Detail from Muhammad al-Idrīsī’s world map contained in the twelfth-century Kitāb nuzhat al-mushtāq fī ikhtirāq al-āfāq (The Pleasure Excursion of One Who Is Eager to Traverse the Regions of the World), whose title Idrīsī later changed to Kitab Rujar(Book of Roger), which contained what was perhaps the most accurate map of the medieval world. The selection is an illustration of Sicily and Southern Italy. The orientation appears to be upside down because south is located at the top of the map in accordance with the cartographic conventions of the Balkhī school of geography.
This project is an effort to document the cultural heritage of Sicily from c. 1061 – 1194, a transformative period in the island’s history, by using print, photographic, web and geolocation technologies to identify and explicate dilapidated, at-risk, and/or hard-to-access monuments. The island’s castles, monasteries, churches, palaces, bridges, and other monuments are housed in a NoSQL database that provides maximum flexibility of data storage as well as when information is queried and returned. The website, which is very much under construction, is being developed with a close eye toward usability that encourages both scholars and students to interact with the interface and learn more about Sicily’s Norman past. Each site has its own discrete page embedded with pertinent information, including photos and display location on a regional map. The geolocation information makes it possible to travel to the site and ultimately there will be versions of the interface available to users of both tablets and mobile phones. This is especially valuable as it is difficult to reach many of these sites as they are often not well signed and at significant elevation. In time, there will be an array of visualizations available to help make sense of the data. These will include density charts for monasteries and fortifications as well as pie charts that offer information about Sicily’s religious houses (Latin vs. Greek, monastic order, status, etc.). Key to this site will be several essays. Some will interpret the data we have collected against a wider historical backdrop, providing greater understanding of Norman society. Others will consider the data within a sustainability framework, assessing the sites’ stone weathering and deterioration and offering a prognosis for some of the monuments.
One of the most innovative aspects of this site is its focus on sustainability. In addition to treating these monuments as testaments to a vibrant past, this project also approaches them as living organisms - survivors of centuries of climactic trials and tribulations - which are in desperate need of physical examination. An ongoing collaboration with Dr. Greg Pope of MSU’s Department of Earth and Environmental Studies is enabling us to assess the integrity of some of these monuments and to share this information in the sites’ records. By doing this, The Norman Sicily Project is providing critical context as we consider not just what the monuments reveal about the past, but also what we might expect for their future survival.
We are grateful for the financial support this project has received from the Angelo and Mary Cali Fund for Italian Studies, an award administered by the Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Montclair State University (MSU), from the CHSS Dean’s Office itself, from the Herman and Margaret Sokol Faculty/Student Research Grant Program that is administered by MSU’s College of Science and Mathematics (CSAM) as well as from MSU’s PSE&G Institute for Sustainability Studies. In addition, we are also enormously grateful for the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, whose logo appears below, for the generous grant it awarded the project for the 2019-2020 academic year through its Humanities Collections and Reference Resources program.
More information about Dr. Hayes’ research on medieval Sicily is available on her website. Information about Joe Hayes, the project’s primary developer, may be found on his LinkedIn page.
A number of Montclair State University students have been playing critical roles in the development of this site as it gets off the ground. Ryan Marshall (CSAM, 2019) helped develop the interactive map that enables the site’s users to engage the data. Isamar Cortes (CSAM, 2019) was also instrumental; her experience with various GIS packages to create elevations and maps that allow for the visualization of data in their geographical contexts has been invaluable. Another important member of our team, Jamila Haramuniz (CSAM, 2020), has kindly been loaning her prodigious statistical skills as well as her knowledge of R to the project, making it possible to consider the data in new ways. In addition, Matthew Parlapiano (CEHS, 2019) did a fine job of extracting data from Alexander of Telese’s History, performing the tedious work of preparing the text for machine processing. During the 2019-2020 academic year, we are fortunate to have working on the project as media and metadata assistants Christina Giordano (CHSS and CART, 2022), Grace Last (CHSS, 2021), Alessandra Lentini (CART, 2021), James Leyva (CHSS, 2021) and Charlee Reiff (CART, 2020). We are very grateful to each of them.
We are also indebted to Dot Porter, Curator of Digital Research Services at the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania for student training and for supporting the organization and processing of the monastic media during the 2019-2020 academic year.
Other assistance was generously offered by Max Wilson (Yale University, 2019), who served as a research assistant during the project’s 2019 fieldwork. That same summer, Anastasia Hayes (Macaulay Honors College, 2017) provided invaluable translation support and participated in data collection as Madeleine Hayes (Macaulay Honors College, 2018) navigated and managed logistics of travel. We would also like to thank Alessandra Hayes (Macaulay Honors College, 2023) for her social media support.
We are also grateful to Mel Colella, whose fine editing skills greatly improved the opening video.
The project also benefits from a distinguished Advisory Board whose feedback will help shape the site going forward:
- Sarah Davis-Secord, Associate Professor of History, University of New Mexico
- Matthew Gold, Associate Professor of English and Digital Humanities, CUNY Graduate Center
- Sebastian Heath, Clinical Associate Professor of Computational Humanities and Roman Archaeology, ISAW, New York University
- Alex Metcalfe, Senior Lecturer in History, Lancaster University
- Thomas Paradise, University Professor, Department of Geosciences, University of Arkansas
- Lisa Reilly, Associate Professor of Art History, University of Virginia
- Kelly Schrum, Former Director of Educational Projects, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media
- William Tronzo, Senior Teaching Professor, Visual Arts, University of California, San Diego
- Alice Turkington, Associate Professor of Geography, University of Kentucky
- Steven Way, Alumnus, Montclair State University
Last but not least, an enormous debt of gratitude is owed to the countless Sicilians who, in numerous ways, have helped make this project possible. We hope that this effort is a small repayment for their unfailing kindness and generosity.