Linguistic Geographies: The Gough Map of Great Britain and its making

Award Holder

Dr Keith Lilley


Higher Education Institute

School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, Queen's University Belfast


'Linguistic Geographies' aims to help explain how maps were produced in the Middle Ages. Very little is known of the processes that were involved in medieval map-making, yet as visual objects maps such as the one which is the focus of this study - the Gough Map of Great Britain - they continue to fascinate and mystify modern audiences. The Gough Map is the earliest to show the whole of Britain in geographically-recognizable form, and is conventionally dated to c.1360. Yet, despite its appearance in television programmes, book covers, learned articles and so forth, the map's origins are uncertain, including who made it, how, where and why? This project seeks to address these questions by using an innovative approach to explore the map's 'linguistic geographies', that is 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 with this project they are being tried on a map manuscript, somewhat experimentally, with the aim of not only finding more about the Gough Map's making but also the transferability of particular methods from linguistic to cartographic history. The project involves a group of researchers from across three UK HEIs, each bringing distinctive skills and expertise to bear. Each has an interest in maps and mapping, though from differing disciplinary perspectives, from geography, cartography and history. Their aim is to learn more about the Gough Map, specifically, but more generally to contribute to ongoing intellectual debates about how maps can be read and interpreted; about how maps are created and disseminated across time and space; and about technologies of collating and representing geographical information in visual, cartographic form. The project's focus on a map, as opposed to a conventional written text, will also open up theoretical and conceptual issues about the relationships between 'image' and 'text' - for maps comprise both - and about maps as objects and artifacts with a complex and complicated 'language' of production and consumption. Far from being geared simply to academic questions, however, the project team is keen to ensure that their findings reach the widest possible audience, 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 a web-resource through which the Gough Map will be made more widely accessible (it currently resides in the Bodleian Library), and through which the data and findings of this project will be made freely available. This will help others to develop the research, whether in academic or non-academic sectors. As well as the web-resource, the project will provide the basis for a public exhibition on the Gough Map, to be held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, at which a colloquium will provide a forum for discussion on the language and linguistics of medieval maps and mapping. The project will run for a period of fifteen months and during this time the principal research will be undertaken at the Bodleian Library on the manuscript of the Gough Map. The methods used will in particular reveal new insight into the map's creation, especially on the locales or geographical origins of the scribes who wrote down the names, descriptions, and toponyms on that appear on the map. Recent research on the map's geographical distortion has suggested that the south-east of England is most accurately depicted, suggesting that this might have been where the map was drawn. If so, it might be expected that the writing on the map reflects the dialects of this part of England. The only way of finding this out is through the systematic and careful analysis of the map's writing as proposed here. Once done, these findings will help reveal where and how medieval maps were made, contributing to our greater understanding of European medieval cultures.

Workshop held at the National Railway Museum April 2011National Railway Museum April 2011

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