Online access to the earliest medieval map of Britain
The secrets embedded in one of the earliest maps to show Britain in its geographically recognised form have been uncovered, as Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded researchers launch the newly digitised Gough Map.
The actual Gough Map was drawn on two pieces of sheepskin in the 14th century and is around 45 ins long. It shows Great Britain on its side, before the convention of maps pointing north, and details green rivers and red-roofed cathedrals.
The ‘Gough Map of Great Britain’ is named after one of its former antiquarian owners, Richard Gough (1735-1809).
The online Gough Map is accessible to all and was digitised through the Linguistic Geographies project, whose team members came from the Bodleian Library, the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London and from Queen’s University Belfast. Together they have created a fully interactive, digital, online version of the enigmatic Gough Map which uses fluid zooming, panning and pop-ups to deliver the Map image at an enormous size, giving a level of detail that is considerably better than could be seen with the naked eye.
This map is fully searchable and browse-able by place name (current and medieval), and also by geographical features. Once clicking on a chosen location, information regarding that location’s geographical appearance, etymology, appearance on earlier maps, and much, much more is revealed.
This fifteen-month research project provides some revealing insights into one of the most enigmatic cartographic pieces from the Bodleian collections. The findings are recorded on the newly-launched website www.goughmap.org
The project used an innovative approach that explores the map’s ‘linguistic geographies’, that is the writing used on the map by the scribes who created it, with the aim of offering a re-interpretation of the Gough Map’s origins, provenance, purpose and creation of which so little is known.
Although the identity of the map-maker is unknown, it is now possible to reveal that the text on this the work of at least two scribes: the original 14th-century scribe and a 15th-century reviser.
One of the key investigations based on historical reference and the handwriting on the map was to date the map more accurately. The project has discovered that the map was made closer to 1375, rather than in 1360 as was previously thought.
There are visible differences between recorded details in Scotland and England. For example: the text written by the original scribe is best preserved in Scotland and the area north of Hadrian’s Wall, whereas the text written by the reviser is found in south-eastern and central England. The buildings in Scotland do not have windows and doors, whereas in the revised part of the map, essentially everywhere south of Hadrian’s Wall, most buildings have both windows and doors.
the text written by the original scribe is best preserved in Scotland and the area north of Hadrian’s Wall
Throughout, towns are shown in some detail, the lettering for London and York coloured gold, while other principal medieval settlements such as Bristol, Chester, Gloucester, Lincoln, Norwich, Salisbury and Winchester are lavishly illustrated.
The website also includes a series of scholarly essays discussing the map; latest news about the project and a blog.
The Gough Map’s origins have long remained uncertain, including who made it, how, where and why? To begin to address these questions the project used innovative approaches that explored the map’s ‘linguistic geographies’, looking at the writing used on the map by the (unknown) scribes who created it. This technique involves specialist palaeographic and linguistic skills that are normally applied to text manuscripts, but somewhat experimentally the aim with this project was to use them on a map manuscript with the aim of finding out more about the Gough Map’s making.
Paul Vetch, from the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s, said: ‘The Gough Map is a fascinating document from any number of different disciplinary perspectives – history, linguistics, palaeography, cartography, to name but a few – and our aim was to try and deliver it in a way which would make it available for as many modes of interrogation as possible.’
Nick Millea, Bodleian Map Librarian, said: ‘The project team was keen to ensure that our research findings reach the widest possible audiences, not least because maps are enduringly popular objects and always capture the imagination; medieval maps especially. To this end one of the main project outcomes is this web-resource through which the Gough Map is made more widely accessible. We hope this will help others to develop other lines of enquiry on medieval maps and mapmaking, whether in academic or non-academic sectors, as well as provide greater levels of access to the Gough Map, enhancing its world-wide significance in the history of cartography.’
2011 UK Memory of the World Register includes Gough Map, United Kingdom National Commission for UNESCO, 2011. Accessed 4 June 2011.