Like many history students, I was interested in digital humanities that started to show itself in the recent projects on Ottoman studies and the appendices of related doctoral theses. My interest, in addition to my admiration for the projects I followed on social media and the ones presented in the book “Spatial Web” prepared under the editorship of Christopher H. Roosevelt, drove me to create a digital humanities project. A project was going to be done, but with whom? What methods were going to be used? When I looked at the budget of the completed projects and saw the numbers, the following question began to appear in my mind: Who would support an undergraduate student in the first place?
After all this initial preparation, we asked to arrange an appointment with Ebru Boyar, Professor of International Relations. She said that she would always welcome young and enthusiastic students with great pleasure and invited us to her office. Following the explanation of the keywords we had in mind and our motivation for the project, we asked her if she would want to be an academic advisor to us. She accepted, but stated that many of the projects she had reviewed were not actually functional, and that if we were going to do a project together, it had to serve a real purpose. The railways were indeed beginning to web all across Anatolia in the second half of the 19th century, and there were also quite a lot of archival documents from this period. The contemporary states of the cities connected by railway networks, mines, forests, water sources and many other natural resources, as well as their interrelationship with one another, could be visualized on a digital map.
The outline of our project was beginning to take shape. For financial support, Prof. Dr. Ebru Boyar recommended the AdımODTÜ fund, which provides financial support solely to undergraduate students. As for academic advisors, we thought of another name with Kadri. Since we were doing a project on railway networks, cities, and environmental transformation, we decided to talk with our professor Selçuk Dursun, who is an environmental historian experienced in digital humanities projects. He loved our idea when we met. He informed us about the software we could use throughout the project and agreed to be our academic advisor, too. We now had two academic advisors.
When we knocked on the door of the AdımODTÜ Office in January, they told us that they would start to accept project offers in March. We spent that time gap developing our project idea, preparing small demos and networking. Finally, in March, we gave our presentation to the AdımODTÜ team. They stated that they would be honored to support such a project in the field of humanities for the first time. We were provided with financial support for the project, but dealing with so many documents, maps and secondary resources was not a job for two people. That is why we started looking for new teammates.
In this process, we have contacted people from the departments of history and international relations in our university who were interested in the subject and more or less had experience with humanities projects. We included Zelal Deniz Erdoğan as the editor of content on social media and the website, followed by Raşit Atasoy, who was previously involved in the Müteferrika project on Ottoman Turkish, and finally Aybüke Doğa Aydın, who was to scan and analyze secondary sources. After forming our team, we reached out to Lorans Tanatar Baruh from SALT Research, which is Turkey’s largest archive. We told her about our project, wanting SALT to support us with visuals and maps of cities, especially for the networks we were to display. Her feedback was positive after sharing our demands with the SALT management, which was to become our project partner. The first phase of our project was successfully completed.
Now, we have a period of one and a half years ahead of us. We will add the data we obtained from thousands of archive documents and hundreds of maps to the digital map we will create in layers through a 50-year timeline, and we will virtually “reconstruct” Anatolia in the 19th century. When our project is complete, this digital map will be accessible on our webpage. Researchers studying the region or the period will be able to access rich data consisting of bibliographies to the most outstanding photos of Anatolian cities simultaneously, easily benefiting from them in their research. To conclude, I would like to express my gratitude for all of the congratulatory messages and mind-opening criticisms we have received, both from inside and outside the academy.