Topomine: iterative search for place names

Topomine is a web tool for exploring French toponymy from IGN databases that have been opened since 2021. Thus, it becomes possible to assemble entire databases bearing toponymic information and to make them searchable for the entire French territory, thus forming an explorable data mine.

The interest of toponymic research for historical disciplines lies in the fact that the memory of a place is transmitted in the name it was given. Sometimes it is the transmission of a singular element of the landscape that makes sense (a stone, a specific tree or a forest, etc.), sometimes it is the transmission of a family name or the owner of a piece of land, etc.

The possibilities of TopoMine web lie in the fact that it becomes easy to query the toponymic mine using operators specific to character strings, combined with measures of proximity between spellings of toponyms which by definition have varied and evolved over time.

From then on, it becomes possible to exploit the typology of a toponym (also called generic), the characteristics of prefixes, roots or suffixes related to the specificity of a place. The figure below shows for example a mapping of places with an -ac suffix.

Mapping of place names with the suffix an -ac

The exploitable data represents more than 5 million searchable places (2.6 million point locations from the assembled layers of the departmental BDTopo v3: communes, inhabited and non-inhabited places, singular trees, peaks and summits, caves, etc.; 2.5 million named roads in France from the named roads layers of the departmental BD Topo v3 and 200,000 hydronyms from the Sandre’s BD Carthage).

TopoMine is a tool designed as a cumulative and iterative sandbox that offers a fast response time for testing queries and observing whether an underlying spatial logic is present.

Although TopoMine was designed within the framework of the Paris Time Machine consortium with an underlying historical problem, it is nevertheless possible to explore odonymy, anthroponymy, oronymy, phythotoponymy and choronymy. It is also possible to try out the toponymy of the areas of influence of large cities in the names of roads, literary or political toponymy, etc.

Areas of influence in the toponymy of named roads (Paris/Lyon/Marseille/Rennes/Bordeaux)

On the left, an attempt to map literary toponymy (Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Montesquieu). On the right, an attempt at political toponymy (Jean Jaurès, Léon Blum, René Coty).

The tool is available at:

Developed by Eric Mermet & Eric Grosso

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