Graduate students and fellows from the History Department and the Center for Medieval Studies at Fordham, under the direction of Dr. Nicholas Paul and Dr. Laura Morreale from each department respectively, are collaborating in an effort to open up the conversation and further understand a 13th century map which has not previously been studied in depth. Their project is called The Oxford Outremer Map and it is their goal to “use digital tools and the open global forum of the internet to bring to light a neglected medieval intellectual and cultural artifact.” Through the creation of their website, these collaborators not only hope to provide someone with a foundation of understanding of the map but also encourage other scholars to analyze it and contribute to the unfolding discussion.
Toby Hrynick, a first year PhD student in the History Department who received his MA in Medieval Studies, has been working on the project since its inception in the summer of 2014. On November 6, Toby will be taking the map project on the road, giving a conference paper about the map and participating in a digital workshop at the Haskins Society‘s Conference at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.
We talked to Toby to get some more details on the project and his experience working on the map…
The map is such an enigma, explains Toby, because it is so different from others of the Medieval period. More geographically accurate than most 13th century maps, this map also includes many images that are not clearly related to one another in any way making difficult to discern what its purpose may have been.
One of the most important outcomes of the project so far has been the development of an interactive version of the map that provides transcriptions and historical context when the mouse hovers over the map’s images. This allows others to view the map learn about the specific images drawn on it simultaneously. Toby explained that while this feature is key, one of the biggest challenges has been deciding what information to include in each image’s explanation. With so little known about the purpose of the map the team had to make hard decisions about how to limit the context they provided.
Fully aware of the difficulties this source presents, Toby and the team encourage feedback and collaboration through the website. So far the team has received contributions from both people they sent the website to and scholars who have just found it on their own. Describing the open forum of the internet Toby explained, “This is public in a way that giving a conference paper isn’t, you have no idea who’s going to see it, it’s intimidating in a different kind of way.” And while Toby has received feedback that has corrected or complicated his work, he is eager to be opening the discussion at all. For Toby, it is clear that working with others on this project will bring more success than working alone. “It’s one of those thing that because the map is so broad and you can do so much with it, almost anyone looking at is is going to find something that interests them…[the experience is] not going to be the same for anyone else, there is so much you can do.”
Toby is excited to continue the conversation at the conference. He also encourages everyone to check out and share the team’s website which provides an introduction to the Outremer Map by Dr. Paul and several other essays and features that develop the context of the map and illuminate the teams’ process while forming that context.