Mapping the Holy


In CB51: Making the Middle Ages, the teaching staff, consisting of Professor Dan Smail and TFs Rowan Dorin, Zoe Silverman, Joey McMullen, and Rena Lauer, had students read a common text on a medieval saint, extract all the place names mentioned, and map them in order to learn about the nature of communication in the Middle Ages, geographic analysis, and how to use WorldMap, a way to create and publish maps of geospatial information.

The following description comes from digital history@harvard

"In this project, students extracted geographic markers from medieval saints' lives and mapped their findings using WorldMap.

The primary goals of this project were:

  • To map the horizons of communication in the Middle Ages
  • To develop spatial thinking and geographic analysis skills
  • To learn how to use WorldMap

Students read a common text, extracted geographic markers, and constructed a database of geographic information. After discussing the challenges of determining place in historic contexts, students formed groups and were assigned a set of saints' lives to work on collaboratively. Each group constructed a set of layers in WorldMap, which they then added to a class map. On the final day of the module, the class discussed the results of their research. Our conversation touched on spatial thinking, geographic analysis, and question-asking in the humanities.

For students, the key take-aways were increased engagement, a feeling of ownership over texts and people from the past, and a burgeoning sense of expertise in a difficult subject. Students continued to use WorldMap throughout the course, even when it was not assigned. For many students, this project was the first time they engaged deeply with primary sources; there is no question that using WorldMap added value to the class."

Dan notes that this was graded with a check, check plus, and check minus and that it fed into participation grades.  He also mentions that it had some bugs, but that many students enjoyed it.  CB51 was taught in modules, and this project was the main group project of the first module.

The final class map is here.  The list of saints with links to the texts is attached.  A Prezi with information about the project and the final results, by saint, is here.

saints.pdf132 KB