The Imperiia Project

Scholar-Entrepreneur Initiative

What does it take to reconstruct the spatial history of an empire? We are assembling the data, developing the methods, and testing the limits of mapmaking in an effort to find out.

Have you ever wondered whether you would understand the past differently if you could see it on a map?

So have we.

It is a tall order. The past is enormous and history is made every day. Thankfully, the humans that make history leave all sorts of things in their wake. Texts. Graphics. Everything from the mundane to the sublime.

The inhabitants of the Russian Empire left a wide wake indeed.

Like other historians, we are obsessed with all of it: with archives, the context, the meaning. Unlike other historians, we are obsessed with maps. Unique maps. Common maps. Intriguing maps. Infuriating maps. We study them and we make them. Sometimes we pull them apart in order to extract information. Sometimes we put them together in order to analyze historical phenomena. We are turning the archives themselves into geographic information systems because we believe space holds the key to new understandings of the past.

Think of this as a collaborative, slightly rebellious, attempt to explain why where matters.

wide river runs horizontally across the map with tributaries; lines of coniferous and deciduous trees shown pictorially
Map by Semyon Remezov (1696); image courtesy of Harvard Map Library

Digital humanities is having a "moment." But we have only just begun to understand how powerful the connection between historians and machines might turn out to be.

We are building a research platform and developing practices and solutions useful (we hope) to anyone interested in asking and answering spatial questions. Whether you happen to be in a classroom or a library, at a kitchen table or a busy cafe, if you find yourself poring over maps or pondering places or spaces, we are working with you in mind.

Our job is not only to answer our own questions, but to make it possible for you to answer yours. Explore our growing collection of mapstories and interactive resources.

Our work is made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Check out the great work of the Digital Humanities Advancement Grant Program.

Learn More

Related Insights

"The region’s significance has been underestimated because it cannot be understood from the perspective of a single scholar working in a single academic discipline," writes historian Kelly O'Neill, director of the Davis Center's Imperiia Project.

Sifting through a mountain of maps is an art, a craft, and a continuous act of discovery.

A gorgeous hand-painted atlas is tucked away at Houghton Library, waiting for someone to come along and unlock the secrets of Siberia.

Related Events

Past Event

International Conference in Batumi, Georgia ♦ May 29-May 31, 2023

Past Event

What can an ice atlas reveal about climate change and global information flows? 

Past Event

Get the back story on the Black Sea outcropping that has been inspiring empires and troubling ships for millennia.