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Modern Mapping Before Digitization

Richard Talbert

University of UNC Chapel Hill

       Since the establishment of APA/SCS in 1869, modern mapping of the entire classical world or major parts of it (beyond the level of textbooks) has undergone two successive phases.  The paper surveys and evaluates both, but with fuller attention to the second (from the 1980s), because it was a North American initiative by origin and also proved by far the more productive.

       Predictably enough, during the pre-World War I period the lead to map the classical world was taken by individual scholars in Europe and publishers there.  Even by 1914, beyond western Europe extensive regions where Greeks and Romans settled or campaigned had been mapped only in outline at best – most of the Ottoman empire, for example.  The level of methodical survey and painstaking record of antiquities undertaken by France in Algeria was exceptional.  Only a few American classicists (such as E. G. Sihler in 1873) studied with the great German cartographer Heinrich Kiepert, or had maps of their journeys drawn by him (J. Sitlington Sterrett for his 1880s explorations in Asia Minor).  A Columbia University professor, J. T. Shotwell, did serve on the commission chosen by the new International Union of Academies in 1921 to develop a map of the Roman empire at 1:250,000, but he was a medievalist by training and the over-ambitious scheme a premature one. 

       The Tabula Imperii Romani project initiated in 1928 showed greater promise over time, but in effect excluded U.S. involvement because the mapping of each modern country’s territory was made its exclusive responsibility.  However, it was a 1980 APA committee report (Research Tools for the Classics) which had the courage and insight to cite cartography by that date as “an area of extremely great importance, where the state of our tools is utterly disastrous”, and to maintain that reliance on TIR’s increasingly fitful progress could no longer be justified.  Instead, the committee called for “a concerted attempt to produce a uniform series of maps”, a project which APA at once commissioned, but with no progress until a change of director in 1988.  The goals adopted thereafter proved practical: that a bound atlas be planned in close partnership with a professional cartographic supplier and a leading publisher from the outset, for completion within approximately a decade; the scope to be confined to the physical and cultural landscape of classical antiquity (excluding modern features and thematic maps); the maps to be compiled and documented to rigorous scholarly standards, but still designed with use by non-specialists in mind; and the atlas to be marketed at a price within the reach of individual purchasers.  

       Predictably, the major international collaborative project developed from these principles came to pose extraordinary challenges of materials acquisition (41 sets of physical-base elements to be secured from the U.S. Defense Mapping Agency and its U.K. counterpart), management (with the involvement of almost 200 scholars worldwide), and funding support (over $4.5 million to be raised).  Even so, the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World (102 maps), together with a 1,400 pp. Map-by-Directory, achieved publication by Princeton University Press in 2000. 

       The paper concludes by highlighting the two most rewarding results of APA’s project: first, that those who study classical antiquity everywhere are equipped with the cartographic resource that had so long been missing (and since 2013 is available at trifling cost as an App for iPad); second, that it has proved feasible to transfer all the components of this final product of film-based cartography to digital formats.  In consequence, the Barrington Atlas continues to serve as an unmatched inspiration and springboard for mapping antiquity in a rich array of further ways.    

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Mapping the Classical World since 1869: Past and Future Directions

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