Creating the Digital Atlas – The Research Team Reflects

A key element of the CoSyn project has been the creation of a digital atlas of diocesan and provincial boundaries of medieval Latin Christendom. Stanford undergraduate Clara Romani (’20), who started working on the atlas in June 2017, shares her reflections: 

Historical research is not always glamorous. In this case, however, it to some extent was. For this project, it involved cutting-age technology, mysteriously missing maps, and, occasionally, some creative (but well-grounded!) estimations.

My role in this project, along with that of [fellow Stanford undergraduate] Claire Womack (’20), fell on the cartographic side of things. It seemed simple enough: use existing maps to create a comprehensive, digital model of medieval ecclesiastical boundaries. We started by digitizing an excellent series of maps begun under Vatican auspices in 1930s Italy. We had to track down a few volumes mysteriously missing from the Stanford collections and resolve some conflicting boundary lines, but overall, we didn’t know how good we had it in those early days. Though much of Italy kept excellent records, other regions were not so accommodating. Medieval diocesan borders were ill-defined — or sometimes undefined — even by their contemporaries. In Spain, the ever-advancing Reconquista endlessly pushed and pulled at the boundaries of Christendom. In southern Italy, bishops quarreled over residual micro-dioceses, remnants of Byzantine colonization.

Over time, the project grew more and more complicated by poor records, missing sections, and chronological discrepancies between maps. However, with the help of ArcGIS mapping technology and the assistance of numerous colleagues at Stanford and other institutions, we were able to cobble together a rough snapshot of medieval Catholic geographical situation. Our work, brought to life by Thawsitt Naing, will now allow researchers to explore the visual, cartographic elements of this corpus of ecclesiastical legislation.”