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Dr Peter Wittmann
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New view of old maps – digital methods visualise complex history

The interdisciplinary joint project DigiKAR has started its work in Leipzig, Mainz, Paris and Regensburg

A geographical space is more than its borders. And yet, when looking at historical maps, many people have these in particular in mind. Maps of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in particular present a collection of territories with seemingly clearly defined borders. Such cartographic representations of the early modern empire as a "rag rug" have shaped the historical image of generations. However, they are inadequate for understanding the complexity of this space: territorial blurring remains hidden in them, as does the affiliation of people to different social, legal and ruling spaces of the imperial federation. This is where the joint project Digitale Kartenwerkstatt „Altes Reich“ (DigiKAR for short), which started in July 2021, comes in with new food for thought and visualisations. DigiKAR is funded by the Leibniz Association's Cooperative Excellence.

At its core, DigiKAR is about the visualisation of territorial interconnections, fluid border courses and cross-spatial connections. With this goal in mind, an international and interdisciplinary team from the fields of history, information science and cartography is developing alternative approaches for the recording, processing and representation of ambiguous spatial relationships. With the help of biographical movement data, among other things, case studies on the electorates of Mainz and Saxony are investigating questions of fragmentation, plurality and competition of structures in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Especially the discussion of the mobility of actors and objects promises new perspectives on early modern territoriality for historical research.

The DigiKAR team is also engaged in knowledge transfer with memory institutions, the cultural sector and institutions of historical education. It is interested in cooperations with regional historical institutions, libraries, archives and educational institutions related to the historical areas of Kurmainz and Kursachsen. Committed to the open source idea, workflows, documentations, exemplary visualisations and tutorials from the digital map workshop are made transparent and accessible not only to research, but also to the data-providing institutions and the public.

About DigiKAR

DigiKAR is a cooperation project of the Leibniz Institute of European History (Mainz), the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography (Leipzig), the Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies (Regensburg), the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (Paris). The project is funded by the Leibniz Association for a period of three years.

DigiKAR on the web

Twitter: @digiKAR


For questions, interest in cooperation and to arrange interviews with the experts in the fields of historical research, data modelling and visualisation, please contact the project coordinator Constanze Buyken: Tel. +49 6131 392 70 78, buyken(at)