Building digital literary geographies: modelling and prototyping as modes of inquiry


The mode of carrying out literary spatial studies—or literary geography—has largely shifted to embrace digital methods and tools, culminating in the field of geospatial humanities. This shift has affected the scope of research questions that scholars can ask and answer using digital methods. Although there many continuities between non-digital and digital spatial studies, there are some fundamental points of departure in the critical processes that are involved in carrying out geospatial humanities research, including data modelling, prototyping, and multidisciplinary collaboration, that demand a revisit of the ways that knowledge production and analysis are carried out in the humanities. First there is thinking about how data models, prototypes, and digital projects embed within themselves spatial methodologies and spatial theory that form the foundation of humanities-oriented spatial inquiry. In addition, collaborating across multidisciplinary groups involves working toward shared project goals, while ideally ensuring that individual team members are drawing benefit from the collaborative research experience. Another factor has to do with creating rich and accurate data models that can capture the complexity of their subject of inquiry for meaningful humanities research. This dissertation addresses each of the aforementioned challenges through practical applications, by focusing not only on the literary contributions of geospatial humanities, but also engaging the critical processes involved in this form of digital research. By designing and co-creating three geospatial prototypes, TopoText, TopoText 2.0, and A Map of Paradise Lost, my goal is to demonstrate how digital objects can embody spatial theory and methodologies, and to portray how traditional literary studies approaches such as close reading and literary interpretation can be combined with digital methods that enable interactivity and mixed-media visualizations for an immersed literary geography analysis. The first two chapters translate a literary theory and method of analysis, geocriticism, into a digital prototype and iteratively improve on it to demonstrate the type of research made possible through a digital geocritical interpretation. In that part of the dissertation, I also address the challenges involved in translating a literary framework into a digital environment, such as designing under constraint, and discuss what is lost in translation alongside what is gained (McCarty 2008). Chapter three demonstrates how technological advances enable scholars to build community-university partnerships that can contribute to humanities scholarship while also making research findings publicly available. In particular, the chapter argues that scholars can draw on Volunteered Geographical Information to create rich cultural gazetteers that can inform spatial humanities research. The final two chapters demonstrate how a geospatial prototype that is fueled by rich data and embeds other types of media can inform literary interpretation and help make arguments. By focusing on the process of building A Map of Paradise Lost—a geospatial humanities text-to-map project that visualizes the locatable places in John Milton’s Paradise Lost—the closing chapter addresses the question “why map literature?” and demonstrates how the process of research prototyping is in itself a form of knowledge production. Since the methods and technologies that inform geospatial humanities research are rapidly evolving, this dissertation adopts a portfolio model and consists of five released and one forthcoming publications, as well as three published prototypes. Together, they form a digital dissertation, meaning that the digital component comprises a significant part of the intellectual work of the dissertation. Reflecting the collaborative nature of digital humanities research, some articles were co-authored and all three prototypes were co-developed. In all components of this dissertation, I took on the leading role in the publication and prototype development, which is detailed at the beginning of every chapter.



geospatial humanities, literary geography, prototyping, data modelling, multidisciplinary collaboration, digital humanities, early modern studies, Paradise Lost