Introducing the Mapping the Scottish Reformation

11/12/2020 by Charlotte Hughes

Mapping the Scottish Reformation logo

Mapping the Scottish Reformation, a funded digital humanities collaboration led by History’s Chris Langley and Michelle Brock of W&L University, Virginia, has launched its first public website at maps.mappingthescottishreformation.org. Containing data extracted from over ten thousand pages of manuscript evidence housed in the National Records of Scotland, the website offers researchers powerful new tools to trace the careers of around seven hundred Scottish clergymen and almost five hundred of their wives from Lothian and Tweeddale (the region surrounding Edinburgh) between 1560 and 1689.

The website provides users access to five maps, all designed to explore different aspects of the clerical life cycle: ‘Tenures’, ‘Journeys’, ‘Education’, ‘Spouses’, and ‘Events’. ‘Tenures’ offers the most in-depth dataset, giving users access to ten aspects of the clerical career and sketching a broad picture of a minister’s professional life. ‘Journeys’ and ‘Education’ show the movements clerics made through their careers, from their place of education to every parish in which they served. ‘Events’ offers an insight into some of the most dramatic aspects of a minister’s career, including details on suspensions and depositions over time, including those during flashpoint such as the Covenanting revolution and the Restoration. Finally, ‘Spouses’ presents data on clergy wives — critical figures in early modern religious, political, and social life — for the first time.

Each map view offers users a hitherto unavailable set of tools to refine their research questions. Users can look for ministers by name, parish, presbytery region, date, and manuscript reference number. And in all of the website’s map views, users can explore powerful aggregations of data: how many ministers were deposed in a certain time period? What was the typical number of career moves a minister made? What was the busiest year for clerical appointments? How many years did ministers spend in one parish? Until now, these questions would take years of painstaking analysis to complete; Mapping the Scottish Reformation allows users to see these statistics in seconds. By showing users full manuscript references, researchers can use the website as a starting point for their research into the rich and complex archival records at the National Records of Scotland.

Mapping the Scottish Reformation showcases the potential of open technologies when deployed at scale in large humanities research projects. Data is taken from historical manuscripts and stored in Google Sheets; that data is then entered into Wikidata — a powerful repository for structured data; we query this data using the Wikidata Query Service; these results are exported to JSON format; the maps users see are built in LeafletJS — an open JavaScript mapping library; and the filters we use are designed on the open web. The result is tools and data that are free for other users to deploy in their own projects. We hope Mapping the Scottish Reformation will be a place to generate questions and new research projects, as well as find answers.

This website represents the completion of Stage 1 and 2 of Mapping the Scottish Reformation, but it is only the beginning. The region covered by this version of the website covers the 2,500 square kilometres of the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale — a region of around 120 parishes. Subsequent stages of Mapping the Scottish Reformation will add data on other Synod regions of the Church of Scotland, including the Synod of Aberdeen, the Synod of Fife, the Synod of Glasgow and Ayr, and the Synod of Perth and Stirling.

This stage of Mapping the Scottish Reformation was funded by the Strathmartine Trust. The data that drives the website was collected during a HCRR grant funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

You can access the database at https://maps.mappingthescottishreformation.org.