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Playing with Google Maps

July 23, 2013

This post is, essentially, a follow-up to the last, “Why Digital?”–in which I posed the fundamental questions that moved me toward using digital tools generally, and mapping tools specifically.

First, an image and a link:

The full-size, interactive version may be found here.

The full-size, interactive version may be found here.

As you can see, this is a fairly straight-forward map, along the lines of what I created when I first started thinking about mapping tools. Done on the Google Maps Engine (which has already progressed to a whole new level in the last few months, with the release of a new engine), it represents a basic version of what I think can be done with manuscript data.

This map takes the issue of geographical movement of a few texts and their manuscripts and helps to display the data visually. The central question is, What if we wanted to map the movement of a single text or manuscripts of that text (or just a single manuscript) across the geography of Anglo-Saxon England? This initial map goes a bit further, since it lays out the geography of 3 different texts and their manuscripts, grouped under 3 different layers with distinct markers (the layering is a nice new feature of the most recent software engine). As a test case, I started with the biblical Judith, Ælfric’s Libellus de ueteri testamento et nouo, and Ambrose’s De officiis ministrorum. For each case, this map presents the following: the starting location as the place of composition of the text; the origin of each manuscript containing that text (when known); and the provenance of each manuscript.

None of these cases, on its own, presents too many problems for mapping, but in the case of Ælfric’s Libellus, I did encounter a complication that may raise issues of mapping as this project develops: the inexactitude of known locations for manuscript origins. This is most clearly seen with London, British Library, Royal + Canterbury, Cathedral Library, Add. 16 + Oxford, Bodleian Library, Lat.bib.b.2 (P)–once unified, now in three parts, which Gneuss indicates originated in “S England.” Without any more precise information, the data needs to be plotted not as a point on a map but as an amorphous section of territory. Fortunately, the most recent iteration of Google’s mapping software allows for this type of data.

Another feature that I like about Google’s interface (also new) is the presentation of a summary chart of the data plotted for each layer, as can be seen here (accessed by clicking the “Data” icon for each layer):

Studying Judith Google Map Test Case-Map Data for Biblical Judith

Studying Judith Google Map Test Case-Map Data for Aelfric's Libellus

Studying Judith Google Map Test Case-Map Data for Ambrose's De officiis

This capability is a particularly nice feature for visualizing the data in multiple ways.

In any case, there is much more to be said and done regarding this type of mapping, and Google is just one piece of software among many. It has some promise, and provides some basic features that play out nicely for this type of project. When I initially turned to Google, it was before the release of this iteration of the Maps Engine, and I can see how the capabilities have come a long way since then. Now that I’ve had a chance to go back and play with Google’s Map Engine some more, it does open up some appealing possibilities. While I do not plan to use Google for the end-product, it does provide some answers to my basic questions, and is a quick and easy tool for the cases I present here to justify my use of mapping tools.

As for what results this type of mapping provides, I think the most significant are in the intersections of the layers, when the manuscripts are taken together rather than separately or as only small groups. For sure, this shows what many Anglo-Saxonists already know: that Canterbury and Oxford were and remain important for manuscripts and transmissions. This is particularly true of Canterbury, which appears on the layers for the biblical Judith and Ælfric’s Libellus, since it is the location of composition of London, British Library, Royal 1.E.vii + viii, c. 990-1010; and Oxford, Bodleian Library, Laud Misc. 509, c.1050-1100; and the place of modern provenance of Canterbury, Cathedral Library, Add. 16. Already we see some basic results emerging that can help us construct a whole picture of the intellectual landscape of Anglo-Saxon textual transmissions.


From → Mapping

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