Text to Map


drew my attention to the Gutenkarte
, a series of scripts and processes that renders place-names
appearing in a given text and locates them on
a map. The Gutenkarte site announces
future plans for the project, including a wiki-like annotation add-on that will
enable a group of users to collaborate in expanding the place-name information
and related contextual relevance (one day to include digital images and video?).
The project bears many similarities to Franco Moretti’s survey of the shifting
geographies of village life in the nineteenth century. Moretti’s analysis often
moves beyond standard place-names to include positions of and distances between
people and things known to be in particular places. These he distinguishes as
geometries; plotted, they are more like diagrams than maps, he tells us (54).
The Gutenkarte project is not yet as refined as Moretti’s work; mining a text
for toponyms depends on the database’s tolerance place-name ambiguity and
spelling variations (among other things I probably don’t understand). Still,
despite the obvious limitations, the motives underlying Gutenkarte present an
affirmative answer to one of Moretti’s guiding questions, "Do maps add anything,
to our knowledge of literature?" (35), even if it is being applied to literary
texts from the Gutenberg Project for now.

The next move to consider, and the one I’m thinking about in light of the
Gutenkarte project, is what other text sets, subject to this process, would
present us with maps worth looking at or, that is, with spatial relations (or,
with geometrics of positions and distances) suggestive of geographies worth
understanding better than we already do? Only easy answers come to mind.
Understanding the limitations and crudity (in spelling, in perfect place-name
coordinates, etc.), what would this look like if applied not only to
The Odyssey but to classical texts in
rhetoric? Or, and this would be almost as satisfying (from the standpoint of
s and other shoulder-shrugging curiosity), what might this mean for a
set of texts, an archive or journal articles let’s say, central to composition
studies? Following Gutenkarte’s logics, we would have the means to select among
geographic renderings by year, by article and so on. One of these days…


  1. what other text sets, subject to this process, would present us with maps worth looking at…?

    What text sets *wouldn’t* be worth looking at?! If the text–literary, scholarly, and all points in and around–resonates, then wouldn’t the map, too, have something to offer? I’d be interested in mapping various ‘alternative rhetorics’ movements, creating/visualizing subaltern geographies.

  2. You’re right; there are a hundred+ possibilites for applying this to R&C work. I find it interesting that there’s more of this going on (as far as I can tell) with literary texts than non-literary texts. I suppose that the Gutenberg Project was a safe place to begin. Just that the place-names plotted from _The Last of the Mohicans_ seems a whole lot less valuable to me than would the place-names plotted from the text-sets more central to R&C (total archives of journals, the collected works of [insert rhetor], all of the publications of Ohio State alum, and so on).

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