The goal of our first mapping assignment this January was to take an existing map that says something about music, then digitize it and improve it in ways that would make it useful to a music scholar or a music history student. The map I chose to digitize was the Centres de Rayonnement de la Polyphonie Occidentale aux XV et XVI Siecles (Centers of Influence of Western Polyphony in the 15th and 16th Centuries) from the Atlas Historique de la Musique published in the 1960s. The map, as shown below, isn’t terrible and does a good job of showing where important clusters of musical activity were during the time period. There are some immediate improvements that can be imagined, however.

Centers of Influence of Western Polyphony in the 15th and 16th Centuries

First, the act of simply digitizing the map allows us to use a separate layer for each composer, which means we can fit much more information in the map, such as descriptions of what each composer did in each location, dates of residence, and audio, video, or images. This also means that we can fit more composers on the map. I was visualizing the potential to toggle composers on or off to see how their paths crossed. I thought all of this was fairly doable for the first foray into making a complete map.

The first step for me was to start with 3 or four of the composers and follow their lives using Oxford Music Online, which is a comprehensive encyclopedia of Western music. From there, I was able to verify the paths from the original map, add more points, and verify dates. In my spreadsheet I had columns for Composer, City, Country, and date range. You can see the initial results of that below.

After combining my data with Jacob West, who worked on digitizing the same paper map but from a different perspective, we were able to add descriptions of the composers, media, and put their travels in a numbered order to make a sort of narrative. It looks pretty crowded with all of the layers turned on, but luckily digital maps allow us to turn them on and off to get rid of distractions and focus on a single composer.

Obviously there is a lot more work that can be done on this map. We only chose 7 composers from these two centuries, and though they are important, there are many more that could be added to the map. As well, we hardly have comprehensive descriptions of what happened or what was composed at each location. We mostly only used the Grove Encyclopedia for our information. One other cool thing would be to make it a heat map to show point density in areas to really visualize the hot spots of polyphony in the era. Hopefully I can come back to this map later and really make it into something special, but as it is now it is definitely usable and useful.