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The Collation

Discovering Early Modern Digital Resources

This post was written with the invaluable contribution of Sophie Byvik.

Ever been puzzled by a date in one of our manuscripts? Want to know how much a manipulus is in your early modern recipe? How much did that early modern bar tab scrawled in the back of a book set the reader back? Where is Pissing Alley in London? (Not a trick question, I swear.) This link roundup offers a sampling of easy-to-use, open-access digital tools that help folks understand the early modern period: everything linked to here is free.

Was that a Thursday?

Screenshot of the Historical Calendar by Dr. A. R. Collins

Historical Calendar

There is a ten-day difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars, complicating comparing dates across countries in early modern Europe. This calendar makes it easy to see why Britain had a Friday the 13th in 1588, but Spain did not. The multi-country Historical Calendar permits easy comparison of the Julian and Gregorian calendars for thirteen Western countries between 1000 and 2100. Select a date to discover what that day was called in each country. The site also features a handy explanation of both calendars.


Dude, where’s my caravel?

The Map of Early Modern London 

Map of Early Modern London displaying the location of Pissing AlleyBased on the thoroughly detailed 1561 Agas map, this resource puts you out on the street with the people, places, and ideas that populated sixteenth-century London. By combining a variety of datasets—of people, places, organizations, and primary and secondary sources—the MoEML lets you propel yourself through London to discover how the space was used.


Orbis Urbis

A Bibliotheca Hertziana portal for exploring Rome. In German. Includes city maps, plans and panoramas, art and architectural drawings, literature, people, and institutions.


The Nolli Map Website

The 1748 Map of Rome by Giambattista Nolli provides an interactive look at mid-eighteenth-century Rome. Play with the Map’s layers to see how the city’s fountains stack up against its walkable pathways, or plant a contemporary satellite image over it all to discover which former gardens are currently inhabited (requires Flash).


Screenshot of the Atlas of Early Printing

The Atlas of Early Printing

The Atlas of Early Printing is an interactive map depicting the introduction of printing to Western Europe in Mainz, Germany in the mid-fifteenth century, and its subsequent spread beyond the city through 1500. Drawing on data from the British Library’s Incunabula Short Title Catalogue, the Atlas permits users to combine several data visualization layers, including trade routes, spread of printing, and paper mills, to build their own understanding of European printing at a particular place and time. The site also features an animation of a fifteenth-century press.


AHEAD: European Archive of Historical Earthquake Data

AHEAD: European Archive of Historical Earthquake Data screenshot

AHEAD is a pan-European open platform supporting research on historical earthquake data, from the medieval period to 1899. You can search by size of quake, by year, or “Macroseismic data points” (MDPs) to pinpoint shocks like the magnitude 7 one that rent southern Italy on June 5, 1688, reported in London in texts, or the ones that shook Sicily when Mount Etna erupted in 1669, as described by Heneage Finch, 3rd Earl of Winchilsea, in his popular account of the disaster. While some of the acronyms and details will be opaque for new users, the graphic interface rewards exploration.

Money Money

UK National Archives Currency Converter

This currency converter calculates purchasing power for the pound for each decade from 1270 onward. Enter pounds, shillings, and pence to discover how much wheat, wool, or livestock you could purchase for said amount. The converter also displays the wage equivalent for a skilled tradesman based on the amount entered. The 40 shillings that Lettice Bagot received from her father, mentioned in this letter from about 1595, would have paid for more than a month of a skilled tradesman’s wages.


Medieval and Early Modern Data Bank

Medieval and Early Modern Data Bank

The Medieval and Early Modern Data Bank permits more complex currency exchange research than the National Archives converter by allowing you to download spreadsheets of data. MEMDB is a collection of databases, and currently contains six separate currency exchange and price lists for Europe between 800-1815 C.E. Since these datasets are compiled from varied sources, there may not be comprehensive data.


Global Price and Income History Group

GPIH is another clearing house for economic data, providing information on both prices and incomes. Early income datasets provide things like what percentage of the English and Welsh population were classified as miners, farmers, or in the building trades in 1688. According to the dataset for that year, “Science and Liberal Arts” workers made up 1.13 percent of the population and made £12 per annum—doing better than your average clergyman, but less well off than naval officers or lawyers. The more things change…


Scottish Economic History Database, 1550 – 1780

Folks interested in Scotland should take note of this regionally-specific economic dataset, which provides information about crop yields, demographic data, prices, wages, and weather statistics for 1550 – 1780.


It comes in pints?

An Introduction to Weights and Measures (University of Nottingham)

Measurements and conversions from Margaret Baker's Receipt book, v.a.619

Measurements and conversions from Margaret Baker’s Receipt book, Folger V.a.619

A handy introduction by the special collections at the University of Nottingham, this resource aims to help you decipher units of weight, money, and measurements in historical documents. It includes a glossary; categories for weights, measurements, volume or capacity, and money; and an online quiz to test your understanding (quiz uses Flash).

Sarah Wigges’ Weights and Measures from Early Modern Medicine: a blog about Bodies and Medicine c. 1500 – 1780

Don’t take our word for it: sometimes it’s handy to have a contemporary description of common weights and measures. This blog post describes a chart of the types of measurements used by apothecaries, found in a manuscript recipe book composed by Sarah Wigges in 1616. The transcribed list includes measurements such as grains, scruples, ounces, and drams, along with their symbols.  


The Folger is collecting our own list of early modern measurements on Folgerpedia. We hope this list will be helpful to anyone transcribing early modern recipe books or puzzling through measurements encountered in early modern texts.


We hope these resources provide a starting point for exploring the early modern period, but we know there are more out there! Let us know where we should click next and point us to your favorite maps, calendars, and other tools.


This is wonderful! Thank you!

Martin Mangold — April 11, 2018


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