From texts to maps (and back again)

Ƥǿşŧḗḓ ƀẏ: pvetch 4 years, 6 months ȧɠǿ

One of the principal digital humanities challenges of our project lies in reconciling all the different types of mapping activity that we need to undertake.  As well as the literal mapping of physical space and the urban landscape to help us develop a historically accurate sense of Swansea at a particular moment in time, we must also figuratively map textual references in the witness statements to concepts (such as places, people, events), and we must also do so in way which preserves the chronology of what the individual witnesses recorded.  We also need to try and achieve this within a single technical architecture that will allow us to bring together the textual edition and the GIS data that the other members of the team have been working hard at compiling.  

In the Mapping Medieval Chester project we faced a simpler, but similar issue, and we approached this problem by applying two 'tried and tested' methodologies; Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) XML was used natively to create a detailed edition of the working texts, whilst (then-current) web mapping technologies were used to publish the GIS data in map form on the web.  A simple master list of places was maintained to allow us to create direct links to the map, and we used these in developing the project's website to illustrate the relationship between places referred to in the texts (whether directly or indirectly).  In effect then, the relationship of map to text and back was quite literally superficial because these things really only came together on the project's website.

For our new project we want to try and acheive something much more unified and this will involve some very different approaches.  The starting point is developing a conceptual model - very much like a map - that encompasses all the information we have to work with. This is exactly the same approach used for many digital projects where there are lots of different types of information that need to be brought together (for example, it's how the 2012 Olympics website organised all the information about different sports, events, atheletes, results, etc). We'll be using this approach to integrate all the evidence together at a much lower level than we could for Medieval Chester, and the result should be that we will be able to show some exciting perspectives on the witness statements, alowing you to see and understand all the different things that the witnesses saw, the order they saw things happen, and crucially where they disagree with one another.  

In future blog posts, we'll be looking at the technologies behind the 2012 Olympics and BBC Proms websites and showing how we're using exactly the same approaches to map together all the information surrounding William Cragh's hanging.