This project is an effort to document the cultural heritage of Sicily from c. 1061 – 1194, a transformative period in the island's history, by using print, photographic, web and geolocation technologies to identify and explicate dilapidated, at-risk, and/or hard-to-access monuments. The island's castles, monasteries, churches, palaces, bridges, and other monuments are housed in a NoSQL database that provides maximum flexibility of data storage as well as when information is queried and returned. The website, which is very much under construction, is being developed with a close eye toward usability that encourages both scholars and students to interact with the interface and learn more about Sicily's Norman past. Each site has its own discrete page embedded with pertinent information, including photos and display location on a regional map. The geolocation information makes it possible to travel to the site and ultimately there will be versions of the interface available to users of both tablets and mobile phones. This is especially valuable as it is difficult to reach many of these sites as they are often not well signed and at significant elevation. In time, there will be an array of visualizations available to help make sense of the data. These will include density charts for monasteries and fortifications as well as pie charts that offer information about Sicily's religious houses (Latin vs. Greek, monastic order, status, etc.). Key to this site will be several essays. Some will interpret the data we have collected against a wider historical backdrop, providing greater understanding of Norman society. Others will consider the data within a sustainability framework, assessing the sites’ stone weathering and deterioration and offering a prognosis for some of the monuments.
One of the most innovative aspects of this site is its focus on sustainability. In addition to treating these monuments as testaments to a vibrant past, this project also approaches them as living organisms - survivors of centuries of climactic trials and tribulations - which are in desperate need of physical examination. An ongoing collaboration with Dr. Greg Pope of MSU's Department of Earth and Environmental Studies is enabling us to assess the integrity of some of these monuments and to share this information in the sites' records. By doing this, The Norman Sicily Project is providing critical context as we consider not just what the monuments reveal about the past, but also what we might expect for their future survival.
We are grateful for the financial support this project has received from the Angelo and Mary Cali Fund for Italian Studies, an award administered by the Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Montclair State University (MSU), from the CHSS Dean's Office itself, from the Herman and Margaret Sokol Faculty/Student Research Grant Program that is administered by MSU's College of Science and Mathematics (CSAM) as well as from MSU's PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies.
A number of Montclair State University students have been playing critical roles in the development of this site as it gets off the ground. Ryan Marshall (CSAM, 2019) helped develop the interactive map that enables the site's users to engage the data. Isamar Cortes (CSAM, 2019) was also instrumental; her experience with various GIS packages to create elevations and maps that allow for the visualization of data in their geographical contexts has been invaluable. Another important member of our team, Jamila Haramuniz (CSAM, 2020), has kindly been loaning her prodigious statistical skills as well as her knowledge of R to the project, making it possible to consider the data in new ways. In addition, Matthew Parlapiano (CEHS, 2019) did a fine job of extracting data from Alexander of Telese's History, performing the tedious work of preparing the text for machine processing. We are enormously grateful to each of them.
We are also grateful to Mel Colella, whose fine editing skills greatly improved the opening video.
In addition, an enormous debt of gratitude is owed to the countless Sicilians who, in numerous ways, have helped make this project possible. We hope that this effort is a small repayment for their unfailing kindness and generosity.