Seminar in Medieval and Renaissance Studies: “Reading Maps: Past and Present”

MEDREN 390S.02

This project-based course is to be taken only by students on the Bass Connections team, “Mapping History: Seeing Premodern Cartography through GIS and Game Engines.” More information on the team can be found here:

If you are interested in more information, please contact the instructors via email.

For several decades, scholars of historical cartography have heeded the call to “deconstruct the map”— to treat maps not as representations of the world as it was but as texts, which employ symbols, rhetoric and silences to make arguments about the world as the mapmaker wants it to be seen. Meanwhile, historians, literary scholars and others have applied computational analytics and machine learning to raise new questions about texts through techniques like text mining, XML encoding and data analytics. Bringing these two insights together, how might we “read” maps computationally without altering them to fit the constraints of machine readability?

What if we could climb into historical views of cities and experience the worlds they represent? How could we design digital methods and tools that reconstruct historical images like these in 3D even if they don’t correspond to modern ideas about mathematical perspective or gridded Cartesian space? This project team aims to do just that: develop a methodology that analyzes these maps and views through the process of clipping, modeling and reassembling them in the Unity Game Engine. This malleable software environment will be the aggregation and exploration point for data we create via image tagging, database building and 3D modeling. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds and envision a team that includes students interested in fields as varied as history, art history, computer science, game design, urban studies and many others.

As a means of assessing the variety of city maps, views and panoramas created during the medieval and early modern period, a summer 2020 Data+ projectwill collect and mark up historical images of the cities of London and Lisbon for further analysis by the 2020-2021 Bass Connections team.

Project website; prototype 3D “playable” environments based on various sources, including the 16th-century Portuguese Book of Fortresses, as well as historical views of London and Lisbon; database of tagged images viewable in full resolution through a IIIF Storyboard image server

Instructor: Stern and Triplett, F 10:05-12:35, Course Study Area: History, Fine Arts, Bass Connections Project Students Only

Crosslisting Numbers: 

History 390S.02
Art History 390S.02
Visual and Media Studies 390S.03

Curriculum Codes: 


Course Study Areas: 

Fine Arts, History, Fall 2020