Digital Maps in the Library

Written by  Paola Zanardi
CD-Roms of the Biblioteca Ariostea's cartographic collection.
The Associazione Amici della Biblioteca Ariostea has just carried out an interesting programme to preserve and improve access to the library's cartographic collection. With the help of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Ferrara, the association has made it possible to consult the many maps covering the city of Ferrara, its possessions and other neighbouring areas by computer; this valuable documentation is organised in five collections of drawings, plans and maps totalling over five hundred items.

The first CD-Rom was produced in 1999-2000 under the title "Fondo Crispi"; it included series XIV (Topography of the City and Province of Ferrara, 93 maps), series XV/XVI (Collection of prints and plans of the City of Ferrara with other local towns and of various prints and plans of rivers and of the method of controlling the Reno, 143 items), a collection owned by Count Eustachio Crispi, man of letters and Ferrarese ambassador to popes Clement XI and Innocent III, purchased in Rome in 1720 and subsequently acquired by the Ariostea along with his library, and lastly the Rossa series, Miscellaneous collection of various cartographic works, comprising maps on a range of subjects, but mainly Ferrarese, from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century.

In these maps the primary concern of the draughtsmen was to display the issues affecting an area which has always been subject to serious hydrological problems. The age-old issue of control over the waters overlaid all other concerns. With a few clicks of the mouse in the relevant parts of the computer screen the viewer can identify the names of the cartographers, the engravers and the owners of a map, discover whether the map was a gift, an original or a mere copy, and view the dimensions and the ownership notes.
What emerge are names of papal legates, maybe the administrators or just the representatives of a power based far from Ferrara in Rome. A vital research tool for anyone interested in local history.

The second CD-ROM contains the precious Aleotti collection (Collection of plates drawn or possessed by Giambattista Aleotti, CL. I, 763), 183 pen and ink drawings with tempera or watercolours and four engravings, which besides illustrating the art of the great architect and showing his extraordinary draughtsmanship to expert and curious layman alike, make it possible to envisage his ideas and plans for environmental renovation. The collection also includes Aleotti's designs for the Teatro Farnese in Parma with their extraordinary theatrical impact.

The final CD-ROM which has just been issued contains Alberto Penna's Atlante (General and special State maps of the entirety of the State of Ferrara copied from originals by Bartolomeo Gnoli and others by Alberto Penna in Ferrara, AD 1658), 37 maps in ink and watercolours provided by the eminent Ferrarese who was seeking to take on a major political role in civic life in the second half of the seventeenth century.

A student of and expert in hydrological questions, Penna has left us a variety of works on the subject. Of great importance for the study of these issues are the Scrittura d'acqua ferraresi, "Writings ON the waters OF Ferrara" which are held by the State Archive.
Browsing the individual maps and plans, we can trace the history of this protean Ferrarese territory, in which the conflicts with Venice are far off, but the problems within the Papal States in connection with the control of waters with the territories of Bologna and Ravenna - via the regulation of the waters of the Reno - are more pressing.

The cartographic description executed by Bartolomeo Gnoli was supplemented by Penna in order to promote systematic hydrological restructuring work, improvements to the waterway network and, as a result, to environmental conditions. All this can be found by browsing through the Biblioteca Ariostea's Ippogrifo network. Just a mouse click is enough to get you navigating the network as well as the waters of the Ferrara area.

The creation of these cartographic CD-Roms has managed to achieve two of the aims of the librarian's craft which are often mutually incompatible: conservation and accessibility. Neither should the cultural significance of making documents previously accessible only for consultation and work by specialists in the field available to the general public be undervalued.

Becoming familiar with the history of an area by working from the configuration of its rivers, its possessions, its dry land, signifies a sympathy with the historiographical tradition of the Annales school which, by contrast with more event-oriented historical tradition, applies a methodology based on the examination of the ways that the physical environment affects politico-social history, an epiphenomenon of deeper and more permanent changes.