Mapping Victorian Novels

My digital Victorian Studies course, “Virtually London: Literature and Laptops,” uses digital archives and narrative mapping software to examine literature about London from a variety of perspectives, including history, literature, economics, sociology, and gender studies. 

The course concludes with two projects in which students engage in geospatial analysis of two novels: Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and Amy Levy’s The Romance of a Shop.  In one assignment (Assignment 8: “Mapping Novels”), each student chooses a location from one of the novels, researches it extensively through such sites as the “Old Bailey Online” (http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/static/London-life19th.jsp) and the “Charles Booth Online Archive” (http://goo.gl/JgRmhL), and writes blog posts describing the cultural significance of the location and its thematic importance in the literary work.       

For the final project (https://hawksites.newpaltz.edu/virtuallylondon/final-project-assignment-sheet), students use the information gathered from the previous assignment to create narrative maps of both novels: each student researches two locations and enters a description of the event, a Victorian image, and a link to his or her blog post about each location on a Google Map for that novel.  They color-code the map and use different icons to represent different locations. On the final class, we compare the maps and discuss how geography functions in text.  

When I taught this in Fall 2015, students were thrilled to realize that the types of locations and geographical patterns in each novel were linked with the gender and socioeconomic levels of the main characters, which led them to discover that the very themes of Victorian London which occupied our discussions all semester were embedded in the geography of London itself, and, by extension, embedded in literature that mentions locations.  This nuanced, interdisciplinary discussion was only possible with the assistance of digital mapping technologies, blog posts, and various online databases that are used by scholars in the field.

 

Joanna Swafford, SUNY New Paltz

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