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Editing the Spatial Turn | Early Modern and Open Access

By February 16, 2014 No Comments
This is part of a new, weekly series here at TSS: Early Modern and Open Access will regularly showcase articles of interest to early modernists that are freely available in peer reviewed, open-access journals.


Robert Imes, “Editing the Spatial Turn: Towards a Merger of Early Modern Cartography and Travel Writing with GIS,” APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature & Culture 6 (2013). 


Historiæ Oculus Geographia [geography is the eye of history]. The above aphorism is inscribed on the title page of the 1606 English edition of Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius’ (1527-1598) Parergon Theatri (first ed. 1579), which is a collection of maps of Europe, North Africa, and the Levant designed to showcase the territories and cities of classical states. Ortelius’ first edition, which “he considered his major cartographical achievement,” contains 4 maps; by contrast, the 1606 edition includes 43. The enlargement of the Parergonaccompanies the acceptance of its guiding premise that maps bear historiographical significance as documents that inform the appreciation of historical moments and forces. Ortelius recognizes the inherent dynamism of maps and mapping thusly: “Without geographical understanding, many, even most, historical events can be only imperfectly understood, or even completely misunderstood, and this is especially true of the expeditions of kings and emperors, the migrations of people, and the travels and explorations of famous men.”
Historiæ oculus geographia is a concept with long roots, but early modern European cartographers and cosmographers explored the relationship of geography and history with especial alacrity as they responded to the revival of classical scholarship and the discovery of the Americas. The enterprise of combining geographical and historical analysis continues today in the field of spatial humanities studies, which has recently arisen as a discrete discipline from out of the more broadly conceived field of digital humanities research.Increasingly sophisticated geographic information systems (GIS), which integrate hardware, software, and data to manage, analyze, and display geographical information, have allowed for new, digital cartographical applications. In keeping with their early modern predecessors, GIS allow spatial humanities scholars to edit and geographically represent data gathered from a range of historical inquiries for historiographical ends; GIS can be used to display the spread of an epidemic, for instance, or the unfolding of a momentous battle.

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