Friday, July 03, 2020

Annotating Medieval Maps

Matthew Paris' Map of Britain is one of the first ever geographical maps of the British Isles. It was made by a 13th Century monk called (you guessed it) Matthew Paris. Paris' map was one of the first medieval maps to move away from a schematic plan (e.g. a strip map or route map) to instead attempt an accurate geographical representation (compare the Map of Britain with Mathew Paris' own route itinerary maps outlining the journey from London to Palestine).

Two years ago I created an interactive annotated version of one of the four Matthew Paris' Maps of Britain. It isn't readily apparent but if you click on some of the medieval place-names on this interactive map you can view the modern names of these British towns and cities.

There are a couple of big problems with my annotated map. My map uses Corpus Christi College's manuscript of Matthew Paris' map, which unfortunately is missing the bottom half of the map (southern England is therefore missing). The other problem is that I wasn't entirely successful in translating all the place-names on Paris' map.

Luckily Historia Cartarum has now created a more complete Annotated Claudius Map. Wisely Historia Cartarum's annotated map uses the British Library's complete copy of one of the four maps Paris made of Britain. Therefore on this version you can actually see Paris' strange depiction of southern England (in which the Thames appears to flow into the English Channel).

The Annotated Claudius Map is also more complete when it comes to the actual annotations. Where I struggled to find the modern translations for all the map's medieval place-names Historia Cartarum has been much more successful. Every single place-name and transcription on the Annotated Claudius Map is interactive. The result is a fantastic tool for studying one of the earliest geographical representations of Britain.

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