Early Modern Digital Itineraries Modeling European Place and Space, 1545-1747

1. Abstract

Before the advent of formal cartography and its emphasis on observation, accuracy, and reliance on global standards, the itinerary was the height of geographic knowledge. Lists of cities and their relative distances, represented by many national “miles” or eventually the location of postal waystations, opened European travel to a broad readership. By the mid seventeenth-century, private and public individuals had access to, and knowledge of, a wide network of mounted couriers and staging posts, connecting trade, travel, and epistolary exchange from the hubs of Milan, Venice, and Innsbruck to Constantinople, Madrid, and the New World. European postal networks were complex carrefours, bringing together merchants, pilgrims, tourists, and diplomats in both real and imagined space.

Digital spatial approaches often rely upon modern mapmaking and its assumptions of a decentered viewpoint, direct distances, and national boundaries. Scholars of indigenous mapping such as Paul Carter, Deborah Kirk and Jeremy Mikecz, have demonstrated the assumptions and limitations of such an approach. The application of Social Network Analysis (SNA) to a corpus of 70 published itinerary books models the organizing logic of the itinerary genre and hierarchization of regions, cities and routes. While the pilgrimage path of St. James and transalpine commercial routes were widely republished, dynamic networks based on the dates of first and last publication indicate the influence of new postal hubs, sea travel, and cartography on early modern conceptions of a connected Europe.  

I draw on the prior work of Shawn Graham and Elijah Meeks to develop dynamic cartograms, while adding new emphasis to their documentation of a contemporary mental map. A combination of spatial representation with Social Network Analysis (SNA) better recreates the early modern experience of space. Utilizing the SNA, TSNA, and networkDynamic packages in R, I construct and measure dynamic network models for comparison with spatial maps. The itineraries linked locations along chained journeys from origin, to intermediary, to final destination, as they were experienced by travelers or couriers on the ground. The experience of travel was highly variable based on the political and environmental circumstances; a dynamic network more accurately conveys the changing nature of European space. Digital methods prove key for moving between scales of consideration, from following the fate of one city, to many linked cities, to entire regions or the network as a whole. Data will be made available on Github with the publication of a related article.

Rachel Clare Midura (rmidura@stanford.edu), Stanford University, United States of America

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