A past well hidden: tracing and visualizing Roman infrastructure in medieval charters

Posted on 19 February 2018

Talk: Mateusz Fafinski (FU), “A past well hidden: tracing and visualizing Roman infrastructure in medieval charters”.

Permalink: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11117/0000-0000-C629-3

Date: Monday, 19 February 2018

Time: starting at 17:00 c.t. (i.e. 17:15)

Venue: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Gebäude Hausvogteiplatz (Raum 0319). Address: Hausvogteipl. 5-7, 10117 Berlin map


This presentation will introduce a new approach to analyzing charter corpora on the example of Anglo-Saxon charters. The usage of combined scraping, analytical and visualizing capabilities of various R packages can not only give us insight into the place of Roman roads in the charter landscape but also give a chance for a new type of visualization that is user-driven and user-friendly. This can be achieved by presenting the results in the form of various shiny-package applications. Dynamic enriching of the data by combining it with archaeological and historical databases opens it up to other lines of enquiry. The project is not only an interdisciplinary endeavor but also a multi-epoch one. Tracing the elements of the classical past in the early medieval documents requires a flexible approach to time visualization that is difficult to achieve with GIS and much more practical with R. Moreover it makes use of existing databases of Anglo-Saxon charters on the web thus integrating them into the project.

At the center of the project stands the corpus of charter texts that can be dynamically changed into a database by applying tidytext principles of analysis. The aim of it is to reconstruct and analyze the Roman infrastructure in the texts of charters. By mapping them and looking into the density, distribution and correlation of mentions we can reconstruct the symbolic geography of Roman infrastructure in the Early Medieval landscape of Britain. Through combining textual and spatial visualizations we can make it visible and available. Unique ability of working in R environment allows simultaneous work on text and spatial analysis and allows for presentation of results in an interactive form that is also available to non-specialists and can be used e.g. in a classroom environment. The results are presented as static and interactive maps as well as various graphs and textual charts.

The scripts and methods can be potentially used also for other types of large medieval documental corpora, therefore the usability of the project does not end with just the Anglo-Saxon charters.


Burdick, Anne, ed. Digital Humanities. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.

Gregory, Ian, and Paul S. Ell. Historical GIS: Technologies, Methodologies, and Scholarship. Cambridge Studies in Historical Geography 39. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Kennedy, S. Wright. ‘The Potential of Historical GIS and Spatial Analysis in the Humanities’. 2 March 2017. https://southernspaces.org/2017/potential-historical-gis-and-spatial-analysis-humanities.

Silge, Julia, and David Robinson. Text Mining with R: A Tidy Approach, 2017. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&db=nlabk&AN=1533983.