Blog Post

Chronicle Maps and Identity Crises

Hello, all! 

I'm a medievalist reading for PhD exams in the English department at UNC. I'm also trying to develop a mapping program/platform/website/database/magical screen that will plot, sort, and layer all locations mentioned by a group of texts called The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle--a collection of annals begun in the ninth century and extending to the twelfth. Ideally, the map’s user will be able to query dates, names, locations, and event type (invasion, fire, miracle, etc). The map will have a different layer for each version, so the viewer will also be able to see (or hide) when and where the annals differ from each other.

These texts are fascinating and notoriously difficult to relate to one another; by visualizing their points of interest, conflict, omission, and overlap, we might be able to shed some light on their relationships with one another and with medieval English literature at large. 

I've been lucky to attend working groups, discussions, lectures, and meetings about integrating the digital into my research (and department), but I’m not much more experienced in digital development than I was when I started the project almost a year ago. 

The advice I've received has been thoughtful and motivating. So now I find myself in a strange place-- knowing what I need to learn, but not knowing how or when to learn it. Drupal might work. TEI could help. Omeka seems promising.

Yet here are those pesky exams, and foreign language flashcards, and my students, and our dogs. And after that will be the prospectus, and foreign language reading, and my students, and our dogs.  And then the dissertation...you see where I'm going with this. I don't want to abandon textual study for a digital degree, so how can I justify spending all this time and on learning something that--it sounds strange to say--I shouldn't be learning right now? 

That's precisely what I was wondering when I attended Dyan Elliott's "Counterfactual Twelfth Century" presentation in lieu of the "Meaning of Digital Humanities" talk today. I began tweeting (with permission) but soon found myself distracted. I was missing those great phrases, interesting linkages, and difficult names. I was trying to share but losing the presentation’s most intricate and poetic points.

To whom did I owe this reporting, anyway? Was I doing this for notes, as a listening exercise, or because it was digital and "that's what I do"? No matter the reason for trying, I was bad at it. My tweets weren't helpful or detailed. I was losing on both sides. I had to choose medieval or digital in yet another moment of multidisciplinary multitasking. But here’s the catch: I didn’t want to choose.

Why?

Because whether it’s Anglo-Saxon Chronicles or Semi-Saxon dream visions, this stuff is just too damn cool for people to miss.

I remembered that I want this Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Map because the texts are difficult, marginalized, and under-studied. I want to make them accessible, relatable, and fluid. I want the map to prompt new scholars with new interpretations and new interests. That's why I was at a medieval event-- that's why I was tweeting there, too.

So I'm back to feeling good about my digital inklings. I feel justified in my interest. I won't let difficulty (and at times, seeming impossibility) distract me from what I know-- what I see-- is important. 

But now I need some help. Conversation and advice, of course, but more drastically perhaps, practice and experience.

Archivists, coders, digitalization specialists, visualization wizards, and anyone else (other Anglo-Saxonists out there?)-- I'd love to know what you think and how you’ve learned.

I'm looking forward to sharing ideas and inspiration with everyone here. 

Huzzah for HASTAC!

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15 comments

You might take a look at Neatline, from the UVA Scholar's Lab:

http://neatline.org/

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Wonderful Chris :) Now trying it!

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Hi Rebecca, I understand and share your problems and doubts. Maybe you want to have a talk via mail? my email is rebullap@tcd.ie.

Talk to you soon, I hope

 

Patrizia

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Glad to hear the crisis was averted. Also glad to hear I'm not the only one who has trouble keeping up with all this digital stuff. We cyborgs are expected to be superhuman and that's not fair!

Another map project you will want to take a look at is mapoflondon.uvic.ca. It's about to undergo a complete redesign this year. The general editor, Janelle Jenstad, has a HASTAC profile and I'm sure she would love to compare notes. She's been working on it for over a decade so she may even have some timesaving pointers.

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Thank you all for your helpful comments. Chris, I've checked out neatline before but am having trouble implementing it. Cameron, thanks for the support, link, and networking! 

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Following up on Chris Leeder's suggestion :

Have fun!

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Hi, Rebecca. I'm also a medievalist and am at the dissertation-writing level. I'm working on a project that sounds similar to yours and am at a similar level of expertise and project juggling, but with the benefit of my school's New Media Lab. My plan is to map Byzantine structures of Cappadocia, Turkey. Hopefully it will also be interactive so that readers can search by tags such as type of decoration or specific narrative scenes. I started a list of structures on my Wordpress site, then I took an intro to GIS course. Now I am making a database (in Omeka or Drupal) and plan to map each site using the Google maps API.

I've found inspiration in a number of sites...
Antiquity a-la-carte has a very interactive map: http://awmc.unc.edu/wordpress/alacarte/
The Pelagios Project blog and map are also good: http://pelagios-project.blogspot.com/p/about-pelagios.html
Mapping Gothis France is also nice: http://mappinggothic.org/
The only Anglo-Saxon project I know of is Visionary Cross http://visionarycross.org/

I'd love to share process and progress reports as we tackle the digital middle ages. My own site is www.nml.gc.cuny.edu/documentingcappadocia

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Hi Alice Lynn--

Thanks for reaching out! Your project looks fascinating; I'd love to hear more about your process and progress. I have a meeting with someone about Omeka this afternoon; perhaps we can share notes about the platform's potential and pitfalls?

Also, thanks very much for sharing your inspirational sites. I hadn't known of them before!

Wishing you the best of luck and looking forward to staying in touch!

 

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Hi, Rebecca.

Partly as a result of this thread, I've decided to start writing blog entries on the methods and tools I'm using for my project. Please feel free to join me there or via email at amcmichael@gc.cuny.edu. I'm about to dive into the Omeka world next week, so I'd be happy to chat about that.

Cheers,

Alice Lynn

 

 

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Wow-- the Google Ancient Places (of the Pelagios project) is almost exactly what I was imagining!!! I wonder if they'll let me use the same interface; there seems little reason to reinvent the wheel.

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Hi all,

Check out the new zoomed timeline program at chronozoomproject.org. It's not exactly what you're looking for, but I can't wait until we can use it in the Humanities. Of course, then I'd need to find time to learn it... Your description of the dilemma was very apt. Dorothee

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Alice,

Echoing Rebecca's interest - I am also planning an OMEKA project, she and I are collaborating - please do post more. Will you layer maps of different points on the chronology, allowing readers to compare Byzantine locations with modern Turkish landmarks and political geography? As Turkey has coastlines, has erosion or other natural changes altered the contours of your map? Very excited to hear more about this.

HASTAC Rebecca 2.0

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Hi, Rebecca.

Please see my reply above to Rebecca--I'd love to have more comments and discussions about this. In general, I don't plan to include modern Turkish sites but to represent the ancient and medieval locations instead.

Best,

Alice Lynn

 

 

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Rebecca,

Have you given any thought to using textual analysis tools that reveal words within the texts. I have used Voyant Tools  before (it is quite easy to learn) to find various patterns in the text. You can even filter it so it removes standard words like "the" or "and." 

The only problem is the texts must be in plain text on your computer. It does not read images of text.

Best,

Rob

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Hi, Rob. Thanks for the recommendation! I'll have to check it out. 

Best,

Rebecca

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