Review of the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World App for iPad2+

In its initial print edition (2000), The Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World was a groundbreaking collection of colored and detailed maps of the Greco-Roman world “from the British Isles to the Indian subcontinent and deep into North Africa” (http://blog.press.princeton.edu). Its contribution to scholarship is hard to over-emphasize, since it treats comprehensively the entirety of the Greco-Roman world and incorporates the new discoveries and updated scholarship of the modern day that previously had “never before [been] represented cartographically” (Richard Talbert, “Preface,” Barrington Atlas).

Recently, Princeton University Press launched an edition of The Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World for the iPad2+, featuring all the original content of the Atlas along with integrated navigation and search functions at the reasonable price of $19.95 (much more affordable than the $395.00 print edition).

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This app is overall a wonderful tool for scholars and laymen alike. It is in many ways simply a digital version of the book—it reads just like an e-book, and users have only to swipe to the left and right to go from page to page and map to map. Users can pinch-zoom up to 800 percent and use the interactive map Key menu to examine the maps in detail. Users can also alter the orientation of the maps in both portrait and landscape modes through automatic “True North” rotation. Moving between maps is easy and intuitive, since users can flip the pages (via swiping to the left and right) and view maps in the same order as in the print book.

The app reads just like an e-book.

The app reads just like an e-book.

Map carousel menu allows you to quickly browse through the Atlas's 101 full-colored maps

Map carousel menu allows you to browse through the Atlas’s 101 full-colored maps

Slide-out Key menu allows users to analyze the features of the map details

Slide-out Key menu allows users to analyze the features of the map details

My absolute favorite feature of the Atlas app for iPad2+ is the interactive Gazetteer, which allows users to find more than 20,000 locations within the Atlas. Again, this process is easy and intuitive, since users can either browse the locations in alphabetic order or type in the name of the location they would like to see. Within seconds, the app will pull up all the maps in which the location appears for the user to select, save, and view.

The Gazetteer allows users to browse over 20,000 locations alphabetically or to search for exact locations. I found 40 maps showing locations named after Hercules/Heracles using this tool.

The Gazetteer allows users to browse over 20,000 locations alphabetically or to search for exact locations. I found 40 maps showing locations named after Hercules/Heracles using this tool.

Another great feature of the app is the Locator tool, which shows a map of the entire Greco-Roman world on which a user can toggle the appearance of Modern Countries, and (by tapping and holding certain points) the user can open the maps associated with those locations.

Locator tool allows users to select and open up various regions of the Greek and Roman world.

Locator tool allows users to select and open up various regions of the Greek and Roman world.

The maps have a number of useful features that allow users to analyze the various regions of the Greek and Roman world. Names of places and features are underlined in various colors indicating the period in which certain names were used. Names also appear in various type styles which help distinguish between ancient and modern place names, as well as between peoples or tribes, regions, physical features, and water features–all of which appear in various sizes according to relative importance. A Key is also provided for the Interpretation of Ancient Names, allowing the maps to show alternate names, variant spellings, names known only from earlier or later sources, reconstructed names, names only known in part, and names in their attested forms which are considered to be inaccurate. These features are all very useful, especially in combination with the Gazateer, allowing users to search for and find locations using whichever version of a place name they might have from their sources.

Another excellent feature: location names are underlined in colors according to the period and people group among which various names were used.

Location names are underlined in colors according to the period in which various names were used.

A useful key for the interpretation of Ancient Names is included.

A useful key for the interpretation of ancient place names is included.

There are however a few features of the app that I would like to see improved in future updates. First, I’d like to see a resume capability added so that the Atlas will re-open to whatever page users were looking before closing the app. Right now, if the screen turns off or if users hit their iPad Home button (to, say, check their email or look at something else briefly before returning to the Atlas), they have to start again at the beginning page—even if they hadn’t completely closed out of the program. Since the app overall reads like an e-book, I think that other readers with experience using Kindle or other e-readers will find this aspect of the app frustrating.

At present, there is no resume capability for the app.

At present, there is no resume capability for the app.

Second, while I love the zoom-in capability to 800% (and especially the fact that the maps refresh and sharpen when you zoom in), I’d like to see an even higher percentage for zoom in added. Sometimes, in order to really see those little details on the map, I had to manually pinch-zoom past 800% and take a snapshot before letting go (after which the map “bounces back” to 800%).

Even in the closest zoom possible (800%) tiny place names and features on the map are hard to see.

Even in the closest zoom possible (800%) tiny place names and features on the map are hard to see.

More zoom only possible by holding a pinch-zoom.

More zoom only possible by holding a pinch-zoom.

Also, I’d like to see zoom capability added to the Map of Modern Countries section—those tiny numbers and letters both on the map and in the map key are nearly impossible to read right now.

Finally, while I also love the fact that users can open the Key menu while looking at maps in order to analyze the details on the maps, there are a few improvements I’d like to see for this feature in particular: first, I’d like to see a zoom-in ability added to the Key so that users can really scrutinize the various features on the maps. Also, I’d like to see an ability to slide in and hide the top menu of the Key so that users can see more of the map while comparing map features with the Key. Right now, if you have the Key menu open, it obscures over half of the screen and most of the map. These improvements would make the Key an even more useful tool for users.

Finally, there are sometimes bugs that don’t allow users to be have their maps rotated and zoomed in on a map when they try to open the key menu. This doesn’t happen everywhere, and I didn’t have this problem with most of the maps (the trouble I had in particular with this bug was on map 9, “Britannia Inferior”). These problems don’t lessen the overall utility of the Atlas, and I imagine they will be addressed quickly in future updates.

The Key menu obscures over half of the map (making it difficult to compare map features with the key). I'd like to see an ability to hide the Top menu on the left while viewing the key (right now trying to slide and close the top Key menu results in closing the whole thing).

The Key menu obscures over half of the map (making it difficult to compare map features with the Key).

Ultimately I found the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World app for iPad2+ is an excellent and easy-to-use tool. The maps are absolutely beautiful and astounding in their detail, and now they are more accessible (and affordable) than before. I hope that in the future the app will be available on more devices, since it is a useful tool that every scholar ought to have in their personal digital library.

One comment on “Review of the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World App for iPad2+
  1. Over at http://www.runningreality.org we’re showing changing national borders, city growth, battles, armies, ships, battles, etc over time from 3000BC to today — literally any day in history. We’re a small project team, but as we get data filled in it shows the growth and evolution of human civilization. We can’t match Google Maps for today’s cities, but we do much better for 1800AD, 800AD, or 800BC! We’ve done a bit of work on Rome, London, Istanbul, and Washington, DC. Our ancient Rome data is not as good as the Barrington Atlas, but we don’t just cover one place and time in history.

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