Visualizing Geography: Maps, Place, and Pedagogy

Visualizing Geography: Maps, Place, and Pedagogy

Mapping technology has recently been the focus of much critical attention as evidenced by numerous efforts to develop new ways of visualizing physical and textual spaces. The proliferation of tools such as Neatline, The DM Project, Google Earth, and Walking Through Time has made mapping the stuff of both academic endeavours and everyday life.

Specifically on the academic front, the marriage of geography and literary scholarship raises interesting questions about how an individual imagines and experiences spaces. Projects like Map of Early Modern London, MappaMundi, and The Pegasus Data Project among others, are grappling with complex issues of space, place, and time, and sometimes they create encoding problems that expose epistemological flaws.

This forum will attempt to articulate some of these flaws and propose solutions that will help us better understand how literature, geography, space, and time intersect. Ultimately, we hope to foster an interdisciplinary conversation among scholars working on varied projects, from medieval texts to post-colonial movement, in order to gain new perspectives on the advantages and pitfalls of mapping text, space, and place.



  • How can web tools represent the literary spaces that a reader encounters (or imagines) in literature? What types of tools would fill the existing technological gaps in geospatial information studies?
  • How do narratives travel and replicate over geographical space? What would mapping these processes yield? How can we do it?
  • Is it problematic to represent literary and historical geography with modern interfaces like Google Maps? Should we be concerned that these visualizations may not be accurate representations of how our subjects would imagine space, or can we be content in uncovering new (and previously impossible) readings of old texts?
  • How does using maps as a pedagogical tool affect our understanding of both real and literary environments? Does mapping change the way we make connections even when we aren’t thinking about geographical space?


Hosted by HASTAC Scholars:

Cameron Butt, department of English, University of Victoria
Annette Joseph-Gabriel, department of French, Vanderbilt University
Rebecca Nesvet, department of English and Comparative Literature, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Rebecca Shores, department of English and Comparative Literature, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Forum Guests:

Image Sources:

(1): “I am It, and It is I”: Lovecraft in Providence. Neatline Project By Paul Mawyer

(2): Screenshot of Digital Harlem: Everyday Life 1915-1930, showing all of the neighborhood churches


Everyone is welcome to join the forum! Register on HASTAC to comment below.


As I think now about the question of geo-rectification and the cartesian/bordered base maps that we have access for most of our digital platforms, I feel more and more disheartened by the fact that all these other histories can only hope to be 'exhibits' in the Omeka/Nealtine sense of the word on top of a base visualization of the world that has been naturalized beyond practical repair. By practical repair I mean precisely that it seems like a fool's errand to build massive non-cartesian systems meant for open ended connections between other histories and spatial knowledges. The second best option we have is to represent other imaginings as non-geo-rectified, or non-geo-referenced simple images or narratives.


I'm very interested in the above quote from Alex, particularly because I'm attempting to use Neatline to visualize travels in the recent past. As we work through what Lynn Ramey has called the morality of mapping the past, it is impoortant to bear in mind our own relationship to the present space we inhabit and the past space we are trying to visualize.

But Alex's point about other histories and spatial knowledges for me goes beyond the temporal and addresses "cultural" (for lack of a more satisfactory word) engagements with space and mapping. For my Neatline exhibit I am desperately trying to add a custom map base...a map of Equatorial Africa in the 1940s under colonial rule. And I say desperately because it is proving to be a complicated task. But it is only by toggling back and forth between "colonial" and "postcolonial" map bases that the viewer can understand the implications of women's travels at this time. What does it mean for example that one of the travellers began her journey in 1946 Leopoldville--today Kinshasa--in a Belgian mission house that is still present today?

Like Todd, I've found Neatline useful but buggy and limited. But using it to plot the travels of African American women in colonial Africa has been at best amusing for me because Google maps and I simply do not have the same understanding of space. In trying to locate places recorded in the diary entries I am using as source data, I find that Google will understand addresses based on street names and building numbers. But what to do with landmarks? Those features (natural or manmade) of the landscape that allow people to orient themselves? Here's an example of what I mean: I grew up in Ghana, West Africa. I don't know the address of the house I grew up in simply because I have never had to learn it. All mail goes to a P.O. Box downtown. And if you need to visit I'll give you directions grounded in the space itself (turn right after the mango tree, if you see a blue house you've gone too far etc). How to translate this onto a Neatline exhibit whose understanding of space is heavily based on Google's "satellite view" is...interesting.


Thank you Annette for this response. You have a great concrete example of what I meant by other forms of non-cartesian ways of imagining space: landmarks. I grew up in Dominican Republic. While the city has addresses, our country life was very much landmark-centric. We can probably overlay these landmarks as drawings on Neatline, but that misses the point of how hard they are to locate on satellite view and how they are ultimately an interpretation of a base naturalized map. The system of latitude and longitude or the system of street addresses is very 'neat,' but it limits what we can do and can easily reroute, distract our thinking about space. [shakes fists at the angel of history!]


One of the more powerful poetic images of maps is Anna Laetitia’ Barbauld’s image of a British woman looking at a map. In “Eighteen Hundred and Eleven” (1812), the woman:

. . . the spread map with anxious eye explores,
Its dotted boundaries and penciled shores,
Asks where the spot that wrecked her bliss is found,
And learns its name but to detest the sound.
(ll. 33-8)

(From Project Gutenberg, provenance unknown)

This woman is “exploring” in cartography, to understand how war and imperialism have destroyed her family and possibly imperilled her life.

Barbauld’s map-reading scene anticipates the Victorian geographer Lady Jane Franklin’s search for her husband Sir John Franklin and his Arctic expedition of 130, which disappeared in 1845 and has never been located. Lady Franklin did not just passively read cartography, she influenced it, by commissioning fruitless rescue missions and somewhat more productive recovery expeditions that mapped much of Upper Canada. (She also lobbied successfully for her husband’s erroneous immortalization as the discoverer of the Northwest Passage.)


Many more Victorian readers saw literary worlds cartographically. One of the nineteenth century’s unsung bestsellers, James Malcolm Rymer’s The String of Pearls--the origin of the Sweeney Todd legend--is almost incomprehensible without a map of London’s Temple Bar area. As it was disseminated far beyond London, with a New York edition published before the end of the century, most readers probably knew Rymer’s London only from maps, illustrations, and other stories.

In the 1880s, Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland  introduced a world adequately represented by a map. Flatland exists in only two dimensions. As a satirical dystopia that mirrors Abbott’s England, Flatland might be considered a 1:1 scale map of England. Flatland is viewed from above and below by its psychopomp, the imperialist Sphere, so it looks like a map. In contrast, the pompous Sphere is a globe, so in Abbott’s parable, the world looks in the mirror of the map and fails to recognize itself. Perhaps in this forum, we shall do better.



One of the more interesting things I've come across in the geohumanities is the distinction between the two primary ways in which we tend to visualize geography. I think the best way to describe these two visualization types is in Google's terminology: "map view" and "street view."  For Michel de Certeau, this distinction is the difference between "the knowledge of an order of places" (i.e. seeing from above) or "spatializing actions" (i.e moving through a space).

For me, these two visualizations of geography are mutually exclusive: I can never conceptualize both images at the same time. It's like a gestalt drawing: I can see the rabbit and the duck, but never both animals together. And I think that this statement is true despite the miracle of mobile phones. Even staring at a blue dot that I understand represents my body as viewed from above, I can not completely merge what I see around me with what my phone imagines the spaces around me look like from above.

It's possible that this is a personal handicap and that other people can indeed conceptualize both the street view and the map view at once. I'm thinking now of a video games I played growing up, Goldeneye, in which players impersonate James Bond characters trying to kill each other. In these games, the first person view simulates the player "walking" around, gun drawn, annihilating their enemies or, in my case, being gunned down by apparently invisible opponents. Let's call this the street view. There was also a map view, a small series of squiggles and dots in the corner of the screen that outlined the terrain of the virtual space. Now the reason I used to get killed a lot when playing these games was that I couldn't make sense of the map view, or when I could, I couldn't make that information relevant to my understanding of the street view. My opponents, however, played that game every day and thoroughly understood how to make connect their knowledge of the "order of places" with their "spatializing actions."

Now bear with me, because I think there's more to this anecdote than my repressed anger at losing every single game of Goldeneye I ever played. With practice, my friends had successfully fused these apparently opposite visualizations of the same space. But I think it's important to note that, even in understanding the relationship between these views, they could not successfully see both at the same time. Their eyes would repeatedly dart back and forth between the map and the screen showing the street view.

Which leads me to conclude, though not empirically, that we can not conceive of a space in both a street view and a map view at the same time.

Does this theory hold up? Has anybody managed to do so? Are there any tools out there that reflect or disprove this dynamic?


I’m glad I’m not the only one who has difficulty merging map view and street view in my mind. Yes I agree that “we cannot conceive of a space in both” views simultaneously, but I would like to try.

My current project (still in very early stages) is attempting to do this. In trying to plot the movements of 2 women political activists throughout French West and Central Africa I definitely want to merge both views. I’m currrently exploring Neatline to craft a narrative that will allow the map viewer to very literally see the movement through space via points on a map but also to “be” in the space, it’s landmarks and terrain...and I say “be” because to access googgle maps street view you need to place yourself (i.e the little yellow man) onto the map. I’m not sure if this is possible. Currently the map viewer would still have to toggle between one and the other view.

So to add to the questions above, what are the implications of our (in)ability to simultaneously be in a space and have a bird’s eye view of it? In particular, what are the implications for the way we read say travel narratives that seek to give us both views? Do such texts bring us as close as we can get?


Annette, your project sounds fascinating. And your description calls attention to the reasons why it's not enough for us to plug our data into existing interfaces like Google Maps, why we need new interfaces. Why on earth should the travels of two women be represented on a map by a "little yellow man?" And why does Google think that this man represents the reader of the map in their armchair, projected, or remembered travels? What does that say about Google Maps' assumptions about the archetypal voyager's gender and/or race?

What are the implications of our (in)ability to simultaneously be in a space and have a bird’s eye view of it?

And this is a great question, Annette... especially for readers of FLATLAND.

To recap: Flatland is 2D. Inhabitants - shapes - experience world as plane. Above and below don't exist. "Spaceland," home of the Sphere, is our 3D world, and Flatland cuts through it like the rings of Saturn.

So, do the Flatlanders have an advantage in their not needing to constantly translate and shift between map-view and street-view perspectives, as in Flatland these are the same?

Would a creature from the 4th Dimension (Hyperland?) have too many views of OUR world? (Map, Street, and hyperspatial?) 


(My sketch)



I also struggle with envisioning "street view" and "map view" at the same time, and can only get close to reconciling them with the help of layering or other graphics like a "you are here" outtake on the same page. But this issue hits another vital aspect to mapping literary geography: what do we do with the temporal elements of our visual renderings? How do we reconcile, or at least articulate, the distance between us and the literature we're mapping? The real and the imagined space? The present and the past?

All of these issues come up in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a group of 8 annalistic texts whose first version began in the 9th c and whose last ended in the 12th. The annals contain prose, poetry, short stories, and genealogies. And although each entry begins with a date, most of them also contain reference to place.

When looking at the 10th century entries that are unique to each version (places only mentioned by A Chronicle, B Chronicle, etc), we see clearly particular spatial preferences :

It seems unlikely that the scribes had much (if any) access to maps, but texts like the Old English Orosius complicate our understanding of Anglo-Saxon sense of space. The translator of Orosius's geography/history text added "interviews" from two contemporary sailors, Ohthere and Wulfstan, who seem to dictate (with occasional anomaly) their voyages in the White Sea and Baltic. 

Ohthere's Voyage mapped by Finn Bjorklid (wikipedia comons)

But how many of the scribes over the Chronicle's 3+ centuries of creation had ever seen a map, especially of England? How did they conceive of their own kingdoms? How are changes of power among Wessex, Mercia, and Northumbria, and with ever-increasing waves of Viking invasion entered into these temporal registers? 

Most important to this forum, I think, is, "what happens when we visualize spaces that were imagined differently by their authors?"  This question leads us back to the issue of street view v map view-- both mark place and change in different ways, and both are perhaps misleadingly real. Do we have any business at all using modern maps to imagine the ancient past, or satellite maps to create imagined spaces? What are the plusses and pitfalls?


Sorry to be late to the discussion! But so far, it's fascinating.

I'm intrigued by two of the points, which seem to intersect:

1) The question of trying to visualize two different views of the same space at the same time and the narrative equivalent of that, and

2) How should we use old and new maps? Should we try to see what the author may have seen? Is there a morality of mapping?

I agree with Cameron that there are different capacities for viewers. Brains are wired uniquely, and some people prefer street view (3D) and some prefer flat (2D), and some people seem to pass easily from one to the other. But the positioning is so very different-- one with a bird's eye (narrative equivalent of omniscient) and the other with a first person view. [I wonder what a game would be like with a 2nd person view? That would seem the closest to merging the two.] This would make a fantastic model for a text that switches between points of view. I can imagine playing through the text (I'm currently a little obsessed with gaming models for the humanities) with a change in point of view, as Annette suggests. What would that bring to the reader? Would the reader "see" or experience the text more as the author did? Which brings me to the second point.

What does it bring us to see things as they may have been seen 50 or 1000 years ago by an author? Like Rebecca, I work with medieval maps that don't geo-reference precisely to modern maps. We tried an exercise to geo-rectify a medieval map, and while it was possible, the result was rather amusing; I'm not sure it was helpful to anyone, though it did show the impossibility of such a task. Here I quote from one of the students in the course, Katie Gandy:

While reading over the excerpts from [Martin] Foys’s book [Virtually Anglo-Saxon, Florida 2010], especially Ch 4, I kept thinking of our attempts to map the medieval map onto a modern map while using ArcGIS.

I know that we all spent much time connecting green x to blue x in order to align the edges of the maps (April takes the cake with her 100+ alignments).  Regardless of the time spent, though, we could never make the maps fit exactly — “To modern eyes, these medieval worlds never seem quite right” (Foys 111).

We were trying to use a modern political map and precise GPS points from google maps to locate positions on a medieval map… which was NOT the purpose of that map.  Foys writes, “As maps become more and more accurate in their schematized signification, then, they become further and further divorced from ‘real’ perception of the space they reproduce” (117); we should read medieval maps therefore NOT as “an accurate indicator of physical space” (120) but as “datascapes” (120).

In adapting the medieval map to modern standards, as we did in our use of ArcGIS, we really just emphasized the ‘accuracy’ flaws without profiting from the rich information that’s within.

Indeed, when one looks at a medieval map it looks a lot more like the sort of map Rebecca and Zoe imagine for religious travelers-- Jerusalem at the center of the world, out of proportion objects and images of peoples who intrigued more than one medieval mapmaker. Here's a close-up of Ireland, England, part of France on the Catalan Atlas of 1375:

Geo-political and religious references are marked on the map-- flags and churches for Nantes and Paris, flags representing factions and alliances in Ireland and England, and then a fairly long section of text, upside-down on the left which reports travel writing accounts of what can be found in various areas of the map. This is pretty close to seeing from a bird's eye (the map) and street (first-person text) in the same space, though your eyes must dart between the two because those really are two positions that cannot inhabit the exact same space at the same moment.

As for the morality of using modern maps for older texts, or even old maps to read old texts, I think it's the combination of these points of view, as long as we acknowledge our own position and the impossibility of inhabiting anything other than our own time and place, that gives us the most possibility for insight. With every map being political and every mapmaker and author having to work with his or her own impressions and preconceptions, I don't think we could ever see what any author or mapmaker really saw, but it adds something for us to know that Nantes was almost as important as Paris in this mapmaker's eyes (why, we must ask?) and that Ireland and England are roughly the same size. But we know that is worthy of remarking because on a modern map, Paris is much more central (geographically) to France and Ireland is far smaller than the UK.


Hi Everyone,

Thanks for organizing this forum.

I really enjoyed your question Rebecca, and it's something I consider a great deal because many of my historical actors (missionaries) have a highly religious worldview. Trying to map this perspective on to existing google or satellite maps has not really produced the landscapes or visions I'm trying to map.

Does any one know of alternative software that allows you to physically alter the sizes and shapes of countries?  I often find myself wanting to alter the maps I'm working on so that important landmarks and interests are propotionally larger. Such a software would perhaps bridge the gap between street and map view, while at the same time allowing us to make space a much more contigent variable in our analysis of the past.  I've not had any luck finding such s software but it would be a great tool. 

Please feel free to share any leads!




Hi Zoe, great question about changing the sizes and shapes of countries! I am not sure if this is relevant, but here is a humorous episode from the West Wing about the illusion of world map.

Available on YouTube:


What does it mean to map world-wide theatre activities? Why would we want to do it? As the co-founder of (an open-access performance archive), I am intrigued by two sets of your questions:

  • How do narratives travel and replicate over geographical space? What would mapping these processes yield?
  • How does using maps as a pedagogical tool affect our understanding of both real and literary environments? Does mapping change the way we make connections even when we aren’t thinking about geographical space?

Maps and mapping as a pedagocial and research tool are central to the field of global Shakespeare studies and to our understanding of touring performances. In one of the "wings" of our Global Shakespeares project (, we experimented with Google Maps to plot the frequency of plays performed (where is Hamlet most popular?), locations of productions, and touring trajectories of select productions across continents.

Mapping geopolitical space is not the only concern here. We also have to consider a wider and longer history of globalization. In other words, we have to map time and space.

The data can be viewed as a table, plotted on a world map withsatellite and hybrid map-satellite options, or timeline. Dynamic timelines and maps used in conjunction with faceted browsing and tagged video, allow users to trace the paths of production and diffusion of Asian and touring productions. If ‘distant reading’ and graphs, as Franco Moretti suggests, can bring about important changes to the study of literature, such tools for visualization are important for performance studies. For any given period scholars tend focus on a select group of canonical works, and, as a result, they have allowed a narrow slice of history to pass for the total picture.


Maps and timelines of the large number of productions can suggest new questions and unexpected relationships, and—especially important for the study of world-wide performance and emerging forms in a global context—counter the biases of metropolitan constructions of the field of study.

Cameron Butt raisd an interesting question (above) about Google's terminologies: "map view" and "street view." What might we do with "street view" and on-the-ground knowledge of a specific performance space? Michel de Certeau's points about the surveyor's knowledge of a land and "spatializing actions" is useful, but there is more work to be done regarding 3D modeling and mapping.

Frank Hildy does not engage in maps, but he does "map" in metaphorical ways theatre buildings across the world in his Theatre Finder project (

For my own Global Shakespeares project, the impact of mapping space and time in this way has been tremendous. Such tools push the field beyond polity-driven theatre historiography and enable students to maintain situational awareness as they grapple with seemingly rootless and "universal" Shakespearean performances. One of the most important benefits of mapping global Shakespeare activities is that instructors no longer have to struggle to explain the historicity and site-specificity of perceived "universal" values of Shakespeare. Maps become a visual intellectual prosthesis in this case.
If you have a diverse classroom, these maps help you take advantage of students’ different backgrounds and experiences. Turn international students who are not native speakers of English into your asset. All too often they are seen as a liability, but their linguistic and cultural repertoire should be tapped to build a sustainable intellectual community. Take The Tempest for example. What exactly do Prospero and Miranda teach Caliban? The word “language” is ambiguous in act 1 scene 2 (Caliban: “You taught me language …”). It is often taken to mean his master’s language (a symbol of oppression). But it can also mean a new tool for him to change the world order. If we collectively and collaborative map various locations where the Tempest has been performend and the fictional localities marked within the play, we will have a fuller understand of the play itself and its afterlife.
Maps of touring theatre can mark familiar texts in strange settings and place familiar locations (London Globe for example) in foreign territories (such as the "Japan" packaged by Yukio Ninagawa's Kabuki Macbeth and presented to English audiences). As Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel reminds us, what is “well known” is never properly known simply because, well, they appear to be well known, which is why Folger Shakespeare Library research director David Schalkwyk once said that unless you have read Shakespeare in another language, you do not really understand Shakespeare.
Might we be able to say that without maps, we will never fully understand Shakespeare and modern cultures?


Very interesting conversation so far!

I never really thought about the idea of conceptualizing in 3d (1st person/street view) and 2d (map view) at the same time, as they have always been presented as separate perspectives. Even in the cartographic world this idea hasn’t really been a topic of discussion, and I think that this may be one reason why there aren’t any solid tools for augmenting the two - at least none that I know of. More importantly, I think the major reason why this is so difficult is because it defies how we have learned to read and understand maps. All maps are abstract, which is the purpose, as it allows for there to be simple distinctions among features – it allows readers to gather the most important information needed from a theme, or effectively navigate through actual space (but, we have to decode the map first). However, the realistic view is something that is a bit more banal because it is what we experience all the time, at any moment (not a whole lot of voluntary decoding here). So, both require different things of the user. Also, if you think about a map of where you live, you can probably visualize the actual places and features that are depicted, and maybe easily mentally conceptualize the area. On the other hand, try to do the same with an area that is less familiar, it’s probably a lot harder. Map/image reading and conceptualization is almost always an experience based endeavor. On a similar note, we have been navigating in cars using maps for a long time, isn’t this the same concept as Google map and street view? In other words, you’re moving through actual space while focusing on the vertical perspective in your lap. At any rate, it seems that these are two fundamentally different mental tasks anyway, moving between the “simple” and the complex, and the familiar and the less familiar. As for actual interactions with these views, I think that it is possible to conceptualize both at one time, but it can be very difficult.

This seems like a really awesome research question! I don’t think anyone can say with complete certainty that this conceptualization is or isn’t possible (or to what degree it makes sense), or if it is practical to use both, or know the effects of their use.

As for bringing more experiences to mapped spaces, I have been somewhat interested in the concept of “human cartography.” This isn’t in reference to the human body, but the idea of humanizing (to some extent) the planar map. Essentially, this involves creating more powerful connections between the map reader and the map, whether through explanatory text and/or interactivity. Here is an example (a project of my advisor):

There is a static version of this as well, but this interactive version would be easier to visualize here. The map and text takes you through Champlain’s travels, which is an effort to help the reader better connect the geography in a specific story, or perhaps through a story. When you consider how abstract maps can be at times (although this is often a benefit in terms of understanding the information), and that they may not do a good job in expressing the culture of a place, this concept may act to improve our understanding of that place.

For Lynn: This may help you on some of your projects (

Lastly, in terms of technology that will allow you to reshape features, I would suggest just using generalizing functions in a GIS, or do it manually in Adobe Illustrator. Mapshaper used to work for simplifying (removes points) vector data, but it has been a bit buggy ( In terms of making symbols and features proportionally scaled, I would recommend using proportional symbol mapping functions in a web or desktop GIS.



Lynn Ramey asked a great question:


why do we need to see with the 'street view' of authors [and readers?] from the past?


I think we don't always. Having a map of early 20th century Kansas probably won't help me to better understand the world of L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz. 


However, some texts are rooted in complex real-world geographies, and are about geography. These texts' worlds must be rendered as maps, elevations, or both, in order for the modern reader to replicate the writer or original target reader's perspective.


For example, James Joyce's Ulysses invites people to imagine 1904 Dublin in street view. Walking Ulysses, a web-based interactive cartography resource devised by Prof. Joseph Nugent of Boston College, gives readers the experience of walking in Bloom's shoes. It allows readers to search for locations in Bloom's Dublin and compare the streets of 1904 to those of the present day. You can follow a little stoplight-style walking-man Leopold Bloom through Dublin (both Dublins). You can stop where he stops and see what he sees. Or you can skip to a particular chapter and follow his perambulations out of order. In 2011, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported on this exciting project.


Screenshot of Walking Ulysses.


I think something similar to Walking Ulysses is necessary to enhance reader appreciation of the 1850 novel expansion of James Malcolm Rymer's Victorian "penny dreadful" The String of Pearls, or the Demon Barber, a wonderful, frightening, sardonic, topically relevant text that I aim to recover for a new generation of readers. That's why I'm making an interactive map to accompany my projected critical edition.

The String of Pearls describes the geography of London's Temple Bar area in fine detail, listing the addresses of characters (Sweeney Todd of Fleet Street, Mrs. Lovett of Bell Yard).


Rymer also tracks their perambulations, calculating their run-ins, nearly anticipating Ulysses. One of the characters remarks upon Sweeney Todd's remarkable navigation skills. He is able to determine exactly how long it will take to get between any London addresses or landmarks, and the best route, says his apprentice, who is always being sent out on errands with precise itineraries to prevent his observation of any murders.


Knowing the street view of the addresses that Rymer gives the reader deepens our knowledge of the story's world.


For example, Rymer's cast of characters includes an investment banker, Mr. Black, of Abchurch Lane, no. 3--where Todd plans to murder Lovett. Abchurch Lane is a reasonable address for a banker, as a map of the area shows. It's a narrow alley off of King William Street, at the top of which is the financial mecca of Threadneedle Street, address (and euphemism for) of the Bank of England, with the Royal Exchange just across the road. Abchurch Lane is also an optimal place for a murder, as street view reveals: it's a narrow alley.



King William Street (south) and the Bank of England (center).

A map showing this area in the 1780s, when The String of Pearls takes place, or the 1840s, when it was written, would not include some of these locations, such as the Bank Underground and Docklands Light Rail station and Queen Victoria Street. This is why readers of the novel will also need an historical map.




Abchurch Lane, Street View. 21st century.








Wow, this sounds like a great forum!  I am currently learning GIS to create spatial epidemiological maps of diseases, such as dengue, West Nile virus, etc.  I am blown away by the different types of maps that all of you are making!  Great job, everyone!



Hello everyone – apologies for joining the conversation late. This is my first HASTAC forum; I’ve come here from the British Library Twitter feed. I’ve really enjoyed reading all the posts so far, and they’ve been really helpful for my own initial forays into literary mapping.

I’ve just started work on a collaborative project to create a digital map of the Liverpool locations of Herman Melville’s Redburn (1849). The map is being created as part of a public festival that will celebrate connections between Melville and Liverpool, as well as exploring Liverpool’s whaling past: Redburn is a novel that particularly lends itself to literary mapping, as it contains a long central section in which the protagonist, Wellingborough Redburn, attempts to follow in the footsteps of his late father, who visited Liverpool as a merchant, using the map in his father's guidebook to the city. 

The project is only just beginning, but I’m particularly interested in the question of whether it’s problematic to try to represent historical and literary spaces with modern interfaces. I’m currently deciding whether to overlay my Liverpool map with the map from the 1808 guidebook, The Picture of Liverpool, which Melville used as his main source:


A Plan of the Town of Liverpool from The Picture of Liverpool, or Stranger's Guide: Jones and Wright, 1808. Available at

However, I think the more productive approach to this question in this instance would be to explore how the tension between the modern map and the literary text that I’m encountering replicates the problems faced by Redburn himself. Redburn arrives in Liverpool with his father’s old guidebook, only to discover that many of the locations his father visited and marked on its map no longer exist; the historical text and Redburn’s spatial reality don’t match. Melville's protagonist is forced to come to the same conclusions that Lynn reaches in her post about 'the impossibility of inhabiting anything other than our own time and place', although the insight he gains is limited; guidebooks in Redburn seem doomed to failure both literally and metaphorically. Perhaps, then, the disconnect between the digital map and the Liverpool of Redburn more closely maps the experience of Melville’s narrator than an historically accurate map ever could?


Congratulations on such a rich, exciting, beautiful forum.  I want to make a connection between this Forium and the project several of us are doing at HASTAC, called Ci-BER, that includes a crowdsourced geomapping project.   Here's Sheryl Grant's very powerful article on the topic:


Thanks for your contribution to HASTAC and far beyond.


Thank you for inviting me to participate in this forum. So many echoes, so many new paths to explore! I've enjoyed catching up with the posts so far, and I would like to respond to several of the threads with a few general comments. 

The conversation about 3d/2d, street view/map view reminded of a distinction that Milton Santos makes between paisagem and espaço (landscape and space): the former is visual and given, the other is abstract and evidently conceptual. One notable development, of course, is that we are re-creating the 'given' in virtual spaces through a combination of animation or photographic techniques and geo-referencing. A crucial distinction still holds from Santos' work: both landscape and space are mediated through a set of human relations. Both can be historicized in terms of those relations. In other words, no map is ever a natural or transparent representation of either space or landscape and they all have histories. This is a point that I hear echoed in many of your comments above, starting with the wonderful first post by Rebecca. 

I started thinking about maps with a certain degree of critical distance, before my own turn to the digital, when I read Walter Mignolo's Local Histories/Global Designs. Mignolo convinced me that most maps I came across during my sentimental education were beholden to the logic of victorious empires. He also promised that with a bit of research and generosity of spirit, we would find different ways to imagine space that told countless other histories. I can vouch he was right, and I hope you see how this connects to Santos' distinctions.

As I think now about the question of geo-rectification and the cartesian/bordered base maps that we have access for most of our digital platforms, I feel more and more disheartened by the fact that all these other histories can only hope to be 'exhibits' in the Omeka/Nealtine sense of the word on top of a base visualization of the world that has been naturalized beyond practical repair. By practical repair I mean precisely that it seems like a fool's errand to build massive non-cartesian systems meant for open ended connections between other histories and spatial knowledges. The second best option we have is to represent other imaginings as non-geo-rectified, or non-geo-referenced simple images or narratives. An even better option is to stay atuned to the subtle dissonance by which art gives us a different sense of landscape and space.

What then do we mean by the succesful use of maps for pedagogical purposes? We either mean that students finally 'get it' when they see a walkthrough of Ulysses through mapping systems they understand ( a worthy first step), or we mean that they now see the very human machine that is a map (the ultimate goal).  I hope that as we move forward we are able to use maps beyond that first superficial step and go down that other, deeper path.


Dear all,

Grateful to be part of this forum. What a rich discussion! I learned about it while attending the Macarthur Digital Media and Learning conference last week.

I wanted to share another project with you that I manage, called At MapStory, we accept the fact that all maps represent a point in time even thought they're often presented statically, and that, while we all experience one past, we each experience it quite differently.

As such, we give users the ability to map change over time, and to compare, contrast and layer different spatial-temporal perspectives held by folks with different experiences (what we call StoryLayers) so that they can construct multi-layered spatial narratives (what we call MapStories).

The platform is still very much in development, but the user will essentially be able to 1. Add data that has place and time components in to the global data commons 2. Build multi-layered mapstories out of these data sets 3. Critique, collaborate with others through different crowdsourcing, versioned editing and peer review mechanisms or just 4. Discover content by serving across time periods, places, topics, and users.

Right now the data can only be accepted in the form of CSV files and Shapefiles. Soon that'll expand, for example to temporally sequenced raster images (aerial and satellite). And, annotations can only be added in text but soon you'll be able to pull in video, audio and imagery files. 

We can't yet incorporate a 'street view' as has been discussed here, but empowering that type of navigation would be profound.

We are dedicated to maintaining MapStory as a nonprofit, open source project and are always looking for scholars and collaborators to help us push forward what's possible! Clearly the platform user experience needs a great deal of improvement, as well as the learning ecosystem that surrounds it, so that anyone with deep content knowledge can be empowered to project it...not just the small number of people in the world that use GIS!

Look forward to more great discussion on this important topic!





Hi Jon,

Seeing how maps change over time is one of the most useful and interesting interactive components, in my opinion. "Before and after" views show how something that we think of as inherently factual (a given geography or view of that geography) is mutable over time. I'm even thinking of that famous map of the changing Mississippi River by Fisk:

I wonder if any of your maps would include the ability to show images on a given location, at different times? I'm thinking of the very powerful images from Japan before and after the tsunami. It would be pretty amazing to be able to show images like these on a particular map.

Do you have any examples you can show us? Or can you talk a bit more about what kind of material will be used?

thanks so much for joining the conversation. I look forward to hearing more!




Apologies for my delayed response. Great question!

The short answer is "Yes". MapStory is working towards allowing users to upload what we call 'temporally sequenced raster images' such as satellite or aerial imagery. This is a big priority for us. We totally agree that empowering people to 'see' places change over time is incredibly powerful.

We are in test mode right now and have a few demonstration projects active. You can read about one, which will show the evolution of Alexandria VA, on this post at

We should be in a position to allow broader use of this by the summer time.

If you (or anyone) have projects you'd like to work on with us as we're in testing mode, we'd love to talk!





Fiona, I think that your map and your mention of the Mississippi River is an outstanding example.  I ran into this exact issue yesterday.  I am mapping the journey of Hernando de Soto through what is now the Southeastern US.  This conquistador actually died in what is now Southern Arkansas "on the banks of the Mississippi" in 1542.  He died on the banks of the Mississippi River, where he was interred.  

Logically, the Mississippi river has changed its course in the past 450 plus years.  The location of de Soto's death is no longer on the banks fo the Mississippi River.  In fact, it's far from the Mississippi.  It's on the shore of an oxbow lake.

So, the narrative in the text could potentially be "discredited" by modern maps.  

Without knowing the past course of the Mississippi River and/or how oxbow lakes form, I might have been tempted to discredit the veracity of the text.  

But, having said that, I also feel that georectification of antique maps onto modern maps is a silly endeavor.  I don't see the value, especially since cartographers from past centuries did not have the tools to sketch out the space that we have now.


SAVE THE DATE: Joseph Nugent of the Walking Ulysses project informs us that on April 20, at Boston College, there will be a conference on "Joyce and the DIgital Humanities." Among the speakers will be Sean Latham, editor of the James Joyce Quarterly. There is no entry fee; graduate students are welcome; those interested in James Joyce will be especially welcomed.


This is a really great parallel between de Certeau and the way gaming works. I will definitely use it when I teach! You could also liken the above to what Donna Haraway's (1991) crtique of the "god-trick" of the "God's eye view" perspective. It's interesting too to see how we only can work on the ground or the air. I would love to see a child's or animal's perspective in a game or in research more often; there's a queering to perspective and power by shifting that around that I am finding fun and useful to keep imagining.

I recommend checking out educational theorist Howard Gardner's work on multiple intelligences theory. His work on the "spatial intelligence" will be espeically helpful, which is the area deals with spatial judgment and the ability to visualize with the mind's eye.

The psychological perspective on spatial thinking could be helpful here too. I would check out the work on "mind's eye" and "cognitive mapping" as well. I'll be writing a post soon on my work with mental mapping and these issues come up a little in that as well.

I also offer my solidarity and frustration over losing many games of Goldeneye.



Gardner, Howard E. 1993. Frames Of Mind: The Theory Of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Haraway, Donna. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective”. In Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Routledge; New York, 1991.



What tools are folks using to develop maps for their academic purposes? I've come across a few useful tools in the last few weeks, and wanted to share them here:


  • An open source project by MapsBox
  • Load data from a wide range of sources
  • Compatible datasources include ESRI Shapefile, KML, GeoJSON, GeoTIFF, PostGIS, CSV, and SQLite. Inspect, order, and layer your sources to build complex maps.
  • Access dozens of useful public datasources with the built-in MapBox Geodata browser.
  • Add textures and detail

Stop and Frisk in NYC:

Map - Stop and Frisk in NYC

Earthquake Risk Zones:

Map - Earthquake Risk Zones



  • Maps can dynamically change with new data
  • Can also build location-aware web & mobile apps
  • Private or public: securely store, review, and keep your data private, or share it with your collaborators.
  • Make your data available: Extend the impact of the work by using CartoDB to host public data that can be built into external applications, shared with collaborators and students, or integrated into your research homepage.
  • Collaborate with others:

Time lapse map of Syrian casualties:



Incorporate other media including photos or video:



I'm overwhelmed by the range of excellent discussion points in this forum. Thanks to everyone who's been contributing.

Rather than trying to respond to everything, I've decided to add yet another discussion point. Is navigational technology changing the way our brains function? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? If we lose our ability to orient ourselves spatially, does that free up brain power for something else? Any biologists out there thinking about these things?


(Crossposting here at Fiona Barnett's request!)

In a recent talk at the University of Iowa, Professor Colin Gordon (History) provided an overview of WorldMap, an open source web mapping and geo-spatialisation platform that is being developed by the Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard.

Professor Gordon's talk focused mainly on the interactive mapping project which accompanies/extends his book Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City, which examines the causes and consequences of St. Louis's urban crisis. Gordon briefly discussed other mapping platforms which he had considered at the start of his project, such as Map Story, ESRI/Story Maps and Hyper Cities, some of which he liked but all of which he found limited. He by far prefers the WorldMap platform for the following reasons:

  • Open access and open source; can import data from other geo-servers
  • Ability to host multiple maps on one digital 'globe'; Google Earth plug-in
  • Accepts geo-rectified historical maps, inbuilt access to those from David Rumsey Collection
  • Sustainable and scalable, and does a pretty good job at accepting different kinds of data layers
  • Allows for links with geo-referenced YouTube and Picasa feeds
  • Layers can be public or private, and if the former scraped and reused for other maps.

Certainly both the St Louis mapping example and Gordon's most recent project (Digital Johnson County) are impressive examples of the kinds of projects which can be carried out using this platform. There's a real sense of immediacy which comes from being able to connect the visual with the interpretive so readily—with being able to compare, say, maps of St Louis from 1900 and 1950 on multiple scales, from the metro level down to individual streets or neighbourhoods. History does seem to be taking a spatial turn at the moment—it's even something I'm trying to do with my own work, and I'm excited to try this platform out.

However, there are still some downsides to WorldMap:

  • Data layers must be created elsewhere and then uploaded to the site; no real editing capability
  • No true inbuilt 'temporality' feature; next revision should add feature to allow for time slider
  • 1900+ projects already, but no good way to search for completed/active projects, etc.
  • No double-checking for layer/data accuracy, so scrape layers at your own risk!
  • Adding narrative/interpretive panes only possible in very limited, clunky fashion

That last element is the one which gives me particular pause. Professor Gordon at one point said that he thought the future of historical research was digital projects like this—that "the book is dead." Now, tease me for being a Luddite if you want to, but I don't think that statement's true! Maybe it's just that being a medievalist means I spend a lot of my time working with very ancient texts which have survived centuries more or (admittedly sometimes often) less intact, but if you take the long view, the codex form is pretty durable, and it does offer a lot of advantages which I just don't think digital texts have yet surpassed. Many mapping platforms haven't yet figured out a good way to marry visual and textual explanation—and sometimes complex ideas do require more than just an infographic in order to convey them. I have a Kindle, and it's great for travel, but when I'm reading and taking notes I still default to physical book, paper and pen. For me, I think digital projects like this are fascinating, but I think they are complementary to the monograph/extended textual essay (and vice versa); just as radio didn't replace live music, or TV the radio, or so on.

What do you guys think? Are you likewise taking the spatial turn with your research? What do you think are the pros and cons?


Hi!  Sorry that it's taken me so long to get onto the forum.  I've been busy here.

Here's a question for you all.  I'm working with Neatline.  While it is a bit "buggy" and limited, it's the perfect tool for me to do my task at hand.

My question is this.  I'm putting text into the annotation boxes, but a lot of is cited from other sources.  I want to reference these other sources.

Where would you do this in Neatline, if you were wanting to do the same thing?  Putting my citations in the annotation bubbles is bulky-- in terms of text.  But, it seems as though this is the only place to put them.  

Or do one of you have a great idea?

Todd Hughes

Vanderbilt University


Todd, did you try using HTML instead of text?


Since many of us are interested in Neatline, I wanted to share the news that the Scholars' Lab has released Neatline 2.0. From the post announcing the release, it's an update for developers only right now, but it will be rolled out as an upgrade for current 1.x projects soon. 

Some of the updates include:


  • Real-time spatial querying, which makes it possible to create really large exhibits – as many as about 1,000,000 records on a single map;

  • A total rewrite of the front-end application in Backbone.js and Marionette that provides a more minimal, streamlined, and responsive environment for creating and publishing exhibits;

  • An interactive “stylesheet” system (inspired by projects like Mike Migurski’s Cascadenick), that makes it possible to use a dialect of CSS – built directly into the editing environment – to synchronize large batches of records

Here's a video from the same blog, showcasing 45 minutes of Neatline 2.0 alpha testing, compressed to 90 seconds, set to Chopin:

See the original post for full details on the update.


Hi folks:

I'm a long-time admirer and reader of HASTAC's discussions, first-time poster. I teach history and humanities over at the UNC School of the Arts; and am interested in moving more into the arena of using mapping and data visualization applications in my teaching. Right now, though, I have a specific institutional project in mind and would love advice on the right application to use. Here's a simple description:

1. A higher educational institution is getting ready to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

2. I am assembling basic data on alumni--let's say the data will include:

  • the city/state where student came FROM when they enrolled
  • the years they were enrolled
  • department/division in which they studied
  • degree earned
  • the city/state they lived in 5 years after graduation
  • the city/state they live in currently

3. I want to be able to take a simple data set like that and put it into an application that would allow for interesting visualizations that would tell a story of where students come from and where they go when they pass through this little place on the map for their education.

Long term, I'd like to develop a deeper, more interesting data set, but this is a start. What kinds of applications would handle such data well AND make for the most visually pleasing kind of display?

Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

best, Mike Wakeford


Hi Mike. You might want to post your inquiry as a blog entry ( If you join these realted groups (below) you can post to them and may find other interested people and good ideas there.


Hi Mike,


Exciting project! 2 thoughts. 


First, I'm clearly biased here, but you could try out MapStory. Once you have a dataset you can upload it into MapStory and create some animations of "change over time". For example, you might have a layer on "where students' come from" and a "where they go". MapStory is a work in progress, so I offer it with a word of caution. But, I'd be happy to throw some developer support your way to help figure something interesting out. Its a cool case study that can help us learn!


Secondly, here's a few mapping tools you might look into to make beautiful maps - MapBox, CartoDB, Maptia (more focused on storytelling), and there's always a simple google fusion table pulled into a google map!




Hello Jonathan,

Thank you for your comment. Can you please give examples of  digital mapping of change over time? I am very interested in understanding how digital humanists have come to terms with mapping change.






I'm not an expert and am sure there are others on this list with better examples. Here's a few I know of:


U Richmond's Visualizing Emancipation project.,

The Spatial History Lab at Stanford has a bunch of great projects

Anne Knowles work on Gettysburg and the Holocaust is wonderful,


At MapStory we've got some examples starting to accrue, although were still working out the kinks!


For example...

I mapped the construction of prisons in America from 1811,

This is the Scramble for Africa over time,

This is school shootings in the US -


Good luck with your project!



thanks for these responses. i'm going to check out your recommended sites, jonathan, including MapStory.