9 April Oxford Outremer Map Colloquium


From the left: Asa Mittman (CSU Chico), P.D.A. Harvey (Durham), and Evelyn Edson (Piedmont Virginia)

This past 9 April, the Centre for Medieval Studies hosted the Oxford Outremer Map Colloquium at the Lincoln Centre campus. This colloquium, showcasing the work the Centre has done for the digitization project of Corpus Christi College MS 2*, a unique and somewhat baffling map of Outremer dating to the mid 13th century, served as an informal unveiling of the digitized map’s website and an introduction to the debates surrounding the map and its curious composition. Broken into two parts, the colloquium addressed the authorship of the map and the use and application of a digitized text as opposed to physical interaction with a manuscript itself. Pre-circulated papers were presented and responded to by Evelyn Edson (Piedmont Virginia), P.D.A. Harvey (Durham), Asa Mittman (C.S.U. Chico), David Pedersen (Fordham), Nicholas Paul (Fordham, presenting on behalf of Sarit Kattan Gribetz, Fordham), and Abigail Sargent (Princeton, MA Fordham 2015), and Tobias Hrynick (Fordham), both of whom worked on the website itself. Two computers were provided during the colloquium for attendees and participants to interact with the new website and the digitized map.

The first portion of the colloquium, discussing the authorship of the map, had Evelyn Edson presenting her views on why the map was likely produced by Matthew Paris, a controversial writer and prolific cartographer of 13th century England. While this map, Edson related, did differ dramatically from Matthew Paris’ other works, he had source material in the form of pilgrim and crusader accounts, early developing sea charts, and other world maps upon which he could have drawn to produce a unique, politically-aware representation of the Holy Land. P.D.A. Harvey, in response, contested that the map is too dissimilar to Matthew Paris’ earlier maps (“Acre maps,” as he referred to them, for their emphasis on the city of Acre over Jerusalem or any other city of the Levant), but he agreed that sea charts and other such sources as those Edson theorized may have inspired the map’s style and presentation. Saying that Corpus Christi MS 2* is missing Paris’ attention to detail, Harvey believes it to be a hasty copy of a larger, no longer extant, map, and, if Paris did indeed create it, it was by no means meant to be publically presented. Asa Mittman looked to the seemingly apocalyptic nature of the map, with the presentation of the tribes of Gog and Magog walled-off from, but very near to, the Holy Land and the city of Jerusalem, itself labeled and described in Latin, as opposed to Old French, in which the rest of the map is labeled. If Old French is used to convey the state of the Levant in the mid 13th century, Mittman presented, than the use of Latin for Jerusalem indicated the hope that the city will be returned to Christian control upon the completion of the Apocalypse, which Paris believed to have been in motion since the appearance of the Mongols in the Holy Land, themselves represented by the tribes of Gog and Magog on the map. The rhetoric of the map compares well to the portion of Matthew Paris’ chronicle in which he says he was going to stop writing, as the end of the world was imminent, before beginning the next section when the apocalypse didn’t quite materialize.


From the left: Asa Mittman (CSU Chico), Tobias Hrynick (PhD, Fordham), Abigail Sargent (PhD Princeton, MA Fordham 2015)

The second portion of the colloquium spoke to the use and value of the digitized map, and, indeed, of digitizing manuscripts generally. Asa Mittman presented both his reservations and his hopes for a project such as the digitization of Corpus Christi MS 2*. While nothing can replace actual physical contact with a manuscript (itself becoming more difficult as different methods of preservation hinder interaction with the texts), the digitization process allows for the content of a text to be paired with modern translations, bibliographies, glosses, and essays within a single website and made available to any and all across the globe. Digitization, Mittman believes, can never transmit the fullest meaning of a text to a researcher or student, as it deprives one of the physical interaction with which the text was made in mind, but it can allow for a significant measure of study of a text without having to pursue funding to go halfway across the world to enter into a secure library, itself requiring a lengthy request which may be denied, to access the material for a limited period of time. The lack of physicality in digitization is both a positive and a negative, as the text in digital form is a fragment of its true self, but is also no longer bound by space and time. Tobias Hrynick and Abigail Sargent responded to Mittman, saying that the stated intention of the Oxford Outremer Map Project was not to replace physical contact, but to allow a level of interaction with the text that one cannot have with it now, due to the need for the text to be jealously preserved for future study. The map is a text, and a digital copy of the text allows for a scholar to write upon it what notes and glosses he or she may need to aid in his or her own study, just as would have been done at the time of the map’s creation. Perfectly capturing the spirit of the project was Tobias’ closing statement, “The Lewis Chessmen were meant to play chess, and Corpus Christi MS 2* was meant to be doodled on.”

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From the left: David Pedersen (PhD, Fordham), Nicholas Paul (Fordham)

Closing the colloquium were two presentations, one delivered by David Pedersen and the other by Nicholas Paul on the behalf of Sarit Kattan Gribetz, who could not attend. Both presentations displayed the possible use of the digitized map in a classroom environment, with David Pedersen showcasing online modules that could be used with class lectures to introduce undergraduate students to the use of maps as rhetorical devices and the symbolism of medieval cartography. Nicholas Paul presented on the use of the map in Gribetz’s class, “Medieval Jerusalem,” which provided students with a visual representation of the physical and metaphysical views of Jerusalem in Western Europe. Students who actually used the map in their classes attended the colloquium and provided valuable feedback about the online modules and expressed their satisfaction with the direction the modules were taking in their approach to using the map as lesson material.

The Centre would like to thank Evelyn Edson, P.D.A. Harvey, Asa Mittman, David Pedersen, and Sarit Kattan Gribetz for their excellent papers and presentations and for taking part in this valuable discussion. We would also like to extend our most hearty congratulations to Nicholas Paul, Tobias Hyrnick, Abigail Sargent, and all who worked on the Oxford Outremer Map Project for their own remarkable work in putting the website together and providing a creative and eminently approachable way of accessing the map for students and professional scholars alike to take the developing discussion further.