This project was initiated by Jesse W. Torgerson’s Spring 2015 course, Re-imagining East and West: Constantinople between Rome and Istanbul. Students in the course collaborated on a GIS-based database that “plotted” scholars’ current knowledge of the topography of medieval Constantinople. Participants in the course thus came to understand and gain some ownership over the remnants of this lost world through active research, rather than the acquisition of a passive appreciation. As demonstrated by the following screenshot of some of the students’ work (each point represents a specific known material object either as a textual or physical artefact), students quickly came to see how and why our understanding of the Byzantine period is so dominated by imperial narratives and monuments — the markers on this map cluster at (from left to right) the Forum of Theodosius I (r. 379-392), the Forum of Constantine (r. 312-337), the Hippodrome, the Baths of Zeuxippus, and the cathedral church of Hagia Sophia. To uncover a “people’s history” requires intentional and difficult work.
Students deployed their collective findings into analytical projects designed as Story Maps, many of which sought to pursue a sense of space and place in history, such as the way a famous, prolonged urban revolt against the Emperor Justinian I (d. 565) would have moved through the monumental environment.
Future instances of the course will see students combining their efforts with research collaborators in the “Travelers Lab” to further develop our database, and normalize the collection of data.