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October 12, 2011

Dickens and Google Maps

I've been using Google maps in preparing a paper for this weekend's Dickens Day conference, I've been playing around with the "my places" function - I only discovered the other day that you can save places to create different maps. It's been fun creating maps of the locations in a couple of novels I'm writing about (I've just been drawing on print-out maps until now); here are my maps of the places of Bleak House and David Copperfield.

BH david_copperfield.png

(Click to enlarge. Yes, my graphics skills need a little work!)

Of course this is just a more hi-tech form of what Morretti does in Atlas of the European Novel, and a starting-point for ideas rather than an end in itself; but it's nonetheless a useful way for stimulating ideas about location and place in individual novels, and indeed for re-thinking, revising, or even complicating initial readings of place.

In Bleak House, for example, it's notable that the significant locations fall upon this linear North-South axis: from London, to Bleak House in Hertfordshire, and up again to Chesney Wold in Lincolnshire; and then directly(ish) down to Paris. A brief excursion to Deal breaks this, but predominantly it's this movement up and down the country that forms the basis of the novel. In David Copperfield, this visualises what I've written about before about the tight, restricted geography of the text.

And in Little Dorrit, this is even more noticeable:


London (and the "suburb" Twickenham) is the only English location in the text; this is accompanied by a European narrative, but limiting the text to London locations opens up more questions about the relationship between those two parts of the narrative and how "Englishness" is represented in the text.

I'm not sure yet if I'll be using these maps in the talk itself as my focus is on the movements between these locations; but as I'm looking at how mobility reshapes the space of the nation, these maps provide a useful and concise visualisations of some of the key ideas I'm presenting. This might also feed in nicely to my teaching on the English C19th novel, where we're thinking a lot about place and nation, and (as Moretti's work shows), mapping the places of texts such as Austen's works provides a useful way into thinking about these ideas for the first time.

March 04, 2011

Mapping the city?

Writing about web page

Just a quick post after this caught my eye in the Guardian last week - the "maps" of photographer Sohei Nishino, who collates thousands of photos of cities into a diorama. The effect is a fascinatingly detailed and intricate vision of the city, and I particularly love how the final image seems to play with its own un/reality; both suggesting "reality" in using close-up photographs that attempt to capture every miniature truth of the city, yet constantly revealing its own artifice in the patch-work effect that results from collaging each individual photo, creating a jarring from the joins between multiple fragments. The visual appeal, I think, is one of fascination from the continual visual readjustment that the image demands; from a distance, the strangely familiar yet oddly fragmented image draws one in for a closer look at the individual pieces, yet in looking closer I almost immediately want to move back out again, realising that the detail is made meaningful only in contemplation of the whole. And so on.

All this, however, is only from the computer screen - I'll hopefully visit the Museum of London's exhibition of London Street Photography to view this, and what sounds like a wonderful collection of other street photographs on display there.

(and as an afterthought, which was going to be my starting-point before I realised I didn't have a response, yet: how, and in what ways, is this a "map"?)

September 06, 2010

Magnificent Maps: Power, Propoganda, and Art

Writing about web page

BL mapsJust a quick entry on the exhibition currently on at the British Library, Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art. This fascinating exhibition draws together a range of maps from c.1400s through to the present day; many of these were featured on the recent BBC series Maps: Power, Plunder and Possession which I noted back in April, so it was great to be able to see many of these maps up close.

The arrangement of the exhibition was such that the maps organised according to the contexts in which they were originally displayed: from palace galleries to the streets, schoolroom, bedchamber, reception hall, curiosity cabinet, merchant's house, and government office. In theory, I thought this was a good idea in opening up questions about how spatial context impacts upon interpretation, meaning and function of an object, and it was particularly appropriate for certain contexts: the street section, for example, grouped together maps used for propaganda purposes which gained from being placed next to other similar maps. Meanwhile, the gallery area displayed elaborate maps that leaned more on the side of art than of global knowledge, whilst the bedchamber opened up interesting questions about public/private spaces, the intimacy of the most private of spaces infiltrated with depictions of expansive other spaces.

Ultimately, though, I think the organisation of the maps in this way didn't add much to the display and, in some cases, detrated from it; whilst some of the maps were quite obviously suited to the room they were in, or the context might open up meaningful interpretations of certain maps, many of the types of maps displayed in each room were in fact quite similar. By going back to the "original context" you're dependent on what individuals decided looked best in their gallery vs. the entrance hall, the cabinet of curiosities vs the merchants house, and in many cases the maps displayed in differernt rooms didn't bear any special relationship to that room, only supported a general theme that maps work in different contexts to convey different degrees of power, wealth, and possession- which ultimately are often so entangled that it wouldn't have made much difference to swap many of the maps around. Whilst this wasn't a problem as such, it did mean the exhibits become a little repetetive between rooms and in some instances it would've worked much better to be able to see similar maps from different rooms placed next to one or near one another so that they could gain from comparative viewing, or that one could think about the similar themes or representational differences, and so on. In many instances I could also think of far more pertinent examples that related to the relevant room, such as the maps used in the school room, and a little more variety in the types of maps might have made for more interesting discussion (it was great to see Stephen Walter's The Islandbut some more contemporary examples would've been good); but I'm sure much of this was determined by what was in the collection and therefore perhaps an unreasonable complaint.

These are, however, small quibbles with what was nonetheless an enjoyable stroll around some fascinating exhibits, and some highlights included the fabulous Sheldon tapestry of the south east, the digitally enhanced version of the Hereford mappa mundi, wonderful globes, a tiny atlas made for Queen Mary's doll house, and many other beautiful maps. Well worth a look in if you're around that part of London or working in the British Library in the next couple of weeks (on until 19th September, and it's free).

July 23, 2010

Maps in the Novel, part II

Follow-up to "A Fine Thing to Study": Maps in the Victorian novel from Charlotte's Research blog

After my previous post, I was starting to question the assumptions I'd made about gender and maps- are maps a masculine form of knowledge in the novel? It occurred to me that whilst maps are easily regarded as such, being produced by and for various masculine projects of Imperialism/ land ownership/ property control/ etc., all the instances I've come across of maps being used for educational purposes were in relation to female characters. It got me wondering whether maps were in fact perhaps more associated with female education - which tends to be undertaken at home under the direction of a governess/tutor or through private study, and therefore maps offer an easily accessible form through which to learn, imparting knowledge without the need of a tutor, often owned by families - rather than the more formal education that boys received. But then in re-reading The Mill on the Floss, I came across a reference in relation to Tom Tulliver's education: his father is speculating on whether the teaching of Mr Stelling is adequate observes "that there were no maps, and  not enough 'summing,' but he made no formal complaint to Mr Stelling" (p. 196). Maps are also an intended outcome of Tom's schooling: Mr Tulliver has "a vague intention that Tom should be put to some business which included the drawing out of plans and maps" (p. 176). Nothing conclusive to be drawn from this (or, indeed, any of the other examples I've been thinking about), but an interesting addition to the theme nonetheless.

June 15, 2010

"A Fine Thing to Study": Maps in the Victorian novel

This blog has seen a few map-related entries at one point or another; it's one of the themes of my research that I find really interesting and have incorporated some reading into my research, but which ultimatly hasn't been able to feature all that heavily in the final thesis- a snippet in the chapter on Victorian spatiality, another bit later on in relation to British-European spatiality. So this blog is by way of pulling together all of the map quotes I've collected into one place, drawing out some of the connecting themes as I go.

The first occurrence of maps in the thesis is in reference to Victorian spatial awareness, noting how maps appear as indicators of global spatial knowledge: maps are often used to demostrate knowledge about the world's spaces, indicative of the "opening-up" of global spatiality that's occuring in the period and ensuing wider cultural knowledge about global space that this effected. So maps are often associated with education and learning: in M.E. Braddon's John Marchmont's Legacy, we see Mary “consulting her terrestrial globe, and informing herself as to the latitude and longitude of the Fiji Islands” (p. 105); “she could", we are told "have named the exact latitude and longitude of the remotest islands in the least navigable ocean, and might have given an accurate account of the manners and customs of its inhabitants” (p. 131). Likewise, Dorothea in Middlemarch is shown educating herself in “the geography of Asia Minor, in which her slackness had often been rebuked by Mr. Casaubon” and, unrolling a map, decides that “this morning she might make herself finally sure that Paphlagonia was not on the Leventine coast” (p. 806).

Maps are a source of knowledge (the main source) about global space; and the flip-side of this is when maps are used to convey the ignorance of a character:in Gaskell's Cranford, the narrator tells us that  “as for the use of the globes, I had never been able to find it out myself, so perhaps I was not a good judge of Miss Matty’s capability of instructing in this branch of education; but it struck me that equators and tropics, and such mystical circles, were very imaginary lines to her, and that she looked upon the signs of the Zodiac as so many remnants of the Black Art” (p. 185). It's not unusual that this is a female character; maps, gender and knowledge are interlinked and characters that are shown to lack knowledge about maps or globes are typically female; in Mary Barton Gaskell makes a similar comment, for when Alice knows only of South America, where her son is gone, that it’s “‘at t’other side of the sun, they tell me’” (p. 34), Mary’s small amount of geographical knowledge – “she had seen a terrestrial globe, and knew where to find France and the continents on a map” – gives her a sense of smug satisfaction over Alice and Margaret who, at “Alice’s geography” is “so quiet and demure, that Mary was in doubt if she were not really ignorant” too (p. 34).

"Where papa is" by Davidson Knowles

So maps are part of access to education, but for the female characters who do have access to this knowledge it highlights a stark contrast between the containment of their lives within a narrow spatial radius, and the expansive global space about which they're learning. There's a telling comment in reference to Dorothea about how this form of knowledge shouldn't bear any relation to a woman's sphere of daily life: looking upon the spoils of her uncle's travels which includes maps, Dorothea feels no affiliation with these objects because  “she had never been taught how she could bring them into any sort of relevance with her own life” (p. 74). This is a particularly masculine form of knowledge, and must be interpreted, understood, given the correct tools. And this knowledge is a tempting awareness of a world that will never be experienced by many of these women: in John Marchmont's Legacy, although Mary's geographical knowledge is astute, she is expected to never venture further than the confines of various houses which she is moved between by those around her: "where was she likely to go in her experience of the wider world?"

Just as there are ways of reading maps, maps encourage a certain type of reading spaces. In Jane Eyre, Jane stands and “surveys the grounds laid out like a map” (p. 106); map-reading encourages that survey/ prospect view. There's a sense of distance played with too- the grounds as not belonging in any sense toJane, being a space that she occupies with no sense of interrelation with the landscape; she stands back and looks down, rather than experiencing it (a nice contrast to the highy sensory and embodied experience that comes later in her traversal across the heaths). Survey also comes up in Cranford: “Miss Jenkyns had learnt some piece of poetry off by heart, and used to say, at all the Cranford parties, how Peter was ‘surveying mankind from China to Peru,’ which everybody had thought very grand, and rather appropriate, because India was between China and Peru, if you took care to turn the globe to the left instead of the right” (p. 164). The imperial connotations of mapping and the surveying gaze are clear here- Peter as the monarch-of-all-I-survey in colonialised India, casting a British eye over "mankind". And there's a lovely bit of humour in that last line, casting an eye to how map-reading is all a matter of perspective and the way in which you look at the globe or map.

Not only gender, but class too impacts upon the use of maps. Characters of the lowest classes demonstrate but a vague awareness of what "foreign parts" might look like: Jo, the street-sweeper in Bleak House, “has no idea, poor wretch, of the spiritual destitution of a coral reef in the Pacific, or what it costs to look up the precious souls among the cocoa-nuts and breadfruit” (p. 258). But in Dickens we see more rudimentary forms of maps circulating amongst lower classes: in David Copperfield Peggotty meets “some foreign dealers who knew that country, and they had drawn him a rude map on paper, which he could very well understand” (p.573) to help him traverse the continental landscape, the type of map drawn pertaining very well to the type of journey he is undertaking as he wanders with almost nothing in search of Em'ly, the map one of his only possessions. There's also the scene at the beginning of Little Dorrit, in the prison at Marseilles, with Cavalletto “on his knees on the pavement, mapping it all out with a swarthy forefinger; ‘Toulon (where the galleys are), Spain over there, Algiers over there. Creeping away to the left here, Nice […] So away to – hey! there’s no room for Naples;’ he had got to the wall by this time; ‘but it’s all one; it’s in there!’” (p.3). The selectivity of a map is apparent here, the artificial framing that a map demands, the choices of representation that it requires, the subjectivity of the map-creator.

These are just some of the preliminary ideas I've been coming across- I'll hopefully keep adding to this collection of references and expand the scope of this bit of research further (I'm sure I have a few more references tucked away in the depths of my notes, too), and having drafted out some of the key themes I hope to develop some of these ideas in greater detail in future work.

April 19, 2010

Maps on BBC Four

BBC 4 seems to be having something of a map-week - last night, "Maps: Power, Plunder and Possession", the first of a 3-part series, focused on tracing the development of mapping techniques over the last 3000 years. Whilst the framing analysis tended towards the simplistic (although it's encouraging that the programme did at least raise questions and prompt thinking about representation and so on), I was interested to learn more about the more technical side of mapping and how the processes and techniques have evolved over the centuries. A variety of fascinating maps were on display from a range of historical periods and places, opening up fascinating insights into the ways in which different cultures understand and conceptualise space, location and movement. Throughout, I found myself coming back to the centrality of movement to mapping, and the role it plays in spatial experience, understanding, and representation- from the Roman map which privileged distance as the organising principle between places, to the Polynesian map drawn from the memory - the memory of travelling through and experiencing the spaces it portrayed. Movement is the precondition of mapping, one of the primary reasons for needing a map. And thinking about maps and movement draws out the underlying tension that all maps display: the attempt at (and pretence of) an accurate representation of space, and the unrepresentability of spaces which always resist containment in representable form. To travel through space which has been mapped is to experience the disjuncture between representation and reality- I'm reminded here of Hetty in Adam Bede, who sets out on her journey from the midlands to Windsor and finds that a distance that “that seems but a slight journey as you look at the map" is in fact "wearily long" to the traveller.


1675 map of a journey - from Mapping the Imagination exhibition

And yet despite their inherent problems and contradictions, maps have that continuing, irresistable appeal; as George Eliot notes later in Middlemarch, “a map was a fine thing to study when you were disposed to think of something else, being made up of names that would turn into a chime if you went back upon them”. The series starting tonight on BBC Four suggests the promise of the delights that maps hold, titled as it is The Beauty of Maps. The website contains some interesting info and links (Maptube looks intriguing), and there's also an exhibition at the British Library running until September, which I'll be sure to get along to.

January 07, 2008

'Mapping the Imagination' at the V&A

"General, you make use of maps during a campaign, I believe. But why should you do so, when the country they represent is right there?"

"Mapping the imagination", the second exhibition I visited at the V&A over Christmas, brought together a wide variety of maps that aimed to challenge our notions about what a map is, with emphasis on the subjective processes of imagination and interpretation that are involved in mapping. These maps did not purport objective truths or claim a totalizing perspective on the land they represented; they were pieces of art with which to engage, provoking discussion and refusing absolute definition.

There were many wonderful maps in the two exhibition rooms, far too many to photograph and discuss, so below are just a few of the ones that particularly interested me (apologies for the poor quality of photographs- I have tried to find links to better pictures on the internet where possible).

'Pattern of the World' by Susan Stockwell, 2000

'Pattern of the World' by Susan Stockwell is a world map composed of dress-making patterns stained with tea and coffee (a close-up of Africa here). The design aims to map the effects of Britain's colonial rule, the choice of materials representing the tea, coffee and cotton trades that played a significant part in the development of the British Empire, whilst also having relevance to issues today such as fair trade and the rights of workers in clothes factories overseas. Although the map clearly conveys these ideas, it's arguably slightly problematic in depicting the entire world, of which large parts were not involved in the trades represented here or in British colonial rule in general; however, in this respect the map is arguably suggestive of the British colonial conception of the rest of the world, imaginatively, if not actually, incorporating the entire world as its own.

'Britannia', by John Ogilby, 1675

This 1675 map by John Ogilby maps a journey from London to Dover: rather than supplementing a complete map of the area with text detailing the journey, the map is a linear representation of that journey. Starting at the top left-hand corner, the reader/ traveller progresses down the first column, then up to the top of the second column, and so on across the page, ending up at the bottom right-hand corner and presumably continuing the journey at the top of the next page. The map of the journey becomes a narrative, asking to be read like a book, just as a map is a reading of the land it depicts. This rendering of the journey seems to be attempting to capture the actual, lived experience of a journey, in which it is the encounter with a single road that takes precedence, rather than the spatial positioning within a larger geography that is emphasised in traditional maps. Although the map does retain the birds-eye-view of the land, the particularities of the journey are drawn from different perspectives, therefore displacing the single, objective vision that maps ordinarily assume.

'Mount for a Lady's Travelling Fan', Anonymous, 1788

This is an unfinished design for a lady's travelling fan from 1788, decorated with a map of Southern England and Wales. Placing a map for decorative purposes on an item that is going to be used whilst travelling nicely interplays the competing notions of a map as a functional tool and as an artistic work.

The literary use of maps was incorporated with the following:

'Sketch for the endpaper of Winnie the Pooh', by Ernest Howard Shepard, 1926

This is, of course, is the map from Winnie the Pooh depicting the fictional locations of the stories. In a literary context, maps act to help the reader to imaginatively construct textual spaces, grounding textually represented spaces in a "real", material form.

'London's Kerning', NB Studio, 2006

The final map that particularly interested me was "London's Kerning", a piece commissioned by the International Society of Typographers in 2006. This map raised questions about the boundaries that maps construct by removing the lines that demarcate roads, parks, and other spaces and instead using only words to map the city (in typography, 'kerning' or 'mortising' is the process of adjusting letter spacing so that the blank spaces between each pair of letters all have a similar area). The picture shows only a small detail of the map; from a distance, the larger imagerecreates the familiar pattern of a map of London. This can be read as a mapping of spatial experience, capturing how we move across and through the open areas of a city without a sense of boundaries between different areas that the lines of a map imply. The map emphasises the road and place-names by which we orientate ourselves as we make our way around the city; the importance of names is ultimately over-emphasised in this case, and place-names are no more "real" to our sense of space than the lines of a map, but as the piece was designed for an exhibition entitled "My London/My City" it suggests that this is one way of "knowing" or making sense of the city on both private and public levels. At the same time, there seems to be a tension in the map as the proliferation of words underscores their meaning; the mass of words become commodities, producing an information over-load of which the reader is unable to make sense. It's also important to note that whilst the removal of lines initially suggests that the map is free from boundaries, scales of power operate through the typography of the words- choices of the size and width of the letters mean that some places are more visible than others, drawing attention to the power imbalances that are involved in the representation of mapping.

There were many more fascinating discoveries in the collection, several of which focused more on interior consciousness: an 1857 "map" by Richard Dadd mapped the human mind as a collection of place names, family names, states of emotion, whilst "The Birth of a Thought" mapped the workings of the human brain after the artist had spent several months as artist-in-residence at a hospital studying brain scans and operations. These pieces came closer to what would more readily be considered as art rather than maps but they contributed to the collection as a whole by highlighting the interaction between subjective consciousness and the reality of landscape that is involved in making a map. Whilst extreme in their interiority, these maps of the consciousness stressed the imaginative, interpretative, and subjective processes that are involved in the creation of any map.

The exhibition runs until 27th April and I'd highly recommend visiting if you can.

December 08, 2007

Mapping the City

Writing about web page

Descending, I went wandering whither chance might lead, in a still ecstasy of freedom and enjoyment; and I got - I know not how - I got into the heart of city life. I saw and felt London at last: I got into the Strand; I went up Cornhill; I mixed with the life passing along; I dared the perils of crossings. To do this, and to do it utterly alone, gave me, perhaps an irrational, but a real pleasure.

Charlotte Bronte, Villette, Chapter VI (1853).

In the people's eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June.

Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, p. 2 (1925).

Whilst maps can't quite convey the vibrancy and particularity of city life that is captured in literature throughout the ages, the collection of maps from the 13th to 19th century provided on this website offer a fascinating insight into the changes the city has undergone. Some of the maps depict the entire city in intricate detail, and thanks to the wonders of technology can be viewed in enlarged close-ups (I particularly like Greenwood's 1827 map). Others show smaller sections or map the changing nature of the city, such as the 1756 map of a proposed new road from Paddinton to Islington. There's also an extensive database of articles and views of London.

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