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The Concept

The goal of the French of Italy TimeMap is to chart, both chronologically and geographically, the French-language texts created in Italy or by Italian authors from around 1250 until roughly 1500.  One of the main goals of the project is to investigate how the French language functioned for Italian authors and audiences, and to present the entire corpus in a visual rather than traditional narrative format. The map visualization relies on current scholarship, and presents the findings of philologists, literary scholars and historians whose engagement with discrete texts and manuscripts is profound. Our hope is to offer a visual narrative of this scholarship which may in turn suggest new perspectives or conclusions about the corpus as it is currently understood.

As with any research project, methodological choices were made as we constructed the visualization. Among the most important of these are the following: the unit of mapping, the breadth of the corpus, and the representation of geographic and temporal incertitude.

Textual Witness as the Unit of Mapping: Where other projects may focus on the text as the unit of analysis, we have decided to use individual instances of French-language writing – what can be called the textual witness – as the unit of mapping. By mapping each individual instance of French-language writing, we are able to demonstrate where the language was used over time and how the different areas in Italy might have been connected by common French-language textual traditions, genres, or writing practices.

Breadth of the Mapped Corpus: Although this question is addressed more generally in the French of Italy project website, our inquiry looks to all kinds of French-language production in Italy.  Previous scholarship has prioritized literary sources over other types of writing, so we are especially interested in finding ways that French was used in Italy in sources that have received less scholarly attention. French-language administrative documents, commercial agreements, epigraphy, and saints' lives all shape our understanding of the kinds of linguistic choices that Italians were making and how French might have fulfilled their literary or communicative needs. We often come across new examples of French-language writings that have been ignored by traditional scholarship, so are continuously updating the site and map to reflect these discoveries.

Geographic and Temporal Incertitude: Many of the texts included in our collection provide clear evidence of where and when they were created, but the majority of them do not. In these cases, we rely on the work of philologists and literary scholars who offer their ideas about the date and geographic origin of the textual witness in question. We have therefore fashioned the map and located the points keeping the inexact nature of these determinations in mind. In our data spreadsheet, we have also coded the certainty of these determinations, ranging from a high degree of certainty about the place and/or time of production, to a medium level of confidence, indicating some incertitude in the secondary material, to a low level, which often indicates an outright disagreement in the scholarship concerning the textual witness in question.

Because work on these texts by individual scholars is still in progress, the map visualization is by no means a definitive representation of French-language writing in Italy. Rather, we consider the existing map to be a starting point that reflects, as closely as possible, the current state of scholarship on each text or manuscript tradition. We invite interested scholars to engage in the project by downloading our data and commenting upon and even offering corrections to the information as it now appears. Because of the nature of digital projects, the TimeMap can serve as a center-point for discussion on the French of Italy corpus. In the future, we hope to be able to represent ambiguities within the scholarship by simultaneously offering multiple versions of differing data as the scholarship requires.