Deep Medieval Mapping

Submitted by Sarah Stanley on Wed, 10/22/2014 - 20:15

I started off this unit wanting to work on a Neatline exhibit for the ECDA, with the intent of working it into my later final project. But the recent Will Noel lecture inspired me to “get medieval” as it were, and work with a pre-modern text. My first problem arose when I tried to decide whether I should bother geo-rectifying a map. I mean, who would want to geo-rectify this?

So I decided to bulldoze ahead with my map-generated-by-Neatline, rather than turning a really awesome map upside-down and warping it for arbitrary reasons. I decided to work with Christine de Pisan's Book of the City of Ladies (ou La Livre de la Cité des Dames). This text is a dream vision, in which the author encounters three allegorical women: Reason, Rectitude, and Justice. They then tell her to construct an allegorical city to defend the reputations of women against misogynist literature.

I decided to map out the places that the women referenced in the book may have lived and when they probably lived. I then color coded them by the part of the book (and the part of the city) they were supposed to be a part of. Women later in the book (much like in Dante's Divine Comedy), were considered the "most virtuous women" and the women earlier in the book were virtuous, but not, like, Virgin-Mary-virutous. Unsurprisingly, the most virtuous women centered (generally) closer to Europe, and all showed up after the time of Christ's birth.

Neatline seems like a particularly fascinating and difficult tool to use, given my interest in medieval studies. For my mini-lab, I simplified my work by just using a modern map. I also approximated dates and places in order to tell a broader, more general story. Most problematically, I superimposed contemporary understandings of history, temporality, and place onto a medieval text, in ways that may tell something of a deceptive story. As I continue exploring medieval studies and the digital humanities, I will have to think more about the nuances of these problems. However, given Neatline's customizable and hands-on approach to mapping, I'm confident I'll be able to use it to represent the medieval more complexly.