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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 space.

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.