By Meaghan Menzel
Every student at Washington College is at least familiar with at least one of Shakespeare’s works. His literature can reveal many things about the time period he lived in, but it is sometimes harder to visualize where certain places are and how they are actually laid out compared to how readers imagine them.
This is where a Digital Gazetteer comes into play. Associate Professor of English at the University of Victoria, Dr. Janelle Jenstad, visited WC on Sept. 10 to give a talk on her Digital Gazetteer for Shakespeare’s London.
For those who may not know, a gazetteer is basically a structured source of geographical places and names. Hopefully, Jenstad’s website, Map of Early Modern London (MoEML) will help researchers and scholars with creating images for these places in Shakespeare’s London.
“People are thinking about literature and history in terms of where things happen,” said Jenstad. “We need place names…we need a way of mapping these things.”
Jenstad is the director of MoEML and an assistant coordinating editor of the Internet Shakespeare Editions.
Jenstad’s MoEML received its funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). According to the SSHRC website, “The goal of the Insight Program [their funding program] is to build knowledge and understanding about people, societies, and the world by supporting research excellence in all subject areas eligible for funding from SSHRC.”
The MoEML site displays London around the late-16th to early 17th century. According to Chair of the English Department Dr. Kathryn Moncrief, the website gets 150,000 page views per month from 49 different countries.
“The website is widely used by historians, literary scholars, and students both in high school and college,” Moncrief said.
“I used the MoEML website when I taught Shakespeare in graduate school,” said Associate Professor of English Dr. Courtney Rydel. “It is a good way of getting students out of seeing the sources as a museum piece and more like seeing them as real lives.”
Jenstad said, “Our map has gone through a number of different phases.” It started out in HTML format, was upgraded to HTML frames, then to Extensible Markup Language (XML), then Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), and finally it is currently a GIS.
GIS stands for “Geographic Information Systems,” according to the Washington College Geographic Information Systems site. “[They] are a way of digitally mapping data in a visual way that allows geographic data to be stored, displayed, and analyzed.”
This updated form of the MoEML has four specific parts—the map, the encyclopedia, the library, and “Stow.”
According to the MoEML site, this map the site is basing theirs off of is “a bird’s-eye view of London first printed from woodblocks in about 1561. Widely known as the “Agas map,” from a spurious attribution to surveyor Ralph Agas (c. 1540-1621), the map offers a richly detailed view both of the buildings and streets of the city and its environment.”
The Encyclopedia includes lists such as placeography, personography, and orgography. The placeography lists different types of places (churches, markets, etc.) but it also lists the coordinates of each place on the map. When touring the site, one can now find places where people like Shakespeare would have visited. Jenstad said, “There’s something so powerful in being in the exact same place [as those people].”
The Library component of the site offers different primary sources for the time period in London, and then the fourth function on the website is called “Stow.”
The MoEML website says the team is “thrilled to announce the forthcoming publication of the complete 1598 text of John Stow’s ‘A Survey of London,’” and, after a few things are edited, the site, “would be happy to share a link.” According to Jenstad, John Stow was a man who walked around London and then published his descriptions of its places and its history.
The WC GIS website says that GIS “can be used in a variety of ways, including crime prevention, public health, and historical research.” However, Jenstad’s digital gazetteer is unique in that it is catered to the study of literature.
“In Digital Humanities projects,” said Moncrief, “part of it has to do with engaging the digital world with the world of literature. It allows us to look at literature in a new way, for example through location and space.”
Jenstad said in a video interview with Faces of UVic Research about the MoEML project, “I’m interested in the space of the stage, the space of the city, and the space of the book. We need to know about these things so that we understand the historical context that produced them and first appreciated them. Then we have a better understanding on what we can do with those texts and what they might mean for us.”