Reviewed February 2017
Amy De Simone
Waldseemüller’s 1507 world map compiled geographical knowledge from Spanish and Portuguese ocean voyages. This map forms the basis for the virtual exhibition A Land Beyond the Stars, hosted by Museo Galileo of Florence, Italy in collaboration with the Library of Congress, with support from Ente Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze.
Even the comprehensive site map does not fully prepare the visitor for everything that is presented within this resource. Digitized maps, nautical charts, illuminated texts, and videos are all utilized to convey information in this digital exhibition. Each of the exhibit’s twelve sections could be an individual room within a museum, but the method and reach would be entirely different than its virtuality allows for, especially since the only known surviving copy of Waldseemüller’s map is currently on display at the Library of Congress. Designed for a wide audience, this website ultimately succeeds at making content accessible to any interested party, and would be of benefit to school aged students as well as scholarly researchers.
Digital reproductions are of impressive quality. Videos clips are all of short, reasonable lengths and can be digested with ease. Should the viewer prefer, a “Read text” option provides a full text transcript of each video. Within the “Interactive Exploration” section, translations of all text appearing on Waldseemüller’s map are given in full and divided by content type. Further, the content of the map has been broken down categorically, allowing for users wishing to engage with a particular type of geographical feature to do so.
A Land Beyond the Stars is well-produced and functions effectively. Though viewable on a mobile device, some navigation is more challenging as the viewing screen size is decreased. Developers have added full screen options, but a larger monitor will allow for the best interaction with this resource. Navigation is intuitive, using a left hand link menu, and the site map mentioned above allows for more direct access points. However, with information disseminated through various media within the site, it is at times unclear what the viewer may expect with each click, be it a video, data superimposed on the map, or another medium.
The stated aim of the project is “to serve as an experimental model for a new digital library concept.” While the utilized approach may serve as the basis for creating a digital library with specialized content, this particular platform was reminiscent of a HyperCard presentation from the 1990’s, albeit more technologically advanced. The ways in which the user can interact with the content are limited, making the presentation of a vast amount of well-curated historical information seem slightly flat. The exhibit is self-contained without offering links to external content, except within the “Digital Library” (bibliography) section. Unfortunately, as there is no search function, the exhibit must be accessed using the navigation menu and sitemap. Tagging or a search function would be useful to some users. However, because so much information is included, the current delivery method serves as a moderate guide for users who may not have the best idea where to find what they are seeking.
Using established technology, this exhibition is enhanced with multimedia and clearly its public visibility is greatly increased. The exhibit is certainly victorious in its efforts “to allow wider public to appreciate content contained in the map and to decipher structure and graphic symbols,” and has managed to curate content in a manner appropriate for all ages.