- A Critical Companion to English Mappae Mundi of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries ed. by Dan Terkla and Nick Millea
Manuscript studies, medieval maps
The stated goal of this significant and somewhat frustrating volume is to provide a comprehensive companion to seven of the most important medieval maps of the world, all dating from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and all nominally considered “English,” though as many of the volume’s essays point out, many of these maps have considerable ties to France, and a few to other European regions. In doing so, the collection as a whole valuably codifies the recent drive in medieval map scholarship to move beyond the comparative epistemological schema that defined early critical approaches, offering numerous new ways to understand the form, function, and content of these maps in terms of their material, textual, and cultural contexts.
Though not explicitly structured as such, the collection develops in three distinct sections. The preface, introduction, and first three chapters together provide a critical and historical prologue to the maps in question, as well as frame a set of theoretical aspirations for the volume as a whole. The editors’ preface is an introduction in its own right, providing a detailed and accessible definition of basic categories of medieval maps. In “Where to Fix Cadiz?,” the first of his four(!) essays in this collection, editor Dan Terkla then asserts the need to study the “geospatial awareness” that medieval maps and related, geographically resonant texts represent for the ecclesiastical and aristocratic [End Page 370] communities that produced and used them. The heart of Terkla’s introductory essay also serves as a critical compass point for the volume—an explanation of the central influence of the writings of Hugh of St. Victor for most, if not all, of the maps presented in the volume. Michelle Brown’s chapter, “Making Manuscripts and Mappae Mundi,” is an expansive, if somewhat haphazard, tour through earlier medieval maps, framed within a discussion of the material and phenomenological aspects shared by both books and maps in their respective production and reception. The following two chapters, both by Dan Terkla, treat geospatial awareness in pre- and then post- Conquest England through case studies of maps at Glastonbury and Durham. In these chapters, Terkla surveys at times dizzying networks of historical background, monastic booklists, ecclesiastical figures, manuscripts, and textual theology to demonstrate first that the medieval map functioned as a “nexus of information translation from various sources and media . . . of new personal and cultural memories that are transferred again and again in various media to myriad people across time” (58), and second, that in their respective production and reception, maps needed books, and many books needed maps. The peculiarity of these two chapters is that medieval maps are all but absent from the incredibly detailed discussion designed to surround them. For example, the Glastonbury chapter makes a thrilling claim that Glastonbury had a map from which the famous pre- Conquest Cotton mappamundi would have derived—but then falls short in failing to treat the implications of this connection for either reconstructing the nature of the lost Glastonbury map or understanding the surviving Cotton Map.
The next seven chapters each treat a different medieval English map, with individual contributors taking substantially different approaches to their subject. For the Munich Map, Nathalie Bouloux explores how its diversity of urban topographies helps demonstrate that the primary function of signification in the map was not theographically exegetical, but rather a Victorine “representation of the real, useful in understanding the geographic organization of the world” (105). Alfred Hiatt then considers the Sawley Map and new connections (and contrasts) to the Hereford Map, while Asa Mittman takes on the little studied and much damaged Vercelli Map, including a captivating discussion of a decorated chest the map may have been transported [End Page 371] in. Daniel Connolly likewise engages other objects...