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The historical landscape at the beginning of the Hellenic State: The "French Scientific Mission of Morea"

Published onSep 09, 2020
The historical landscape at the beginning of the Hellenic State: The "French Scientific Mission of Morea"


Institute of Historical Research, National Hellenic Research Foundation

George Tolias, Ourania Polycandrioti and Eugenia Drakopoulou, Research Directors of the Section of Neohellenic Research in the Institute of Historical Research of the National Hellenic Research Institute were responsible for the historical documentation and the conceptual design of the web portal. Eleni Gkadolou, postdoctoral researcher in spatial digital humanities, was responsible for the georeference of the historical maps, the spatial data extraction and analysis, as well as the digital maps development. The web portal was developed by Pavla S.A..

Project URL

Project Abstract

The aim of this research was the development of a web-based infrastructure that incorporates the historical geographical information derived from the maps and texts of the French Scientific Mission (1828-1829). The infrastructure supports the research and analysis of spatial relations and functions during the establishment of the first Hellenic State illuminating the historical landscape of that time.

The maps and geographical reports of the French Scientific Mission constituted the first systematic scientific mapping of the Greek territory and thus was the basic technological infrastructure of the new state that was about to be formed. For the development of the spatial infrastructure, new technological approaches have been followed in line with the recommendations suggested by the Geospatial Semantic Web, introducing the concepts of "semantic interoperability" and geographic data models in the management of historical data. This means that the spatial dimension of historical data is highlighted and thus these are modelled according to spatial information standards and as linked geo-data. The latter allows interconnection with other relevant historical sources and applications.

Time Needed

When did you begin this project? When did you complete this project?

Time Span: March 10, 2017 - September 09, 2019

Length: 2 years 6 months


What is the outcome of the project?

The outcome of the project is a spatial database and a web-based infrastructure that manages the historical information derived from the work of the French Scientific Mission, an important historical source - until now only in paper. The infrastructure constitutes a reconstruction of the historical landscape in the form of an interactive historical atlas that integrates maps, texts and images giving a deeper insight into the spatial context of that time.

Different material for the historical location “Navarino”.

Spatial digital storytelling was also used as a way to explore the spatial dimension of the information. The representation of the Mission’s journey in the form of a modular spatial-geographical narrative highlights that digital storytelling can be a very useful tool to record, index and eloquently share historical knowledge typically embedded in many - volumes books (the Mission’s work includes eight volumes of texts, maps, landscape views, drawings etc).

Screenshot from the geo-story of the Flora-Fauna section of the Mission.

Finally, a series of maps have been developed as a result of the comparative analysis of the spatial data revealing e.g. placenames changes, population density in 19th century, abandonded settlements, regions of later urban development, spatial relations etc..

Density regions and dominant cities according to their population.

Urban development 19th-20th century.

Place names changes.

Conclusion: Historical maps are a basic component of Spatial Digital Humanities. In general, maps have been the primary method for conveying information by adding geographic reference to data. By this, it is possible to re-organise data spatially and to compare entities and their relations to others that have the same location. The key component for correlating or geotagging different data sources is place names. Historical maps are a rich source of old toponymy easily correlated to the current one (by georeference) and actually constitute a database of names along with their geographic location (geo-gazetteer). Apart from that, historical maps can be the base map background from projecting any historical information revealing spatial concepts and relations of their time.


What tools, resources, programs, or equipment did you use for this project?

In the framework of this project, the following tools were used:

  • Georeference of maps: ArcGIS georeference tool

  • Accuracy analysis of historical maps: MapAnalyst

  • Digitization of data: ArcGIS

  • Database development: PostGIS

  • Spatial and statistical analysis: ArcGIS, SPSS

  • Web publishing: CodeIgniter, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, Leaflet js

  • Storytelling: ArcGIS StoryMaps


Please describe any costs incurred for this project, and (if relevant) how you secured funding for these costs.

This research was co-financed by Greece and the European Union (European Social Fund - ESF) through the Operational Programme «Human Resources Development, Education and Lifelong Learning» in the context of the project “Reinforcement of Postdoctoral Researchers” (MIS-5001552), implemented by the State Scholarships Foundation. The development of the web portal was funded by Moreas S.A..


Please give an overview of the workflow or process you followed to execute this project, including time estimates where possible.

1. Georeference of the historical maps of the French Scientific Mission and overlay on current base maps (4 months).

Distortion grid of the georeferenced map sheet 17.

2. Extraction of spatial data from historical maps as structured data. This was implemented by digitising any spatial entity depicted in the maps (e.g. rivers, settlements, road network etc.) as points, lines, polygons within a GIS environment - (6 months).

3. Development of the spatial database and organization of the information according to official standards (e.g. ISO 19101, ISO 19115 for the geographic information, ISO 19142-19128 for WFS and WMS web services, W3C Geospatial Vocabulary, RDF syntax for creating placenames list as linked data, Dublin Core for documenting resources) - (2 months).

4. Enrichment of the database with data derived from the texts and photographic material of the Mission’s work and creation of two spatial stories ( (2 months).

5. Comparison with current datasets and analysis of the historical spatial information in order to identify active spatial patterns and relations during the establishment of the first Hellenic State (settlements distribution, types of dependencies among settlements, relations between built environment and rural areas, changes in land uses etc.) (6 months).

6. Integration of the information and maps into the web portal establishing links to different databases or applications such as the project “Name changes of settlements in Greece” and World Historical Gazetteer (ongoing) (3 months).

7. Development of a gazetteer of the old toponymical information linked to other datasets ( (3+months).

Challenges & Opportunities

What, if anything, changed between beginning your project and its current/final form?


Is there anything specific you wish you had known when beginning your project that might help other people to know?

The most difficult work is to adjust the mathematical properties of the digitised old maps (georeference). The success of this process depends on different factors (such as the surveying techniques for producing the map, the map’s scale, the accuracy of the scanning of the map and the density and spatial distribution of the control points). The georeference method can be selected from a series of mathematical algorithms (transformations) and typically following the trial and error method (using different transformation or control points) you can achieve the best accuracy for your dataset.

Next Steps

Do you have any plans to follow up on this project or work on something similar in the future?

Currently, we are working on two research projects as a continuation of this project. The first is funded by the General Secretariat for Research and Technology and its object is to identify, map and comparatively analyse the flora and fauna of the Hellenic State as was recorded in the work of the French Scientific Mission. The ultimate goal is to create a digital atlas that will store datasets of different historical sources and periods and eventually to answer the question whether there is a degradation or conservation of nature (species, habitats and land uses) from 19th century until now (title of the project: Degradation and Conservation of Nature: Digital Atlas of the Peloponnese, 19th - 21st Century). The second project is about “The Historical Landscape of the Greek Revolution (1821-1832) - Interactive Atlas -Geographical Narration”. Following an interdisciplinary approach and Deep Mapping techniques, the goal is to highlight, convey and eventually interactively map space, historical events and actors of the Greek Revolution period.

Publications & Presentations

Gkadolou, E. 2019. Spatial Organization and Semantic Modelling of Historical Data: The Case of the French Scientific Mission, 1828-1829. International Journal of Computational Methods in Heritage Science, Volume 3, Issue 2, July-December 2019.

Gkadolou, E. 2019. Place names at the time of the establishment of the Hellenic State: towards the development of a historical gazetteer from the maps of the French Scientific Mission. e-perimetron journal (submitted).

Gkadolou, E. 2019. Historical maps as a storytelling tool to frame humanities: The case of the French Scientific Mission work in time of the establishment of the Hellenic State. 14th PORTO – PORTUGAL International Conference on Humanities, Social Sciences and Education (PHSSE-19) Sept. 9-11, 2019 Porto (Portugal).

Gkadolou, E., Tolias, G. 2018. The Historical Landscape at the Beginning of the Hellenic State: Cartographic Analysis and Documentation of the "French Scientific Mission of Moria", 1828-1829. Future for the past Digital Transduction and visualization of historical material. International conference, 12–14 February 2018, Athens.

Εxhibition "On the roads of Morea- The French Scientific Mission of 1829", July 30, 2018 - September 20, 2018, organized by MOREAS and the National Research Foundation, in collaboration with the French School of Athens, the Melissa Publishing House and the Municipality of Kalamata.

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