Changing Places: Using Spatio-Temporal Maps to Link Literary Texts with Movement

Presentation Slides:
ACH2019 [Keynote] | ACH2019 [PowerPoint] | ACH2019 [PDF]

We can study the relationship between a literary text and place in several ways, such as by doing a close reading of the text that prioritizes described places, by visiting real places that are mentioned in a text and doing scholarship in situ, or by examining the context of a text’s creation. In digital humanities, text and place have often been paired through GIS mapping of literary locations, for example “LitMap” by Dr. Barbara Hui, which maps extracts of W.G. Sebald’s novel Rings of Saturn. As Hui describes, computation allows us to “read literature spatially.”

With computation we can also add a time element so that texts can be read spatio-temporally. While we are accustomed to data visualizations that combine maps and timelines to present data in an experiential manner, such as population change over time, adding a time element to a literary map can evoke a sense of movement between places, which adds a new layer to literary mapmaking. By highlighting change or patterns of stability/instability, spatio-temporal maps link text to both place and movement.

In this presentation, I will introduce two digital humanities projects that use spatio-temporal mapping. “Summer of Darkness” is an iOS app about the summer when Frankenstein was written that comprises original letters, journal entries, and literary texts. “Mapping Bishop” is a web-based spatio-temporal map of Elizabeth Bishop’s correspondence, travel, and drafts from the early 1950s, and it is under active development. Both projects include a method of playback that creates an experiential or mimetic sense of the material, but the time element is applied differently in each case. I will also discuss preliminary observations from my mapping of these materials.