History

History

Description

Since launching its first website in 2002, the Institute for Palestine Studies (IPS) has been looking for ways to use the possibilities offered by the rapidly growing information  technology to present and develop its accumulated knowledge on the history of the Palestine Question to a wide audience. Attention was given to digitizing and structuring its resources, publishing much of its periodicals online, providing search tools, permitting multilanguage search, and making its extensive library accessible online. Yet despite the wealth of substantive resources on Palestine published on the IPS website, this did not answer the needs of a diverse audience (academics, students, journalists, and the general public) who look for easily accessible information on events, issues, or institutions related to Palestine. What was needed was an online encyclopedia of the Palestine Question.

How to achieve this long-term objective was the focus of internal discussions, which intensified in 2009–2011. One idea, inspired by the Wikipedia model, was to start publishing on the IPS website a series of short informative essays, with the expectation that the cumulative effect over the years would achieve the objective. Another idea was to publish an online chronology of the “peace process” that would be gradually expanded to cover other Palestine Question topics. Both proposals included establishing hyperlinks to other relevant material such as historical documents or articles drawn from IPS periodicals.

At that point, the Welfare Association/ Taawon, a long-standing partner of IPS, was preparing to launch its flagship project, the Palestinian Museum. In 2012–2013, IPS and the Welfare Association explored joint endeavors that could serve the museum’s future cultural programs and further the IPS mission. Consequently, IPS proposed to the Palestinian Museum the concept of a web-based Interactive Timeline of the Palestine Question that would present in an interesting pedagogical way a chronology of the political and military events that have shaped Palestine from the mid-nineteenth century to the present; link them to related historical documents, maps, and photographs; and provide a few dozen essays (highlights) on major Palestine Question-related developments and institutions.

For the Palestinian Museum, the Timeline would provide the backbone and historical context of the exhibitions and activities it would present to the museum audience: it would make it possible to situate the cultural trends (signposts in Palestinian art, literature, cultural movements, and so on) within the milestones of Palestine’s modern history and to locate the events that have been the drivers of artists’ works and without which one could not fully appreciate the works presented. For IPS, the Timeline concept (which was built on the two ideas above (short essays and a chronology) would constitute an appropriate opening phase in a sequence that would allow easy updates and further iterations in its evolution toward the encyclopedia objective. At the same time, it offered a self-contained, stand-alone project that could be implemented and published within a reasonable amount of time.

From the onset, it was self-evident that the philosophy that would govern the project would follow the age-old vision of both the Welfare Association and IPS:

- to present a factual and accurate description of the Palestine Question that is simultaneously committed and objective;

- to show the Palestinians as they are—purposeful actors, and not just victims, people who succeed and fail, who develop means of struggle and experience successes and setbacks, and who build their political, social, and cultural institutions outside and inside Palestine;

- to speak the same language to all audiences and maintain the same tone, as all materials were planned to be written in both Arabic and English.

At the beginning of 2014, IPS and the Palestinian Museum formally agreed on the Timeline. During the first phase, the scope of the project consisted in drafting around 1000 chronology entries (covering the years 1850–1999) and 30 highlights. Two years later, IPS, building on the progress made and the experience gained, embarked on the second phase of the project. It developed the thematic chronology concept: events which are part of the overall chronology and cover comprehensively a specific theme (such as all sessions of the Palestine National Council, or all World Zionist Congresses) are presented in a separate page for an easy and focused reading and a convenient access to related historical documents. During the second phase, the coverage of highlights was expanded to include not only political and military issues, but also social and cultural ones. A new component was also added: biographies of Palestinian intellectuals, artists, leaders, combatants, and politicians who left their mark on the history of Palestine during the twentieth century.

In the meantime, the Palestinian Museum hired Visualizing Palestine (a portfolio of Visualizing Impact involved in data science, technology, and design) to construct the content management system of the project and to develop the graphic design of the platform that will host the Timeline. Visualizing Palestine performed its work in accordance with the functionalities conceived by IPS and along the requirements of a museum’s accompanying project, called Stories. The site (paljourneys.org) hosting the Interactive Timeline of the Palestine Question and Stories was made public in January 2018.

Following a period of consolidation and of augmenting the platform with additional content (chronology entries, thematic chronologies, highlights, biographies, and documents), IPS, in coordination with the Museum, felt ready to add a sixth significant component, Places. Developed by IPS in-house beginning in mid-2019, Places constitutes the main new feature of the third phase. Adding it has involved building a geographic information system (GIS) to permit immediate location of towns and villages cited in the platform on Palestine’s historical maps. At this stage, the GIS is linked to the 418 villages that were destroyed and depopulated during the Nakba, each of which reproduces the description provided in All That Remains, the IPS volume edited by Walid Khalidi. In addition, Places will feature soon articles on each of the 60+ Palestinian refugee camps and link them to the refugees’ villages of origin.

Now, with more than 2,000 substantive entries in the overall chronology, more than 200 highlights and biographies written specifically for the project by leading academics and experts in the field, about 500 relevant historical documents, hundreds of photographs and illustrations, and more than 400 entries on the villages depopulated in 1948, IPS and the Palestinian Museum decided it was time to give the project a new name—Interactive Encyclopedia of the Palestine Question—and to migrate it on a standalone eponymous platform, palquest.org. As the same time, IPS has taken charge of the platform’s content management system, with the assistance of Calibro, a multidisciplinary design studio, for additions and changes to the original graphic design.

The project has now (in 2022) a relatively long history. On this occasion, the Museum and IPS wish to thank all partners who contributed, at one point or another, to its earlier stages. The project is an ongoing one. The Encyclopedia will be continually upgraded and populated with additional content.