Blog Post

The Global Middles Ages Project and Mappamundi

The Global Middle Ages Project (GMAP)is a collaborative, interdisciplinary initiative to show what abroader view of the Middle Ages through deep time looks like. It grewout of a course designed by Geraldine Heng at the University of Texasat Austin, which you can read about here.Some of the goals of the course read:

To bring medieval studies into an evermore complex, interdependent, and internationalized twenty-firstcentury, we will teach an interconnected medieval world?a "global"Middle Ages?and the interrelationship of culture, ideas,technologies, religions, and movements across periods of time andgeography. To teach the interconnected relationship of culture in itsmany forms?literature, music, art, cartography, politics, law,etc?team-taught seminars across disciplines will also be introducedin thematically organized units.

One goal of the new seminars is toinculcate practices of thinking across periods, cultures,territories, and disciplines, even as medieval studies at theUniversity of Texas continues to emphasize the importance ofintensive training in disciplinary knowledges and practices.

In 2007, the idea of this courseexpanded into GMAP through the work of Geraldine Heng, Susan Noakes atthe University of Minnesota, and David Theo Goldberg at theUniversity of California Humanities Research Institute (and also oneof HASTAC?s co-founders). They organized a meeting in Minneapolisthat lasted several days and featured a dizzying range of lectures bymedievalists. Rather than hearing only about literature and historyin medieval Europe (a common assumption when people hear about academicwork on the Middle Ages), the talks ranged from Africa to Asia, fromtopography to trade routes, and from numismatics to new ways ofvisualing the period. After the presentations, which represented the interdisciplinary ideals of the project, wethen began discussing how GMAP should organize and present itself. Inparticular, we spent a good amount of time talking aboutMappamundi, the online presence of the project,which is still being planned and developed. Heng writes:

In collaboration with theTexas Advanced Computing Center, a super-computer institute, we aimto design Mappamundi to serve as a digitalclassroom, laboratory, virtual museum, archive, and meeting place: avirtual environment that draws together the diverse resources ofexisting online initiatives on the premodern world and connectslearning communities from all parts of the globe.

You can read more about the original course in Heng, Geraldine. "An Experiment in Collaborative Humanities: Imagining the World, 500-1500 CE." ADFL Bullentin 38.3 and 39.1 (2007): 20-28.

Some of the ideas discussed at thefirst meeting were using supercomputing resources for digitization ofmedieval manuscripts and art objects, real-time modeling oftopographical changes, and, perhaps most exciting, virtualenvironments called CAVEs(Cave Automatic Virtual Environment), which Ana Ventura bloggedabout recently; she also mentionedMappamundi. Imagine if, rather thanreading a description of and looking at drawings of a premodernbuilding, you could enter into a simulation of it and explore thebuilding as if you were inside it. Or, you could go into a CAVE thensee and manipulate digital versions of vases, sculptures, or otherobjects that reside half way across the world.

Of course, one of the first stepstoward bringing about any of these ideas is getting money. Happily,I-CHASSrecently received a $250,000NEH grant that will help fund the Scholarly Community forthe Globalization of the "Middle Ages" (SCGMA) Group in2008-2009. Though the name is slightly different, the SCGMA isanother aspect of GMAP and Mappamundi. As theI-CHASS site states:

SCGMA has been working tocreate an online infrastructure to support the organization of, andresearch with, sources in multiple formats and languages availablefrom multiple scholarly disciplines in order to organize largequantities of textual, visual, and aural resources. HPC will allowSCGMA to extend its current use of high-performance technologies toencompass a more elaborate technological model.

So, from a team-taught course at theUniversity of Texas at Austin four years ago to a recent NEH grant,GMAP and Mappamundi move ahead. I have a few moreposts about the project lined up, and some speculation about how wemight use some of these technologies for outreach and pedagogy, but,for now, I thought I?d just provide an introduction to the project.

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