By Matthew Hannah and Heidi Kaufman
We held a successful workshop on OCR, Voyant, and Juxta Commons and look forward to future DH events on campus. Today at 5 p.m. Eren Kavvas in CAS IT will host a free workshop on the R environment in McKenzie 123. Please bring your laptops for what promises to be an exciting event. R offers tools to conduct all manner of textual analysis, and this workshop will introduce users to the basics. Also, we will be holding our next DH RIG meeting on February 26th, 2-4 p.m., in McKenzie 122, where we will enjoy conversation and snacks.
For today’s post, we offer the second in a series on “Mapping the Humanities,” focusing on “Mapping the Lakes: A Literary GIS,” housed at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom. Funded by the British Academy, this project experiments with the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) for mapping literary environments in order “to further the understanding of the literature of place and space.” [source of quote & speaker?] Mapping the Lakes traces the literary meanderings of two prominent visitors to the Lake District: Thomas Gray, who toured in 1769, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who visited in 1802.Thus, “Mapping the Lakes” operates at the nexus of mapping and literature, connecting literary culture to space and place in visible ways. The site offers “general reflections on the intersections of digital cartography and electronic textuality, paving the way for future research on the literature of landscape and environment.” The site explores these connections by dividing the objectives into three categories: writer-specific, geo-specific, and theoretical. However, this does not suggest that these three categories are mutually exclusive. On the contrary, each category offers different maps that layer on top of one another.
For example, if I explore Thomas Gray’s journey, I can click on the link to expand the visualization to include his textual history, contexts, and a map of his journey. The first two offer background data on Gray and his writing. Clicking on “textual history” or “contexts” only takes me to a small description of the material, which I had hoped would open versions of the text for viewing. “Map” is the most exciting aspect because I open an expandable geographical map showing Gray’s journey with a timeline of events associated with the locations. The same offerings are available with Coleridge.
In addition, “Mapping the Lakes” offers a comparative map, which layers both Coleridge and Gray’s maps on top of one another. This comparative map is accompanied by some interpretation regarding the data derived from the geographical representation of both men’s travels. The site’s “scholar’s note” explain that neither Gray nor Coleridge actually visited the northern region of the area: “The vast swathes of blank space upon this comparative GIS raises questions about the possible imaginative and cultural marginalisation of particular tracts of land within the Cumbrian topography.” Both men also visibly follow very different routes, with Gray sticking to populated areas in the eastern regions while Coleridge moves into the more isolated western areas. Furthermore, the site offers maps charting how both men “name” locations, which, the site claims, “have been subjected to, what may be described as, the palimpsestic quality of written responses.”
Sites like “Mapping the Lakes” provoke us to consider the ways culture is intricately tied to place and space. Using digital tools like GIS or Google Maps to trace the movements of literary and fictional figures can reveal much about how ideas travel, about how we conceptualize physical space, and about the very land on which our art and literature is created. Mapping also offers ways to explore other disciplines and generate new material for study. As the scholars developing “Mapping the Lakes” sum up, “The core aim of this pilot project is to test whether GIS technology has the potential to open up new spatial thinking about the geo-specific literature of place and space.” Judging from the questions raised by “Mapping the Lakes,” we can agree that GIS offers some exciting possibilities for literary and cultural studies.
Exploring visualizations of the Lake District as experienced by Gray and Coleridge opens up the study of the period by expanding our sense of the space and place of the Lake District beyond correlations between the area and Wordsworth’s poems about it. Instead, we can explore a more nuanced connection to geography based in space, time, place, and author. “The creation of exploratory digital maps,” the site concludes, “may facilitate the conceptual understanding of the intertextuality of space.” That is, we can now see place and space as “textual” and text as tied to space and place.
We will be meeting in a very particular place, McKenzie 122, on Feb. 26th, from 2-4 p.m., to consider “Preserving History and Culture,” our next RIG meeting. We hope you will join us.