Historic maps have broad appeal in contemporary cultures around the world. One reason for this – it might be thought – is because the language of maps is universal and straightforward, but is it? How do maps communicate to us? How do they work? The project’s colloquium – on ‘the language of maps’ – explored these important questions by bringing together scholars from around the world whose interest lies in the visual and textual ‘languages’ of manuscript and printed maps dating from medieval and Renaissance periods of European history.
With the theme of ‘communicating through cartography’, and representing perspectives from art, linguistic and literary history, historical geography and archaeology, as well as cartography and the history of cartography, the language of maps colloquium was intentionally multidisciplinary. Its papers and discussions have helped further our understanding and appreciation of the complexity of medieval and Renaissance maps and map-making through examining theoretical, empirical and methodological issues.
Nick Millea (seated) and Elizabeth Solopova at The Language of Maps colloquium, held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, June 23-25 2011
The colloquium’s papers covered artistic, linguistic and palaeographical aspects of historic maps, and examined processes of cartographic production and consumption in medieval and Renaissance Europe. Through them, connections were drawn between cartographic representations of all kinds, whether manuscript or printed maps, including those of regions, countries or local landscapes. The technologies of map-production – including surveying and draughting – were under scrutiny too, for the scientific and artistic expertise involved in making maps in the past was integral to communicating through cartography, as indeed it still is today. The colloquium programme and abstracts are available here.
The colloquium also saw the launch of the project’s web-resource, as well as presentations on some of the project’s findings, particularly the palaeographical and linguistic study conducted by Elizabeth Solopova. There were also two keynote lectures given by the project’s advisory panel members, Jeremy Smith (University of Glasgow), speaking on ‘The Gough Map and the History of English’, and Peter Barber (The British Library), who spoke on ‘Manipulating Gough in the Service of Henry VIII: Maurice Griffith and the Angliae Figura’.
Emerging from the colloquium were three themes that connected the different papers:First we can read maps as ‘Maps of language’, for example through the presence of particular vernacular languages used by cartographers on some historic maps, such as on the Gough Map and Fra Mauro’s mappa mundi, both of which were maps examined by speakers at the colloquium. There are also modern maps of medieval vernacular languages, such as the Linguistic Atlas of Late-Medieval English that Jeremy Smith used and examined in his keynote paper in relation to the Gough Map’s linguistic geographies;
Overall, the colloquium papers and discussions helped to take us further in our understanding of the language of maps and how maps communicate, which proved enormously beneficial to us in our examination of the Gough Map.