Imagining London in the Eighteenth Century

Ann Kibbie

What’s it about?  The course studies London as it appears in the works of a wide range of eighteenth-century writers, in genres that include the journal, the novel, poetry, drama, and the topical essay.  In addition to the traditional modes of literary discussion and analysis, this course includes a crucial digital humanities component, using an eighteenth-century map of London that has been georeferenced to allow us to pinpoint locations from the past and “translate” them into the present. 

What?  The computational aspect of the course involves using Geobatch, TileMill, and Mapbox to transfer data regarding various London spaces, data that is originally entered on Google Spreadsheets, onto map layers.  

How?  In their first mapping assignment, students read James Boswell’s London Journal.  Assigned to work in groups, they are responsible for entering data regarding the appearance of certain kinds of spaces in the Journal (coffeehouses, inns, parks and gardens, etc.).  At the same time, through in-class training sessions, they learn to use the tools mentioned above in order to produce layers of a georeferenced map of London.   The second mapping assignment, focusing on Daniel Defoe’s novel Moll Flanders, requires the same computational tasks, but asks the groups to come up with their own conceptualizations for the map layers.  These can include much more creative options for “spaces,” such as a “Map of Desire in Moll Flanders.”

Why?  This is one of the questions that the class itself will foreground.  In Graphs, Maps, Trees, Franco Moretti writes, “There is a very simple question about literary maps:  what exactly do they do?  What do they do that cannot be done with words, that is. . . .  Do maps add anything to our knowledge of literature?”  (35).  I am not presupposing the answers to these very real questions:  I am exploring them along with my students.