Toponyms are slippery things, meaning one place to one person and perhaps a whole region to another. They are encumbered with cultural baggage, questions of identity, temporality and language.

KDL have been involved in a number of projects which look at differing models of place names. Most recently, the Heritage Gazetteer of Libya was launched, building on place names accumulated in a project mapping the ancient inscriptions of Tripolitania. It was an excellent opportunity to repurpose this data and enhance an area of that database into a fully fledged project.

Place names are a problem that KDL Academic Affiliate Charlotte Roueché has grappled with on many occasions.

Link to the Heritage Gazetteer of Libya website
The apparent simplicity of place names is largely the result of modern standardisations; but their instability is reflected in the fact that so many countries actually use post codes. The challenge is particularly great when more than one alphabet is in use, producing inconsistent transliterations.

Charlotte Roueché

King's College London

This relatively simple problem can be a great inconvenience, as we discovered when trying to locate places in Libya mentioned by archaeologists: names of places had been transliterated by French, Italian and British visitors, each recording what they thought they had heard. Libya is one of many middle eastern countries where accurate geographical information was never made freely accessible until government restrictions were rendered irrelevant by the arrival of Google Earth images. 

Working, initially, to identify Graeco-Roman sites in the country we managed to accumulate a great deal of information and a great range of names  - and it seemed sensible to offer such information to others, in Libya and elsewhere, in the form of a gazetteer. This is not an ambitious exercise: we have limited ourselves to providing co-ordinates and names from many sources, an indication of the type of location, and URIs or links for any other resources known to us. Most of this information can be found elsewhere: our aim is to present it specifically for Libyan cultural heritage, from prehistory to 1950. Most importantly, for each entry we provide a URI for others to use, to serve as the basis of a system of linked data about Libyan cultural heritage. We hope that Libyans will be able to use this in recording their rich heritage, and that others may get a better understanding of how rich that heritage is.