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Digital Mapping and Techniques of Visualizing the Pre-modern Italian City
The recent emergence of digital technologies that allow for the
spatialization of historical knowledge has the potential to radically
transform and augment the historical investigation of pre-modern cities.
Scholars whose work relies on demographic, institutional, descriptive,
artistic, and architectural sources have begun to use digital
geo-spatial technologies not only to organize and visualize their data
in new and innovative ways, but also to link that historical knowledge
to the multiple data sets that can be embedded within
dynamically-constructed temporal and spatial maps of the city to which
they belong. In this way each researcher can build custom research
environments, as well as demonstrate evidence for scholarly arguments
that draw from an ever-increasing number of digital "layers" in time and
Such a project was originally conceived by historian Nicholas Terpstra
(University of Toronto), whose team has been mapping highly detailed
demographic information from a 16th-century census of Florence into a
cartographic digital archive. One of the long-term goals of this is to
provide ways in which a range of diverse historical projects can be
mapped onto this "base layer" and rendered in both temporal and spatial
dimensions. Such a geo-spatial archive, one that is built over time
through a dialogue between interested parties, would provide the means
by which individual researchers and teams could input, link, compare,
and compute the large amounts of data that such digital technologies
allow. For example, several current projects are developing ways of
mapping out familial topographies through the locations of burial tombs,
the spatial relationships of convents throughout the city, and the
visualization of the Florentine soundscape through the temporal mapping
of the daily ringing schedule of the commune's bells. Through such
interventions, new questions can be asked of traditional texts, objects,
structures, groups, and phenomena. As a virtual inter-disciplinary forum
it would integrate linguistic and graphic information, link communities
and objects to specific topographical spaces, and embed a wealth of data
into the historical remains of the city.
In light of these ambitious goals, as well as the relative novelty of
such data computation for scholars in the humanities, an international
workshop will be held at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz -
Max-Planck Institut on 17 June 2013. We are interested in inviting a
range of scholars, both experts in the digital humanities and those who
are interested in exploiting its research potential, to participate in
the workshop to discuss strategies and methodologies of digitally
excavating, mapping, and reconstructing the literary, social, artistic,
and built remains of pre-modern Italian cities in order to develop novel
ways of interpreting the past.