Building a Digital Tabaqat: Challenges, Opportunities, and Research Prospects

Atçıl A., Günaydın S., Kami G., Karaarslan A.

Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association, vol.9, no.2, pp.243-266, 2022 (Scopus) identifier


The concept of digital tabaqat refers to the ambition to create biographical databases that combine two seemingly contradictory aims: preserving native categories in the source material from which the data are extracted and creating a common interface that allows data from diverse sources, periods, and regions speak to one another. In this article, we present the ongoing Ulema Database project, which aims to develop a relational and semantic database—a digital tabaqat—to record the biographical information for Muslim scholars from different regions and periods. In addition, we discuss some of the implications of using digital tools for biographical inquiry. Creating a digital biographical database dramatically extends the horizons of scholarship. The use of digital tools provides historians unprecedented macroscopic views across time and place and makes it possible for them to pursue more complex questions and visualize their results in richer and more intuitive ways. Yet fascination with these new tools has its attendant dangers as well, including the potential to undermine conventional scholarship’s emphasis on microstructures and the particularities of specific individuals, sources, periods, and regions.