Founding Members

(Want to get involved? Please click a name & contact one of us)

Adam Franklin-Lyons
(Associate Professor of Medieval History at Emerson College)

Marlboro still likes Black and White...so there you go.

Adam’s work began with a focus on food supply in the Western Mediterranean, culminating in the monograph, Shortage and Famine in the Late Medieval Crown of Aragon. (The Crown of Aragon roughly corresponds to the modern regions of Catalonia, Valencia, Aragon, parts of Languedoc-Roussillon, and the Balearic Islands.) His current work on communication, news, and travel covers the same region and grows directly out of his curiosity about the transmission of knowledge about grain prices and market conditions during food crises. When governments needed information (including the price of grain), they didn’t want to guess; they sent messengers.


  • Couriers in the Crown of Aragon: Starting in the fourteenth century, royal, episcopal, and city administrations around the Crown of Aragon began formalizing their methods of communication. By late in the century, the kingdom was woven together by a dense web of ambassadors and runners who could move information between cities and courts at surprising speed. The level of formalized communication allowed for new practices of information dissemination, collaboration, and secrecy at multiple levels of government. The siting of hostile ships along the coast could prompt the use of relay runners, each informing the next city along the coast of the potential threat. Military or commercial negotiations might prompt multiple messages with sensitive information to be disseminated only to certain people with differing information to be cried publicly. The project focuses on the robust system of couriers put in place by several governments within the Crown, including the royal administration and several cities, including Valencia, Barcelona, Tortosa, and others. Part of the underlying question revolves around what other sorts of information did these runners carry? Did this facilitate broader information flows? Did the administrative practices have knock-on effects on expectations of general news or on mercantile and business communication strategies?
  • Datini Letter Collection: One of a number of Italian trading companies of the fourteenth century, the Datini company achieved a high point of influence and financial power during the lifetime of Francesco di Marco Datini (1335-1410). At its height, the Datini company moved Eastern imports such as spices through Venice and into the Western Mediterranean and even to the North Sea where they exchanged these imports for Spanish and English wool which they brought back to the company’s heartland in Tuscany to supply the many cloth and textile workshops in Florence and other Italian cities. Under the leadership of Francesco di Marco himself, the company expanded from its home offices in Florence and Prato to open multiple satellite offices called fondaco around the Mediterranean in cities including Pisa, Genoa, Avignon, Barcelona, Valencia, and Palma de Mallorca.
  • For the purposes of the Travelers Lab, what is most important (and perhaps most impressive) about the Datini company was their consolidation of documents. Each of the fondaco communicated with a network of regional towns which produced huge numbers of letters, most of which were conserved at the fondaci and eventually moved en masse back to Prato. Today, the archive contains a whopping 143,000 letters between almost three hundred different towns and cities. Despite the vicissitudes of survival, damage, and often incomplete information on the letters themselves, more than three-fourths of the collection contain sufficient information to ascertain the origin, destination, sender, receiver, and date sent and received for each letter. The documents are currently housed as the Datini Collection at the Archivio di Stato di Prato [the State Archives of Prato] in Italy. The archive has an incredibly thorough catalog for all of the letters, including extensive metadata as well as digital images for almost the complete letter set. (The archive website is being updated at the moment – there will be new features available soon.)
  • This mass of information provides a wealth of data for travel and communication across long distances ranging from London and Bruges to Barcelona or Valencia to Florence and Venice. Previous scholars have dedicated massive amounts of work to reading the letters and contemplating the structures and practices of the Datini Company. Perhaps the most famous is Federigo Melis, who has multiple works looking at Datini’s company, their mercantile practices, and various other facets of the archive. Several of these works are available online. Additionally, there are numerous smaller editions of selected portions of the letter collection, but by no means a complete set.
  • This project is an attempt to use the vast metadata of the collection to guide questions about both which letters to focus on or read, but also to try to answer much larger aggregate questions about their network of communication and the standards of mercantile information in the fourteenth century using the entirety of the collection. The project director is Adam Franklin-Lyons and several students have worked on the project including Logan Davis, Avellana Ross, and Emma Holtsinger, all from Marlboro College.
  • Itineraries: The Itineraries Project is a combination of several previous veins of work and represents one of the early points of collaborations between the Travelers Lab projects. As Gary Shaw describes in the Episcopal Travel project, this is also where the Travelers Lab really started. The overall Itineraries Project combines the Episcopal Travel project with the addition of new itineraries from around Europe. Currently, we also have a number of royal itineraries from the late Medieval Crown of Aragon, but the goal is to be able to include such datasets from around Europe. Currently, this project is in its beginning stages – there are numerous completed itineraries, but the overlap has not been designed. The major work here would be to design a collaborative data storage method in Nodegoat that will work for the different types and styles of information that currently exist. Many of the data points in the itineraries are edicts, letters, or administrative evidence that a certain person was in a certain place at a certain time. However, we can also extract other location data from projects like the Datini letter collection. The integration of these diverse data is a great project for someone interested in data manipulation and model design. This project is run by Gary Shaw and Adam Franklin-Lyons and has gotten extensive student support from Lydia Nuhfer, Claire O’Pray, Elizabeta Kravchenko, and earlier extensive support from Stephanie Ling.

David Gary Shaw  (Professor of History and Medieval Studies at Wesleyan University)

Within medieval history, Gary Shaw’s current research interests include the circulation of people, things, animals, and ideas in later medieval England, and it is in this area that his interest in the
Travelers Lab began. His current book project on this topic is tentatively called “Travelling to the Future. Networks of Modernity in Medieval England,” and several aspects have spawned additional research plans that the Travelers Lab will attempt to pursue. These will include the Database of Medieval Mobility, The English Friars Settlement project, the Episcopal Travel project, a project on aspects of judicial mobility, and the mapping of centers of accommodation and hospitality. Methodologically, his work has heavily used GIS solutions, but we anticipate further work involving increasing network analysis in the coming years.

Jesse W. Torgerson  (Assistant Professor of Letters, Medieval Studies, History, Wesleyan University)

Jesse W. Torgerson runs the Constantinople Palimpsest project torgerson index in conjunction with the Wesleyan course Constantinople: between Rome and Istanbul. Both project and course work to account for place (as a balance to historians’ predilection for time) within a historical survey, as lab team and students develop our database of surviving evidence for ‘Byzantine’ Constantinople (ca. 200-1500).
A second ongoing project — Geography and Narrative in the Chronicle of Theophanes — explores the viability of digital tools (GIS, text-mining, quantitative text analysis, etc.) for plotting the “Conceptual Geography” of narrative texts.


Network Members

Helen Birkett  (Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Exeter)

Helen Birkett’s work focuses on the intellectual and religious birkettculture of twelfth-century Britain and Ireland, with a particular interest in literary sources, networks, and communication. Her current research concerns the idea of news in the Middle Ages and seeks to engage with bigger debates going on in early modern and modern scholarship on this topic. She also continues to work on a long-term project concerning the transmission of exempla by the Cistercians of Britain and Ireland c.1200. Prof. Birkett was in residence with us at Wesleyan for the Fall 2017 semester to collaborate on overlapping projects, and explore how to bring our Traveler’s Lab model of student-faculty research collaborations to Exeter University.


Kathryn Jasper  (Associate Professor of History, Director European Studies, Illinois State University)

Kathryn Jasper, Associate Professor of History at Illinois State University, specializes in Roman and medieval Mediterranean history, with teaching interests spanning Western and Central Europe, North Africa, Byzantium, and the Middle East. Her courses emphasize engagement with diverse sources including monuments and art. In her research, Jasper focuses on archaeological excavations near Lake Bolsena, examining economic and trade implications. Her recent book, Bounded Wilderness: Land and Reform at the Hermitage of Fonte Avellana, ca. 1035-1072 (Cornell University Press, 2024), explores the role of land in medieval religious reform, offering insights into economic practices and ecclesiastical property.

Pavel Oleinikov (Associate Director, Quantitative Analysis Center (QAC), Wesleyan University)


Sean Perrone (Professor of History, Saint Anselm College)

My research has focused on the financial negotiations between the Castilian Crown and the Assembly of the Clergy in the sixteenth century. In recent years, I’ve been working on a project to map royal finances and the collection of ecclesiastical subsidies in the early 1500s.  Right now, I’m working with history and computer science students to map monasteries that contributed to the ecclesiastical subsidies as well as monasteries along the Camino de Santiago in ArcGIS.


William Pinch (Professor of History, Wesleyan University)

William Pinch’s work in the Traveler’s Lab focuses on the detailed journals and reports of Francis Buchanan (later Hamilton), surgeon and botanist, produced between 1807 and 1814 while in the service of the East India Company.  Building on work done for his 1996 book, Peasants and Monks in British India (see here and here), Pinch and student Rachel Liu are producing GIS maps that aim to capture the myriad details of Buchanan’s travels through Bihar in north India—including the quality of roads, naming conventions, flora and fauna, built environment, notable encounters, and topography.  In addition, they hope to produce a map of “sectarian influence” in south Bihar that focuses on the social roles of ascetics and holy men (and some women) and the ascetic networks and institutions that sustained them, about which Buchanan provided remarkably detailed information.  This map will accompany a book chapter by Pinch for the Cambridge History of the Modern Indian Subcontinent (scheduled for 2022).


Jason L. Simms  (Anthropologist and Academic Computing Manager at Lafayette College)

Jason Simms is the Instructional Technologist for Lafayette College in Easton, PA. His interdisciplinary educational background and interests range from humanities to STEAM: he earned a B.A. in Classics and an M.A. in Anthropology from the University of Tennessee, and an M.P.H. in Environmental Health, a Ph.D. in Applied Anthropology, and a graduate certificate in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) from the University of South Florida. His broad interests within academic computing include data science and visualization, facilitating and energizing interdisciplinary collaboration on teaching and projects, geospatial projects, digital humanities, and more.