A silent witness? Medieval urban landscapes and unfolding their mapping histories

Keith D. Lilley, Gareth Dean

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    3 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper offers a critical reflection on the place of maps in writing medieval urban histories. Using findings from recent research on medieval Swansea, the case is made that mapping provides an interpretative space for exploring alternative narratives about past places. To do so the paper draws upon current critical debates on cartography, particularly the idea that mapping is fluid and iterative, to suggest that Swansea's medieval urban origins are open to a range of alternative interpretations. This approach to mapping differs from that often used by historians to map medieval urban landscapes, where historic maps are simply used as ‘sources’, and the landscapes they represent used as ‘witnesses’ to past events, for creating maps, both through digital and analogue media, instead opens up – or unfolds – a landscape's past. The paper uses past attempts to map medieval Swansea to highlight difficulties in interpreting its urban landscape features, and uses multiple mappings of the medieval townscape, resulting from recent research, to question how far any sources about the past really provide a coherent narrative. Instead, multiple mappings of the medieval urban landscape – reflecting different and competing perspectives – are more attuned with how places were perceived and understood during the Middle Ages.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)273-291
    Number of pages19
    JournalJournal of Medieval History
    Issue number3
    Early online date26 May 2015
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


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