The oldest surviving map of the British Isles has been digitally captured and turned into a Google Maps-style online resource.
The 14th century Gough map is one of this country's most important historical documents - it formed the basis for almost all the maps of Britain for 200 years.
And with its green rivers, red-roofed cathedrals, and extraordinary detail, it is surely one of the most aesthetically pleasing.
Now researchers at Oxford University, who have been investigating the map's past, hope to spur public interest by publishing a fully searchable, zoomable and pan-able version onto a newly launched website.
And just like Google's offering, the fully searchable map allows users browse by place name - both current and medieval - but also by geographical features.
Once a location is highlighted, viewers can click on it to bring up a fact box revealing geographical appearance, etymology, appearance on earlier maps - and even a cross reference to the real Google maps.
London: The capital is represented on the map by a fortress
The website records the findings of a 15-month study into the writing used on the Gough Map by the scribes who created it.
The identity of the map-maker still is unknown, but through close study researchers have discovered the text on the Gough Map is the work of at least two scribes: the original 14th-century scribe and a 15th-century reviser.
There are visible differences between recorded details in Scotland and England. For example: the text written by the original scribe is best preserved in Scotland and the area north of Hadrian's Wall, whereas the text written by the reviser is found in south-eastern and central England.
The buildings in Scotland do not have windows and doors, whereas in the revised part of the map, essentially everywhere south of Hadrian's Wall, most buildings have both windows and doors.
Linguistic Geographies: The Gough Map of Great Britain - GoughMap.org
The Linguistic Geographies project has helped to explain how maps were produced in the Middle Ages. Generally very little is known of the processes that were involved in medieval map-making. As visual objects such maps continue to fascinate and mystify modern audiences, as is the case with the ‘Gough Map of Great Britain’ – named after one of its former antiquarian owners, Richard Gough (1735-1809).
Despite its appearance in many television programmes, on book covers, in learned articles and so forth, the Gough Map’s origins have long remained uncertain, including who made it, how, where and why? To begin to address these questions the project used an innovative approach that explores the map’s ‘linguistic geographies’, that is the writing used on the map by the (unknown) scribes who created it. This technique involves specialist palaeographic and linguistic skills that are normally applied to text manuscripts, but somewhat experimentally the aim with this project was to use them on a map manuscript with the aim of not only finding more about the Gough Map’s making.
Now, with the project completed, it is possible to offer a re-interpretation of the Gough Map’s origins and provenance. Most important in this regard is our scrutiny of what appears to be the earliest writing on the map. Conventionally the map has been dated to around 1360, though lately one researcher has suggested instead that an early-fifteenth century date is more likely. The research carried out by the project has shown a more complicated picture, with some of the map’s writing dating to around the 1370s, placing it in the latter part of King Edward III’s reign. However, there is also evidence of later over-writing of some of the map’s place-names which demonstrates a continued interest in and use of the Gough Map into the later fifteenth century. Moreover, there is a distinct geographical bias towards England and Wales in the ‘freshening up’ of the map’s inscriptions, for Scotland’s place-names were left alone.
The Gough Map’s paleographical and linguistic evidence helps to reveal its significance as a visual depiction of an English island-realm, and its reflection of changing relations between England and Scotland a century on from when it appears first to have been composed. The key to such observations is the immensely rich analysis undertaken of the map’s writing, particularly the 600-plus place-names that cover the whole of Britain on the map. These place-names, and the evidence derived from them, can be explored further using the digital map available here with its browsing and searching functions. To make the Gough Map accessible digitally required technical research too, including the digitization of a scanned image of the Gough Map, as well as resource-development work to link together the digital map and the place-names database, and then from this produce the online resource.