Maps and views blog

2 posts from May 2014

30 May 2014

Messing about with mappaemundi: The Virtual Mappa Project tools (2)

Welcome back to the Virtual Mappa Project blog, now on our third excursion. Last time, we looked at DM annotation tools embedded within the project's website, which enable us to add text transcriptions and translations to the current corpus of mappaemundi. In future it will allow users to make their own notes on these medieval maps, tied directly to the images. Now we will try to explain how a couple of "linking" functions can create complex connections and pathways between texts and images within the project workspace, and out into the wider Web.

So last week's "lesson" in making markers and text annotations is obviously a form of linking itself, but that's just a starting point for a whole world of linked data. From that first image-to-text connection we can begin to branch out, using the text annotations as a jumping-off point. Any piece of text within an annotation can be highlighted with the "Tag" tool, and connected to any other image marker or piece of text. As with the original annotations, pop-up boxes and integrated image thumbnails show where the connections lead. 


A bustling DM workspace with a variety of map images and text documents. Reproduced by permission of the British Library; The Mappa Mundi Trust and the Dean and Chapter of Hereford Cathedral; and The Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. 

As well as the mappaemundi annotations we have mentioned, we have text documents stored alongside the map images. Currently these include relevant parts of Isidore's Etymologies and Orosius's Seven Histories Against the Pagans - in Latin and Old English -  and we plan to add others. Because much of the content on these mappaemundi is derived from these sorts of classical texts - often without citation - it is incredibly useful to be able to link instances from the map images to their specific sources. Mappaemundi, in modern terms, could be considered as "map mashups", plugging an encyclopedic variety of classical and medieval knowledge into a map framework, to create a new and unique image of the world. They're great to view as a finished product, but the identification of the parts which make up the whole can shed light on the creation process, the worldview of the creator and even the audience he was aiming at. But I definitely don't need to point this out to any medievalists reading!

  Basilisk Junction Pair

Spot the difference, with the Hereford (L) and Sawley (R) mappaemundi, two sections just waiting for connections to be made. Reproduced by permission of the Mappa Mundi Trust and the Dean and Chapter of Hereford Cathedral; the Sawley map is reproduced by permission of the Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. This manuscript - MS66, p.2 - the Higden map of MS21, f.9 r (top and below) and many others are available to view online, thanks to the Parker Library on the Web.

Enough about text already. There are some amongst us who don't care for letters, and there is plenty of purely pictorial information on these mappaemundi to keep everyone looking for a long time. The connections described above can also be made directly between image markers, either within the same image or between different map canvases. There are plenty of elements which crop up on a number of the maps in a visually distinct and recognisable form, such as the almost invariably red-coloured, two-pronged Red Sea and Persian Gulf (below), and it is possible to jump directly between the instances on the images without troubling any text.

Six Red Seas

The Red Sea depicted on (clockwise from top left) the Psalter, Basic Higden, Royal Higden, Sawley, Hereford and Cotton mappaemundi

 This function is also useful for associated elements spread widely across one image, such as the tragicomically confused continent labels on the Hereford mappamundi, or instances like the word 'Paludes' written split across three separate bodies of connected water (below).

Palludes Ostrich DetailPalludes Group

The Hereford map's 'Paludes' (modern-day Sea of Azov) in three pieces, above the sadly now extinct Ukrainian Ostrich (left). Image markers on the same canvas can be linked directly  to one another, temporarily glowing red when a connection is made (right). Reproduced by permission of The Mappa Mundi Trust and the Dean and Chapter of Hereford Cathedral. 

 Everything described so far in terms of data connections takes place within the framework of the Virtual Mappa Project website, but another simple function can create a near-infinite scope of the linked data. Basically, you can quickly and easily place hyperlinks to external websites within the text annotations. Obviously, a hyperlink can connect to just about anything online: articles, images, gazetteers - I don't need to list the contents of the Web! The Virtual Mappa Project framework still contains the notes, connections and structure you need to engage dynamically with the available mappaemundi in an organised (if rather unique) fashion, but the simple inclusion of a hyperlink tool opens up the annotation content to a whole world of extra information.

Let's ride the Tiger down River Euphrates

 A selection of texts, images and links in the DM workspace: Babylon, between the Tigris and Euphrates. Reproduced by permission of the British Library, the Hereford Mappa Mundi Trust and the Dean and Chapter of Hereford Cathedral, and not forgetting the Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

 It is a little tricky to describe and explain the processes and outputs of this type of linked data in a clear, linear fashion, as the process and end result of this form of data creation is anything but linear. But hopefully we have given a sense of the scope and structure potentially provided by the Virtual Mappa Project in allowing us to analyse and engage with these fantastic mappaemundi in a flexible, personal and wide-ranging fashion. I personally haven't really begun to get stuck in to the processes of linked data creation for these documents, but I am definitely looking forward to getting lost in the links between the medieval maps, classical texts and all the other documents and sources that helped to create them, and will help us to better understand them.


-  Cat Crossley

21 May 2014

Messing about with mappaemundi: The Virtual Mappa Project tools (1)

The previous Virtual Mappa blog post introduced you to some of the project's mappaemundi, and laid out some basic concepts that make medieval maps different from modern ones. This time, it's all about the DM annotation tools we've been using to markup the mappaemundi and add in the information we need to better understand them. 

3 BL Maps

 DM workspace, showing (L-R) the Royal Higden, Cotton and Psalter maps (London, British Library: Royal MS 14.C.IX,  ff.1v-2;  Cotton MS Tiberius B.V, f.56v; Add. MS 28681, f.9)


Currently, most people can only really appreciate these mappaemundi as images alone. The main barrier to understanding a medieval map is the Latin text it is written in. Most of the individual icons on the map have little labels or long paragraphs attached, written in a language many of us can't read. Without having the textual information accessible, you are essentially just looking at images - worthwhile in itself, but limiting.

Hereford Map Marsok  Hereford Map Phoenix. No I know it looks like a crow, but it is honestly supposed to be a Phoenix...  Hereford Map Sciapod
 A small selection of creatures from the Hereford Mappamundi which need nearly no words: the Marsok, Phoenix (yes, really) and Sciapod. Reproduced by permission of The Hereford Mappa Mundi Trust and the Dean and Chapter of Hereford Cathedral 


For a traditional text like a book or letter, a facing page translation works just fine. With mappaemundi the text is embedded within the image, so getting a translation that's easily accessible without destroying the integrity of the image itself takes a bit of thought. In paper format it is almost impossible. But with the Virtual Mappa project we have some simple digital tools that can do the job well, and here, with some examples from the Hereford Mappa Mundi, we will explain how to use them.

   Higden Map Crete, Cyprus and…Something

Some nearly illegible text with Crete, Cyprus, and one other island from the Royal Higden mappamundi,  Royal MS 14.C.IX ff.1v-2 (London, British Library). Any ideas? 


Firstly, we want to make a marker to highlight an area of the map we are interested in, be it an image, piece of text, or both. There are various shape options available for making these markers, but I usually use the basic line-draw tool. With it you can simply underline a word, or create a complex shape marker for, say, a Lynx and its description (below).

Lynx1 Lynx2

Detail of the Lynx from the Hereford Mappa Mundi, marked up within the DM workspace. Reproduced by permission of The Hereford Mappa Mundi Trust and the Dean and Chapter of Hereford Cathedral.

Now you have a marker tied to the map image, to which we can begin to attach useful information. Rolling your cursor over the marker makes a pop-up box appear, giving the option to create an attached text annotation. You can add in whatever notes you want to make about the marked-up area. Basic text formatting options are available in the annotation window, and the markers' visibility can easily be turned on or off, for when you want to see the image unsullied. 


 Detail of Lynx and its transcription and translation. Reproduced by permission of The Hereford Mappa Mundi Trust and the Dean and Chapter of Hereford Cathedral.


Our annotations follow a basic template, giving a transcription of the Latin text and an English translation of the Latin. So for each piece of text on these maps, you will be able to rollover the marker, click on the pop-up box and read the translation in another window. Just adding this basic bit of information should make these maps much more accessible to everyone. 

  Hereford Delta Creatures

Details of a marked-up Salamander (left) and Mandrake (right) from the Nile Delta region of the Hereford map. Reproduced by permission of The Hereford Mappa Mundi Trust and the Dean and Chapter of Hereford Cathedral.

The aim of this project isn't just to have our map annotations available to view, though the in situ transcription and translation will certainly aid everyone's understanding. The point is that these tools are embedded in the software interface, so at some point in the future anybody will be able to make their own markers and annotations. Maybe you're coming at the documents from a different research background, interested in elements we haven't covered; maybe you'll spot something we didn't even see; or maybe you just think the Latin translation needs improving!

Generally, everybody organises their ideas and notes differently, and the Virtual Mappa Project is open and flexible enough to allow all users to look at the available mappaemundi and attach their notes directly to the digital images. It is an innovative way to engage with these complex, overtly visual documents, and I look forward to seeing how people make use of the annotation tools we are providing for this project.

   Hereford Map Simea In Situ

 Detail of Scandinavia (left) and a close-up on the famous Norwegian Simea (right). Reproduced by permission of The Hereford Mappa Mundi Trust and the Dean and Chapter of Hereford Cathedral.


Coming up next week will be some more about these annotation tools, but we'll be talking about linked data, and how just a couple of  different "link" functions within the Virtual Mappa interface can help create incredibly complex connections, associations and pathways through your mappaemundi annotations, and out into the wider web.


 Cat Crossley