were considered to be of vital importance to the project.
  3. The “Tools Section”, which contains material that surfaced over the course of the project and was considered useful to those studying the historiography of Ottoman Europe beyond the focus of the HOE project.

The “Main Section” and “Tools Section” offer a range of search facets. Some mirror basic bibliographical parameters researched for each source by the library (persons involved, dates of publication, publication type, languages used in a source, etc.). Others are based on analytical parameters defined by the members of the ORT research group (analyses of the contents and significance of the manuscripts included, keywords associated with primary sources, primary publication year, genre etc.). These facets can be used to filter the entire corpus according to the criteria described by the facets.

HOE database entry for a world map by Gheorghe Golescu (1768-1848)

Additionally, searches may be entered via the search bar that allows users to search the Tools Section and the Main Section individually. Search results can be refined by activating facet filters. The title, translated title, transcribed title, name of the author or entry ID of a work have been included in the index[5], making them valid search parameters for queries submitted via the search bar.

The facets also mirror the different levels of hierarchical and analytical distinctions used to structure the corpus both from a library-related perspective and according to research-related aspects. These concepts have shaped the structure and functionalities of the system but cannot be addressed in detail here. They will be described in future publications.

What Are the Benefits?

The functionalities included on the entry level are designed for one particular purpose: to draw attention to and offer quick access to (meta)data that not only helps to identify and locate sources, but also adds to the understanding of the source itself. These interconnections are established on two levels: within the system and beyond it.  

Links within the website allow users to navigate the hierarchical part-whole relationships that are commonly indicated in library catalogues. Beyond this common functionality, the system offers two kinds of internal links that transcend standard catalogues: first, internal links that mirror aspects of textual history and migration/development by including an “other version” category for indicating editions, reprints and translations. Secondly, the system has been built to allow for associative linking of entries. Materials can be cross-referenced with each other freely with the relationship between them defined as “primary source,” “secondary source,” “reference,” or “other,” guiding the user to further reading and context. Internal links are also established between the Tools Section and the Main Section, allowing visitors to explore wider contexts of research.    

HOE database entry for “The history of the growth and decay of the Othman empire,” by Dimitrie Cantemir

One major class of links to resources outside the system are those to the previously mentioned person-identifier databases. Catalog records for individuals provide users overviews of all the works they have written included in the database, expanding the circles of possible background reading and the understanding of the overall oeuvre of specific authors. The second major class of hyperlinks are those to other online resources, mostly open-access materials, such as digitized manuscript folios and journal articles, as well as other useful related materials found in the course of project research. These links allow users to access useful additional material or even the sources themselves at a click.      

This combination of internal and external links offers users options for fresh approaches to the sources by highlighting options to expand their perception of and background on the materials in question and on their historical and prosopographical context. Additionally, the filters mentioned can be used to define new approaches towards and questions to be addressed using this metadata collection. The HOE database is consequently a detailed and comprehensive research tool that both saves researchers time and effort when looking for literature and provides them food for thought.    

Stemma by Sonja Rosenberger of source/manuscript relationships for “The history of the growth and decay of the Othman empire,” by Dimitrie Cantemir (HOE database)

On a more general note, and with regard to the increasing importance of research data management in university libraries and departments, the HOE system may also be relevant for a wide range of other projects. Bibliographical (meta)data is an essential starting point of almost any research project. The amount of bibliographical data accumulated over the course of a project may vary between projects and disciplines, but gathering, complementing and interlinking data sets when the opportunity presents itself could result in specific bibliographies that may prove to be useful auxiliary elements to the websites and reports of projects, as well as useful, state-of-the-art tools for university teachers and students. This is even more true for the increasing number of Digital Humanities projects and digitalization initiatives, which could use similar systems to supplement their catalogues of digitized materials with extensive bibliographical metadata on related publications and relevant digitized resources from the growing range of online materials.

The system developed at Bochum for the “Historiography of Ottoman Europe” project can therefore serve as a possible role model for one way of interlinking traditional elements of library catalogues, identification databases and digitized materials on specific topics that are found web-wide.

Vivian Strotmann studied Middle Eastern Studies/Islamic Studies and English at Ruhr University Bochum and at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth (Co. Kildare). She conducted research in Egypt and Yemen and wrote her Ph.D. thesis on Majd al-Din al-Firuzabadi. Her research focuses on the history of sciences (with a particular interest in Arabic lexicography and Islamic philosophy), on networks and on the migration of knowledge between countries and cultures. She also takes a special interest in open access publishing and digital humanities.

She has taught in and outside of university and worked as a translator. For several years, she served as Editorial Assistant to The World of Islam/International Journal for the Study of Modern Islam. From June 2014 to November 2016, she worked as Managing Editor of Entangled Religions – Interdisciplinary Journal for the Study of Religious Contact and Transfer at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg “Dynamics in the History of Religions between Asia and Europe“.

In December 2016, she joined the University Library of Ruhr University Bochum as a metadata expert for the DFG-funded project “Historiography of Ottoman Europe” and became Managing Editor of Moving the Social – Journal of Social History and the History of Social Movements at the Institute for Social Movements, Bochum.

ORCID-ID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6009-5182

GND-ID: http://d-nb.info/gnd/1015589669

ISNI-ID: 0000 0004 5210 6333

VIAF-ID: 317097433


[1] See Ovidiu Olar’s definition of “Ottoman Europe” at http://www.ub.rub.de/oh/concepts.html as well as Das osmanische Europa. Methoden und Perspektiven der Frühneuzeitforschung zu Südosteuropa, ed. Andreas Helmedach, Markus Koller, Konrad Petrovszky, and Stefan Rohdewald (Leipzig: Eudora, 2013) and Konrad Petrovszky, Geschichte schreiben im osmanischen Südosteuropa. Eine Kulturgeschichte orthodoxer Historiographie des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2014).

For different views on the appropriate dating of the “early modern” (“Neuzeit”) period see Friedrich Jaeger, “Neuzeit,” in: Enzyklopädie der Neuzeit Online (J.B. Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung und Carl Ernst Poeschel Verlag GmbH 2005–2012. Consulted online on 17 September 2018 http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2352-0248_edn_a2985000. First published online: 2014. By selecting the timeframe of 1500 to 1800, the project accounts for important historical developments and encompasses both the heyday of Ottoman hegemony and the beginning of the empire’s decline. See on this: Stefan Reichmuth/Henning Sievert, “Osmanisches Reich,” in: Enzyklopädie der Neuzeit Online. Consulted online on 17 September 2018 http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2352-0248_edn_a3101000. First published online: 2014.

[2] Feel free to use our flyer to spread the word (http://www.ub.rub.de/imperia/md/content/oh/flyer_osmanen_dh_day.pdf) or contact us at ottomanhistoriography@rub.de. You can also use our guest sign-in to submit data. This will require you to create an ORCID-ID beforehand, if you do not already have one.

[3] A brief German-language page describing the project is available at http://www.ub.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/projekte/osmanisches_reich.html. More extensive information in English is available from our info page at http://www.ub.rub.de/oh/index.html.

[4] We thank our supporting institutions for these materials (see bottom section at http://www.ub.rub.de/oh/partners.html).

[5] A Github entry of the 2016 status quo was created by our late head of development, André Hagenbruch, and is available at https://github.com/ubbochum/hoe.