Creating a Chronotopic Ground for the Mapping of Literary Texts: Innovative Data Visualisation and Spatial Interpretation in the Digital Medium

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: English and Creative Writing


This project is about the visualising of literary place and space, using the digital medium in a way never before attempted to advance spatial understanding and interpretation of literary texts for a range of users. We view space and time in literature as a central element of the understanding and interpretation of texts, but one that is often overlooked. Literary mapping has the potential to bring it to the fore and allow it to be understood and appreciated in new ways.

Conceptually the project is concerned with solving a deceptively simple problem that restricts spatial exploration of literature, particularly in digital space, the problem of how to generate the "base map". Where a text is set in a space that appears to correspond to the real world (e.g. London in a Dickens' novel) this appears unproblematic, but where a text creates a world with no direct correspondence this becomes a major problem since there is nothing on to which to map textual elements. Our ground-breaking project aims to solve this problem by creating the base map out of the text itself, using place-names and other toponymic elements to generate map representations. Structurally, we will establish five core spatial genres for Literary Studies and create models of interpretation at multiple levels for a range of texts within each genre. Our innovative approach will enable a major step forward in the understanding and analysis of the spatial and temporal (chronotopic) dimensions of a literary work, with the potential to be relevant and of interest to academics and the wider public.

We will interpret texts and images by an iterative structure (returning upon itself) that connects visual and verbal representations and moves between them. So, a text is analyzed; maps are produced and the fictional world visualised; then there is a return to the text in the light of such spatialisation for in-depth analysis, enriched and deepened by the act of visualisation that mapping has given us. We are also interested in adapting gaming engines to the exploration of space and place in canonical literary forms, creating a range of maps and full 3D visualisations for different kinds of imaginative terrain and mapping at different scales. Our project will significantly enhance knowledge and understanding of digital tools for the spatial humanities, for literary mapping and for spatial approaches to the analysis and interpretation of literary works.

A brief explanation of how the project might work may be helpful here, taking Treasure Island as an example. At a macro-level the novel will need to be mapped in terms of three distinct time-spaces: England (home); The Voyage/ The Ship (transition); The Island (the "other" space of conflict and death). The first of these maps onto "real-world" geography (Devon), the second reduces space to the extent of the ship in motion; the third is set in an entirely imaginary (though authorially-mapped) place. These space-times (or chronotopes) exist sequentially within the narrative but also overlap and bear upon each other (e.g. the boy narrator, Jim, projects an imagined version of the island forward from home that the actual island confounds entirely). If we focus purely on the first of these we can see how ordinary everyday life at The Admiral Benbow inn is interrupted by the intersection of this world with that of the pirates and how Jim is sucked out of one kind of timespace or chronotope (safe, secluded, the space of childhood) into another far more exciting, but also threatening, one. In the case of Treasure Island, an authorial map is also given alongside the text so that the map is both inside and outside the narrative, functioning like a chronotopic beacon -- an object of power calling out to be claimed and reclaimed and shaping the narrative around it by manipulating through desire. Full visualisation of different chronotopes will allow us to respond more deeply to the rich complexity of such a text.

Planned Impact

Impact is a core element of the project since it is concerned with bringing about a transformation through new tools and methods in terms of a particular academic field - spatial humanities - and with communicating new ways of understanding and exploring literary place, space and time to as large an audience as possible.

Who might benefit?
The project is of use to the following groups:
- Primary school teachers and pupils
- Secondary school teachers and pupils
- Universities in a range of Humanities disciplines
- Libraries and special collections
- Heritage organisations
- Museums
- Literary Societies
- Literary Houses
- Tourist Boards
- The National Trust
- Local communities
- The wider public visiting regions, interested in writers, using digital media
- International visitors and tourists

Impact is targetted towards three main non-academic groups:

Educational Beneficiaries
The project builds upon work already undertaken with schools in The Lakescraft Project by Bushell and Butler. This provides an existing network of schools in the North West region and beyond. For this project we will use the same structure for schools of creating worksheet materials to use alongside 3D visualisations and gaming platforms since this worked successfully before. We will establish a core team who are willing to work closely with us on the development of the materials and to work with the BL learning team (connecting to London schools). In Lancaster we will work in the first instance with Dallas Road Primary School and Lancaster Royal Grammar School for Boys where we have existing links. We will develop materials with the aid and advice of four teachers, bringing them onto campus for 2 day-long sessions in computer labs in Years 1 and 2. We will develop one set of materials for Primary school children aged 8-11 (centred on Treasure Island) and a second set for GCSE students aged 14-16 (centred on Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Lord of the Flies). The PI is also a fully trained secondary school teacher with previous experience of teaching in schools.

Museums / Cultural Heritage
We will create interactive interfaces that enable adults and children to play with the tools in the museum space and that engage people with literature who might not otherwise be interested. Working with The Wordsworth Trust and The British Library we will create a suite of training materials for librarians and other professionals relating to the online tools (also freely accessible) and run a Digital Scholarship course hosted by the BL. We hope that our tools will be adapted and used by those in the third sector, as well as by academics.

The General Public
The public will have direct access to the digital tools that we develop through the project website which will be designed for maximum appeal and reach. The digital tools themselves will also be designed as toolchains of existing tools to maximize flexibility and re-usability. There will also be directly interactive elements on the site for users to engage with.

How might they benefit?
We believe that mapping and visualizing literary space and time opens up new ways of analysing literature, and thus of understanding spatio-temporal representations and the spatial nature of our own existence more fully. This is of benefit to all, in different ways. The first level of impact is conceptual and intellectual to fellow academics working in this field and related disciplines whose own work can be advanced and taken in new directions by it. The second level is for those working in the third sector for whom the tools may be developed towards as yet unforeseen ends. A third level of impact occurs in schools where we seek to open up the experience of literary texts through spatial and visual means to the next generation. Finally, even those with digital mapping as a hobby can use our tools and share ideas with us and others.


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