Ioannes Dantiscus, a Polish bishop and diplomat of the early 16th century, was a prolific writer of letters. Their publication as a digital corpus throws much light on the Europe of his day. During his numerous diplomatic journeys he traversed the continent back and forth, acquainting himself with cultural and political elite of visited kingdoms. Relationships thus formed could last a lifetime and his vast circle of correspondents (ranging from Erasmus of Rotterdam and Nicolaus Copernicus to royal houses of Spain, Poland and Prussia) was important part of the Respublica Litteraria – crucial intellectual backbone of the time.
I will present the complete project of editing and publishing Dantiscus’ texts in greater detail soon, but for now I’d like to focus on one small aspect on which concentrates the research work of my Polish colleague Katarzyna Jasińska-Zdun. Her goal is to reconstruct Dantiscus’ journeys – mostly on the basis of his correspondence. With over 6,000 Latin and German manuscripts there is work piled up high for her!
Good news is, she’s not the first one* to dedicate her working days to the Dantiscus’ heritage so all his known correspondence is already recorded in an extensive database and annotated in TEI/XML. It should be pretty straightforward then to extract the necessary information thanks to little XSLT/XQuery magic and we’ll end up with a list of places and dates for which we know he was present there because he either has sent or received a letter in that location. Which is all very well, but as the saying goes the picture’s worth a thousand words. If the picture is moving – only the better!
This brings us eventually to the TEI Hackathon at Lausanne. Presently we are at the stage of choosing projects we’ll be pursuing during the event. My vote goes to Rendering Complex Markup section. So, from the top of my had I’ll list some possible visualisations (all involving underlying map):
– mark the places where the letter was sent from/received
– mark the routes between the cities
– add the slider allowing the user to change the time period and visualise the reconstructed position of the author as circle moving along the routes with the size of the circle growing in accordance with our uncertainty
Of course, there’s more geographical data to be extracted from TEI annotated texts. Presumably we could visualise not only places of sending or receiving but all places mentioned in the texts and even deduct more information from mentions of other people. You might possibly not be as enthusiastic as Katarzyna about some long-dead guy from Gdańsk (that’s what Dantiscus means) but let’s notice that an imp0rtant percentage of digital editing project covers letters and probably all have place names in them. It might be quite universal thing after all, not to mention great fun**.
* Dr Anna Skolimowska is well known to
wast dedicate her life to the cause.
** Even more fun is to be had if we end up with Toledo, OH, United States instead of Toledo, Spain.