GIS Data: Using Linked Open Data and the World Historical Gazetteer to Map Spatial Data

Module developed by Ruth Mostern, Susan Grunewald, Alexandra Straub, and Karl Grossner from the University of Pittsburgh’s World History Center

Gazetteers are knowledge organization systems for indexing place names and information about named places. Many gazetteers include the coordinates of places so that users can map places and navigate to them. Gazetteers may also incorporate vocabularies of place types so that people can easily determine whether a given name refers to a settlement or to a mountain, for instance. When you query Google Maps for directions to a restaurant or a gas station, you are sending a search to a gazetteer. Gazetteers are key infrastructure for the geospatial internet as well as powerful reference works.

In this module, you will learn how to make a gazetteer and how to index it in the World Historical Gazetteer, a web-based platform that offers infrastructure and content for linking knowledge about the past via place



This exercise will ask you to upload a sample dataset into the World Historical Gazetteer and ensure that it matches a formal linked open data standard—a process known as reconciliation. Instructions on how to register, upload, and reconcile a dataset are found in the exercise links below. You will need access to Microsoft Excel to complete this exercise which we estimate will take you around 20 minutes from start to finish. Use the sample dataset provided for you below to complete this exercise.

If you would also like to practice the process of cleaning a dataset, which is the step that precedes reconciliation, you can find a link for how to do this in the “additional resources” section of this webpage.

Exercise Links

Reconciliation Tutorial


Try New GIS Tools

The World Historical Gazetteer is one example of a growing ecosystem of digital projects and tools for investigating spatial data. The data that you can investigate and visualize in the WHG can also be used in Recogito, an online platform for annotating texts, images, and tabular data. Like the WHG, Recogito allows users to connect a user’s data with other Linked Open Data. 

There are also a variety of other tools for mapping, spatial analysis, visualization, and web publishing. The premier narrative mapping tool is ArcGIS Story Map, which allows users to combine text, maps, and other multimedia in an easily shareable web project. ArcGIS Story Maps work with the ArcGIS Online web mapping platform. ArcGIS online has a free account version, which limits some of the analysis tools compared to a paid subscription. StoryMapJS is a comparable online web mapping and web publishing interface that works in conjunction with your Google account for storage and access.

Investigate New Datasets

Harvard Dataverse is a worldwide research data repository that includes datasets that are useful for the WHG or other forms of digital spatial research and annotation. The WHG has its own repository for historical-spatial datasets on the Harvard Dataverse. The International Institute of Social History also publishes its data on Harvard Dataverse and has spatially organized collections of demographic, social, and economic history.  


  1. Data standards and data ontologies permit formal modeling of complex real-world concepts and they allow for collaboration and interoperability between multiple projects.
  2. Data linking and knowledge sharing supports aggregation, which is critical for data democracy and for creating comprehensive and diverse representations of human experience based on many people’s expertise and perspectives.
  3. A great deal of digital information is either implicitly or explicitly spatial.  Determining and mapping geospatial coordinates permits people to identify spatial patterns and to make connections between specific topic of interest and contextual spatial phenomena.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.