I’m pretty sure that, before the man had learnt to write, in every village there was already a map representing homes, the nearest source of water and maybe the enemy settlements. This is only a joke to express that we can consider the art of drawing maps as an innate skill of human beings. Surely the technique has improved through the centuries but the goal of the maps has not changed, an it is to give an immediate visualization of geography.

At least until nowadays. In fact, one of the digital humanities most active research field concerns the geographical representation of non-geographical data. We could talk about an extreme application of mapping, that is a try to project literature or statisthics on the geographical space.

The use of geographical maps in literature statistical analysis

The first example I’m going to present concerns a statistical use of maps to explain patterns in U.S. literature. In this work, the author applied computational georeferencing to the 12 milion volumes of the multilingual international HathiTrust corpus of digitalized texts.

The goal was to extract data about specific fields from these sources, associate them with detaild geographical information, and finally get some statistical results from this analysis.

An example of this approach is the study of the locations in 19-th century U.S. fiction.

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The figures above are the simple representation of locations in two levels, nations (the former) and cities (the latter). The author, in its analysis of the results notes “a posited undercurrent of historical and cultural conservatism within literature that leads its distribution of geographic attention to lag significantly changes in economic output, population centers, and other social structures.” Then a linear statistical prediction model is developed and its result is shown in this image.

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Thanks to this step, they found that good predictors for locations are total population, non-white and immigrant population while literacy rates are insignificant.

So, mapping can be an important instrument for statistical analysis.

The surprising visualization of literature

This second example is more challenging and I will refer to two projects, the “Myths on Maps” and the “Tweetflickertubing of James Joyce’s Ulysses”.

In the former work every geographical reference in ancient greek literature, such as Homer’s Iliad, is represented into a GPS map. Many of these works are geographically dense texts and can provide some information about the political and military importance of ancient greek cities basing on how many references are finally computed.

The latter work is intended to collocate Joyce’s Ulysses episodes on a Dublin map prividing information written by Joyce himself to an italian critic.

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One of the goals of the Irish writer was to give to the reader such many details that if Dublin “one day suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of” the novel so like a map hidden behind words. In addition the authors refers to their work as map that is equal to a cultural text. I think that from this example we can understand that words and maps can have the same goal and used jointly can give great results.

Reference

Matthew Wilkens, University of Notre Dame, United States of America Mapping and Modeling Centuries of Literary Geography across Millions of Books

Greg Newton, University of Victoria, Canada; Laurel Bowman, University of Victoria, Canada Myths on Maps

Charles Bartlett Travis, Long Room Hub, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland A Digital Humanities GIS Ontology: Tweetflickertubing James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ (1922)

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