Maps and BuildingPosted: September 7, 2011
In Moretti’s chapter “Maps,” he begins by asking, “Do maps add anything, to our knowledge of literature?” As shown in Tuesday’s class, actually mapping out locations mentioned in literature can throw a new light on the story. Locating areas and placing them on a solid space for readers to actually see may reveal patterns that may not be caught by simply reading the story; these maps become, hopefully, “more than the sum of their parts.” In other words, though cartography is generally considered outside of the humanities, the use of maps as a tool in devising new information about authors and works has grown, especially alongside the expansion of the field of digital humanities. (At least, that is a conclusion I have come by after seeing projects such as the one tracing letters to and from European authors.)
It’s hard to deny the usefulness of literary maps as a study tool, even if it’s not exactly traditional. They certainly fall under the definition of digital humanities as defined by Flanders and Unsworth, that the steps of scholarly research are the same whether digital or not, and that new methods of looking at works can force you to realize things you didn’t before. They are even able to squeeze in under the much narrower definition provided by Stephen Ramsay, where he claims that digital humanities “is about building things.” He clarifies in another article, “On Building,” that “making a map…is an entirely different experience” from simply reading and studying one. Traditional forms of analyses in the humanities are all good and well, but from where Ramsay stands, “none of these represent as radical a shift as the move from reading to making.” The claim that digital humanities scholars must be builders is a controversial one, but that simply seems to be the nature of trying to define the field.