Skip to main content

A sense of space: travellers and maps in the pre-modern world


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Convenors: Professor Filippo de Vivo, Katherine Hill
  • Tutors: Mike Berlin, Caroline Barron
  • Assessment: a 2500-word research investigation (25%), 2500-word research essay (25%), three-hour examination (50%) and 60% attendance to pass (0%)

Module description

The places we encounter, the journeys we make and the spaces we see shape our communities and identities. But what was people’s sense of space before the era of globalisation? Why, how and where did people travel in the pre-modern world? How did they record their experiences in travelogues, maps and letters? And how did these experiences transform people’s understanding of the world around them and the spaces they lived in?

We will explore these questions in the early modern world, an era which witnessed colonial expansion and global encounter, but also the remodelling of urban spaces and the emergence of tourist trips. Through detailed study of a range of written, visual and material primary sources, this module will allow you to explore the changing world of travel, movement and mapping antiquity to the present. We examine where people went, what they wrote about it, the maps they made, the terrains they traversed and the means by which they travelled. We also think about imaginations of less tangible space, as people dreamed of utopias, charted sacred topographies, or mapped their pasts.

A team-taught module drawing on expertise from across the Department, the material reaches from an examination of classical and medieval ideals of travel, through a wide variety of early modern understandings of spaces, travelling and places in a time of global encounters and religious change, to a digital mapping in the present day, with tools such as Google Earth.

Indicative module syllabus


  • What is a map?
  • Texts about travel: What is a travelogue?
  • Travelling with texts: What did travellers read?

Spiritual spaces

  • Biblical and Christian topographies
  • Pilgrimage: to the Holy Land and back again
  • Muslim space

Urban topographies

  • City mapping: moral and pragmatic surveys of the urban world
  • London: places and travellers
  • Layers of London: digitally mapping the past

 Worlds and encounters

  • Marco Polo and Mandeville
  • Mapping the world
  • Missionaries

Mapping ideas

  • Mapping the past
  • Mapping utopias and paradise
  • Resources, demography and people

Modes of movement

  • Roads and transport
  • Seas
  • Walking


  • London then and now: information, movement and mapping in the digital age

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will:

  • understand major themes in relation to travel, movement and mapping in the pre-modern world
  • be able to identify both change and continuity in regard to ideas about travel and space, and engage with the variety of ideas about travel in different geographical and cultural contexts and at different times
  • understand the history of travel and space from a variety of angles and using different approaches
  • be able to engage critically with historians’ major interpretations of the subject
  • be able to interpret primary sources (written, visual and material) critically and relate them to secondary sources
  • gain a sense of innovative digital projects on mapping historical space.