Maps and views blog

Cartographic perspectives from our Map Librarians

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