Dr. Barbara Piatti of the Institute for Cartography and Geoinformation at the University of Zurich and co-founder of the Literary Atlas of Europe Project, spoke at McGill on October 9th about her work in the field of literary cartography.
As Dr. Piatti explained, literary cartography begins with questions like: Where is fiction set? How can this be mapped? Why map it? From there, she explained, it aims to uncover and visualize the connections between literary texts and corresponding physical spaces in the world, as this type of work renders invisible layers within texts visible, and brings into view associations between authors, texts, and places which are otherwise not apparent.
There is a tradition of literary cartography which dates back at least to the early 20th century, Piatti explained, and her project, the Literary Atlas of Europe, is a digital expression thereof undertaken in 2006 by a team of literary scholars, graphic designers, and cartographers all aiming to produce an interactive atlas and set cartographic standards for other projects of this sort. Their process is to define a region, gather texts related to the area, establish literary/geographic data, and then generate visualizations from this data. Thus far, the project has created maps of model regions such as Prague, Frisia, and Mount Gotthard. Piatti sees this work as being applicable to all manner of places and texts though, as geography doesn’t necessarily need to factor prominently into a text to be workable – the data is nevertheless there in most cases, often hidden beneath the plot and actions amidst the things we pay little attention to. It is in this sense, Piatti explained, that mapping projects can open new possibilities for readings by creating new perspectives of texts and the network of relations between authors, their works, and places.