Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
The project brings 16th century London into the present.
Farewell till then: I will go lose myself
And wander up and down to view the city.
To understand these references and truly appreciate The Bard's work, it's important to know the city he was writing in. That's where this interactive map of early modern London (pictured above) comes in.
"My approach to Shakespeare’s London is a spatial approach,” says Janelle Jenstad, introducing the map of early modern London in a video. “I’m interested in the space of the stage, the space of the city."
Jenstad is an English professor at the University of Victoria who has been exploring the Civitas Londinum base map since the late 1990s. The bird's-eye view of London (also known as the "Agas" map) was first printed on woodblocks in 1561—right around the time of Shakespeare's birth—then modified a century later. The intricate "Agas" map shows details such as monuments, institutions, businesses, marketplaces, and urban planning fixtures.
Jenstad's interactive version pulls information from databases with names of locations, people, organizations in the city at the time, as well as reference material about the early modern period in London. These data are layered on to the "Agas" base map. So if you click on the Middle Temple building (below), for example, the map will give you an idea of what it is and how it was used, back when Shakespeare was around:
You can also isolate urban features by type, using the labels on the upper right-hand corner. For example, I can easily highlight all the taverns around the Thames (below, top), or all the churches in the city (below, bottom):
The point of the map, and the accompanying digital texts, is to present these medieval documents in modern ways, says Jenstad. The map lets us navigate 16th century London in the way we navigate our cities today—"through something like Google Maps,” she says in the video.