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  • DSH-2019-0078.R3

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Uncovering Environmental Change in the English Lake District: Using Computational Techniques to Trace Shifting Practice in the Historical Documentation of Flora

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

E-pub ahead of print
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>15/12/2020
<mark>Journal</mark>Digital Scholarship in the Humanities
Publication StatusE-pub ahead of print
Early online date15/12/20
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

There is a lack of concrete knowledge about floristic change in Britain before the mid-twentieth century. Relevant evidence is available, but it is principally contained in disparate historical sources, and this is a major impediment to further research. In this article we demonstrate how these sources can be efficiently collated and analysed through the implementation of state-of-the-art computational-linguistic and historical-GIS techniques. We do so through a case study which focuses on the floristic history of the English Lake District. This region has been selected because of its outstanding cultural and environmental value and because it has been extensively and continuously documented since the late seventeenth century. We outline how Natural language processing (NLP) techniques can be integrated with Kew’s Plants of the World Online (POWO) database to enable temporal shifts in plant-naming conventions to be more accurately traced across a heterogeneous corpus of texts published between 1682 and 1904. Through collocate analysis and automated geoparsing techniques, the geographies associated with these plant names is then identified and extracted. Finally, we use geographic information systems (GIS) to demonstrate the potential of this dataset for geo-temporal analysis and for revealing the historical distribution of Lake District flora. In outlining our methodology, this article indicates how the spatial and digital humanities can benefit research both in environmental history and in the environmental sciences more widely.