Progress Blog Post 3: Map Completion

In the preceding blog post we have presented our maps (then incomplete) of Marco Polo’s journey through Asia. Although we started off with the intention of covering a broad array of subjects related to the traveller, we decided to narrow our focus in favor of a more detailed representation of his journey. This decision was natural given the fact that we could find plenty of information regarding Polo’s life, but no complete digital map of his journeys up to this point.  As it turns out, mapping 13’th century geography to modern landscapes is not a trivial task.

During this last sprint, we have extended our research to books describing 13th century China (namely [1] and [2]) and also another version of Polo’s travels ([3]). This was necessary for making as good geographical approximations as possible. The result of having enriched our references was quite pleasing, as it translated into some truly detailed maps. We not only represented specific places (such as cities) but also tried to map out some political regions (mostly kingdoms such as Bengal, or Manzi). Approximating geographical coordinates was particularly challenging at times, because of Polo’s vague descriptions accompanied by the scarce, incomplete information available online. Moreover, several cities had multiple conjectured placements, fact which pushed us to historically and geographically asses their fit with Polo’s description. All of these implied a considerable amount of time spent testing various hypotheses.  Also, as different authors point out, the time dimension of his journeys is, at times, inconsistent: there are passages where he describes journeys which do not fit in his mentioned timeframe. These inaccuracies are justified by a possible confusion of our traveller, who visited those places both in his initial and return trips, therefore mixing up the durations corresponding to the two cases. In such situations, we researched aspects like which roads were the most popular for travelling between the two locations in the 13th century, as well as the reported timeframes of other travellers following the same route. A natural consequence of these aforementioned aspects is that we exceeded the time alloted for this part of our project, having had to stitch together pieces of information in a meaningful way, while not being geographers ourselves. However, given that this task has been completed, we consider that the time was well spent.

Concretely, we managed to represent over 200 cities and regions which our traveller visited over the course of his 24 years of travel. When possible, we also included information regarding Polo’s journey durations between two locations, which are visible upon clicking on the polygonal lines traced between two pins. Also, when clicking on a certain pin, a pop-up box appears which states the name of the region as it appears in our main reference text [4] as well as its modern name, given that it exists. Besides the previously mentioned information, we also added the first few phrases which describe that particular location in [4].  One may notice pins which are not on the polygonal line. Those cases illustrate the belief that Polo has not actually been there himself, but describes them according to word of mouth. An important observation is that the temporal flow of his journeys is dictated by the lists on the left-hand side of the maps, which present the locations in visiting order. The described features can be seen in Figure 1. and Figure 2. The three maps are available here: Europe-Asia , China Travels , Asia-Europe .

 

Figure 1. This is the first of the three maps (the other two are here and here), depicting Marco Polo’s stops along his way to the Kingdom of Kublai Kahn.

 

Figure 2. Example of text pop-up upon clicking on a pin
Figure 2. Example of text pop-up upon clicking on a pin.

 

To conclude, the most consistent part of our work is now behind us. In the remaining time we plan on improving it by tweaking the graphics and inferring the unspecified journey durations. Despite the fact that our project has suffered from a relatively slow rhythm, we feel confident about the quality and relevance of it once it will be completed.

 

References:

[1] Vogel, U. (2012). Marco Polo Was in China: New Evidence from Currencies, Salts and Revenues. Leiden: BRILL.
[2] Haw, Stephen G. (2006). Marco Polo’s China: A Venetian in the Realm of Khubilai Khan. Rutledge.
[3]  Yule, H., & Cordier, H. (Eds.). (1993). The Travels of Marco Polo: The Complete Yule-Cordier Edition : Including the Unabridged Third Edition (1903) of Henry Yule’s Annotated Translation, as Revised by Henri Cordier, Together with Cordier’s Later Volume of Notes and Addenda (1920)Courier Dover Publications.
[4] Wright, T (Ed.).(1854). The Travels of Marco Polo: The Venetian. Bohn.