Historical spaces in texts and maps – A cognitive-semantic analysis of Flavio Biondo's "Italia Illustrata"

In the research of Department III (Michalsky), questions about the historical understanding of social space and its change in the so-called long Middle Ages play a central role. The study of the relations between historical maps and texts aims to explore the historical understanding of space and the knowledge associated with it by taking up approaches from cognitive linguistics. Cognitive maps depict culture-specific spatial knowledge and practices. This knowledge is represented in different ways, which change historically through different processes and practices.
The epistemological focus is therefore framed by the following questions:

Which forms of knowledge represent spatial relations?
How can spatial transformation processes be represented and analyzed?
What is the connection between culture-specific practices and cognitive representations?
And what is the relationship between texts and maps?

In order to approach this complex of questions, this project combines cognitive-semantic parameters such as toponyms, landmarks, spatial frames of reference, geometric relations, gestalt principles and different perspectives with computational linguistic analysis methods according to our "Common Sense Geography" approach. Using new text and map markings and corpus-specific quantitative methods, historical texts are processed and reinterpreted.

Schedel's World Chronicle

Flavio Biondo's work Italia Illustrata, published posthumously (1392-1463), serves as the first case study. Flavio Biondo is rightly regarded as the real founder of archaeological science and antiquarian topography. Particularly in his Italia Illustrata, he draws on famous authors of Roman antiquity such as Livius, Vergil and Pliny. Greek authors such as Strabon and Ptolemaios, on the other hand, are rarely considered - despite their geographical and topographical content and despite the intentions of Biondo's work. An exception is the Latium book (Regio Latina), in which Biondo intensively uses a hitherto undiscovered Latin translation of Strabon. Strabons's work is not only used here as a data basis, but also as a structural principle: he uses Strabons's hodological description technique to locate all the Latin cities relative to each other and transform them into a narrative structure on the west coast of Italy and three Roman roads (Via Appia, Via Latina, Via Valeria). This raises the question of whether the Italia Illustrata was actually written using "many maps", as current Biondo research (Clavuot and others) generally assumes? Since only a few regional maps from the early 15th century have been preserved and even literary references to cartographic knowledge can hardly be found, this problem has to be put into a larger context and possible alternatives have to be discussed in an interdisciplinary approach. In particular, it is necessary to discuss which strategies Biondo has used to collect, filter and process its heterogeneous material of historical, geographical, archaeological and art-historical information and to translate it into a text that can be read by a contemporary audience.

Because the Latium book plays a key role within Italia Illustrata, the interdisciplinary project begins with the development and commentary of Regio V: Latina. In contrast to previous publications on Biondo, which are largely exhausted in textual criticism, biographical, literary and art-historical references as well as in his "afterlife", particular attention is paid to the reception of Strabon, contemporary cartography, mental maps, the identification of toponyms and the geographical vocabulary.



Historical spaces in texts and maps (Biondo-Project)

Research Group Leader
Prof. Dr. Tanja Michalsky

Scientific Coordinator
PD Dr. Martin Thiering

Research Associates
Prof. Dr. Günther Görz
Prof. Dr. Klaus Geus