Posted on 19 September 2011 by Paul Vetch
The Language of Maps colloquium marked the end of the Linguistic Geographies research project. The event was held in Convocation House in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, over three days, and was attended by speakers and delegates from around the world and from differing disciplines. All shared an interest in maps, and how maps work.
The colloquium 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 and Peter Barber, both of whom spoke on topics connected with the Gough Map and were extremely well-received by all.
Emerging from the colloquium were three themes that connected a number of the 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;
- Secondly we can identify ‘Language on maps’, evidenced through the presence of extracts on maps taken from literary texts, for example, whether influenced by or derivative of pilgrim or travel accounts, such as those by John Mandeville or Marco Polo, or else deriving from scripture and patristic sources. An interesting issue emerged on this and that concerns how the textual narratives of maps, as told by writing on the map, relate to the graphic / visual contents of maps and globes. Discussion ensued on whether the textual content was read in a more ‘linear’ fashion compared with a more fluid reading of a map’s visual content;
- Thirdly there is the ‘Language surrounding maps’, or the meta-language of maps and mapping, and the ‘linguistic communities’ to which certain kinds of maps belonged, whether civic, religious, judicial, or artistic. This topic came through in a number of papers, for example those on the legal uses of maps in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as well as with those papers that considered the placing of maps and globes, such as the Behaim globe, and the Angliae Figura map of Britain that was the focus of Peter Barber’s keynote lecture. The ways in which maps reflect(ed) certain shared languages (and practices) within these different communities, indeed perhaps helping to define, construct and communicate them, is worthy of further examination.
Overall, the colloquium papers and discussions helped to take us further in our understanding of the language of maps and how maps communicate, which is enormously beneficial to us in our examination of the Gough Map. The final stage of the colloquium was to visit another famous medieval map – the Hereford Cathedral mappamundi – and so a group of delegates and speakers journeyed across the Cotswolds from Oxford and spent a relaxed afternoon at Hereford Cathedral, inspecting the map and the new exhibition, as well as having enjoyable meal in the College Hall, a wonderful setting to finish a very successful colloquium.
We’d like to note here our thanks to all those who participated in the colloquium, many of whom had travelled long-distances to be there, as well as thank those who helped in organising the colloquium and contributed to its success, particularly staff at the Bodleian Library and Hereford Cathedral.