Digitally Mapping Romantic Literature and Culture

panel / roundtable
  1. 1. Chris Donaldson

    University of Birmingham

  2. 2. Matthew Sangster

    University of Birmingham

  3. 3. Joanna Taylor

    University of Lancaster

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Session overview
This panel session showcases three thematically interlinked papers that report on the work of three digital mapping research projects. Each of these projects engages with specific geospatial methods and technologies to model geo-historical data. Each project, moreover, uses this data to shed new light on the literature and culture of the Romantic Period in Great Britain (c. 1780-1850). One of the projects uses a virtual globe to investigate the effect of movement on writing and authorial practice. Another combines corpus analysis and multimedia GIS to explore readerly practices of reception and spatial re-enactment. The final project engages with curating topographical and cartographic representations and extends the concern with writerly and readerly contextualisation to issues of broader diachronic relevance to literary historiography.
Collectively, these papers examine the links between the physical and discursive geographies of two of the key cultural landscapes of British Romanticism: the bustling metropolitan cityscape of London and the rural upland and coastal terrains of the English Lake District. In discussing the digital mapping of these landscapes, the papers provide new insights about these key cultural locations. In doing so, they extend the pioneering work of previous literary mapping projects, which have focused on the visualisation of authorial experience and on spatial querying of literary texts. Crucially, however, these papers move beyond previous research to explore how linking and juxtaposing different types of data can enhance the study of how places mediate the writing, reading, and critical reception of literary works. In addition, this panel conducts new explorations of the implications of creative mapping for literary criticism, engaging with issues of scale, genre, reception and the limitations and potentials of spatial analysis in humanities contexts.
The first paper, Joanna Taylor’s “Path-making and Coleridge’s 1802 Tour of the Lake District,” uses the virtual globe environment of Google Earth to read the letters, notebooks, and verses related to the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1802 tour of the western and central Lake District. Taylor demonstrates how using the 3D environment of the virtual globe creates not only new possibilities for assessing Coleridge’s journey, but also new possibilities for interpreting a number of canonical Romantic works concerned with walking and the movement of the body through space.
Building on this interest in mobility and path-making, the second paper, Dr Christopher Donaldson’s “Deep Mapping the English Lake District,” employs a prototype multimedia geographic information system (or “deep map”) to explore the geographies underpinning the composition, publication, and reception of the poet William Wordsworth’s topographical sonnet series
The River Duddon (1820). In tracing the cultural influence of this emphatically geo-located lyric sequence, Donaldson’s paper explores how digital deep mapping offers new insights about both Wordsworth’s practices as a poet and about the material and geographical legacies of his writing.

Following on from this, Dr Matthew Sangster’s paper, “Organising Romantic London,” presents early conclusions from an ongoing online project that juxtaposes different works which sought to make sense of London by annotating Richard Horwood’s “PLAN of the Cities of LONDON and WESTMINSTER the Borough of SOUTHWARK, and PARTS adjoining Shewing every HOUSE.” In his paper, Sangster explores the ways in which different genres of source materials attempt to explain the nature of a city of over a million souls, contrasting often-alienated literary responses with the more positive topographical, antiquarian and visual accounts that processes of digital reclamation have brought back to light. He attends to the way that digital methods can help us both to explore the ways in which coherence can be imposed on urban spaces and to expose the limitations of such processes of ordering. In doing so, his paper reflects critically on the roles which digital media can play in preserving and making available archival materials and on the consequences of transforming old media into new digital forms.

Author biographies

Christopher Donaldson is Lecturer in Romanticism at the University of Birmingham and co-investigator on the Leverhulme Trust research project “Geospatial Innovation in the Digital Humanities: A Deep Map of the English Lake District” (2015-2018) and an associate of the European Research Council-funded “Spatial Humanities: Texts, GIS, Places” project (2012-2016). As part of these projects, he is currently completing a monograph entitled
A Literary Atlas of Victorian Lakeland and a collection entitled
Literary Mapping in the Digital Age (forthcoming 2016, with Ashgate’s Digital Research in the Arts and Humanities series). He sits on the editorial board of the
Journal of Victorian Culture, and is co-editor of the journal's Digital Forum.

Matthew Sangster teaches at the University of Birmingham and is currently completing the final elements of his first monograph, 
Living as an Author in the Romantic Period. He is Website Editor for the British Association for Romantic Studies and curates the association’s blog ( Between 2008 and 2014, he catalogued the archive of the Royal Literary Fund at the British Library; he is currently developing the catalogue entries into a standalone database. He is working on two new and interrelated projects: one on the development of literary institutions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the other on the ways in which different genres of works represented London during the Romantic period. Early elements of this project can be seen on

Joanna Taylor is Research Associate on the Leverhulme Trust research project “Geospatial Innovation in the Digital Humanities: A Deep Map of the English Lake District.” She passed her PhD, entitled “Writing spaces: the Coleridge family’s agoraphobic poetics,” at Keele University in December 2015. She is the British Association of Victorian Studies Newsletter Editor and co-organiser of the ongoing digital project
Placing the Author (


Path-making and Coleridge’s 1802 tour of the Lake District

Joanna Taylor

This paper will build on the work undertaken by three digital humanities projects: “Mapping the Lakes” (British Academy, 2007-2008), “Spatial Humanities: Texts, GIS, Places” (European Research Council, 2012-2016) and “Geospatial Innovation in the Digital Humanities” (Leverhulme Trust, 2015-2018). It will read Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s (1772-1834) letters, notebooks and poems written on or about his tour of the Lake District in July and August 1802, and suggest how using digital maps to assess this journey opens out possibilities for innovative interpretations of a number of well-known Romantic texts. In particular, the paper will engage with the emergent field of walking studies to explore how physical movement – and its relationship to literary composition – can be productively emphasised using digital mapping tools.
Coleridge spent much of the summer of 1802 traversing the Lake District fells. In part, Coleridge used his pedestrian tour as an escape from his increasingly unhappy marital home, and his considerations of the Lake District landscape assisted him in analysing his personal situation. The “Mapping the Lakes” project charted Coleridge’s route, as well as Thomas Gray’s important 1769 Lakeland journey, and began exploring subjective elements such as the correlation between elevation and mood. The “Spatial Humanities” project developed from “Mapping the Lakes,” and part of that project established a corpus of Lake District texts which now, as part of “Geospatial Innovation,” are being analysed using both macro and close reading techniques in order to reveal how text and landscape mutually impacted upon each other. Coleridge’s 1802 tour has remained a central text throughout these projects, and this paper will use it as a case study to demonstrate how the digital methods established by this project series can be applied to readings of texts in order to reveal hitherto concealed or unacknowledged elements.
This paper will combine these digital methodologies with approaches from the emergent field of what the cultural geographer Ceri Morgan has termed “walking studies” (2015). Walking studies consider movement through spaces, in ways that may or may not be bipedal, in order to reveal how this movement impacts upon day-to-day lived experiences. As this paper will seek to ascertain, the texts Coleridge produced during and inspired by his 1802 tour – including notebook entries, letters and “Dejection: An Ode” – deserve to be recognised as seminal texts in the walking studies canon.
Coleridge’s walking tour enabled him to “command” new territory – both visually and poetically. Whilst climbing up Red Pike, Coleridge considered the relationship between movement and independence: “every man his own path-maker – skip and jump – where rushes grow, a man may go.” It is well-known that Coleridge did not restrict himself to the Lake District’s already established tourist trails, preferring instead to set off cross-country. As this paper will explore, the diverse terrains he covers are registered in his writing; in particular, his notebooks – which function here as pedestrian journals – indicate his attempts to replicate his walking experiences, both via the way he lays out his entries and his formation of disjointed sentences that attempt to mimic his mode of travel. The paper will aim to demonstrate how these textual embodiments of walking experiences might be recreated or reimagined digitally by interrogating the implications of the ‘path’ from a multi-disciplinary perspective: literary, geographic and digital.
“Path” is a slippery term. In his famous essay “Walking in the City,” Michel de Certeau identifies the path – and, by extension, ‘path-mak[ing]’ – as one of the crucial modes of operation in constructing space (for de Certeau the imaginative conception of the physical place). He writes that the “intertwined paths” created by footsteps “give their shape to spaces” and “weave places together.” Walking, then, is an act of construction in creating the pathways that define spaces. As Paul Cloke has argued, these theories might now productively be applied to non-urban spaces, too. Coleridge's path-making anticipates de Certeau’s belief that constructing one’s own path is an important means by which to internalise place for imaginative use. Furthermore, Coleridge's accounts of his path-making emphasise the connection de Certeau makes between walking and writing. There is a “rhetoric of walking,” de Certeau writes, and this “rhetoric” is constructed through forms and figures in much the same way as a literary work. Furthermore, paths constructed by walking can – indeed, should – be “read” as a literary pursuit.
For de Certeau, the map does not allow for the necessary recognition of the importance of “intertwined paths” to place making. The map displays a set of power relations that inevitably subordinates individual experience. This paper will argue that digital maps offer a way of visualising and re-assessing the role of the path in place making. It does not seem coincidental that the structuring feature of the computer system is also the path: that is, the route to a file, folder, website or other digital destination. Furthermore, programs such as Google Earth draw attention to the connection between computer and physical pathways. Google Earth allows for the creation of “paths” which can digitally trace the physical path created by the walker, and walking websites (such as have begun exploiting the potential of Google Earth in facilitating physical walking experiences. This paper will use Google Earth to map such a path of Coleridge’s route in the summer of 1802. It will explore the extent to which this kind of digital path can vicariously recreate the physical act of path-making. By combining analysis of this digital path with Coleridge’s written accounts of his tour, this paper will uncover a relationship between literary form, terrain and physical movement in ways made uniquely possible by combining literary study with digital techniques.

Deep mapping the English Lake District

Dr Christopher Donaldson

This paper reports on work undertaken as part of the Leverhulme Trust research project “Geospatial Innovation in the Digital Humanities: A Deep Map of the English Lake District” (2015-2018), which is answering the call for scholarship that models the implementation of deep mapping in historical and literary studies research. In this paper, I propose to use a prototype digital deep map to attend to the geographies underpinning the composition, the publication, and – in particular – the reception of William Wordsworth’s topographical sonnet series
The River Duddon (1820), which outlines a journey along one of the Lake District’s most important rivers.

Deep mapping involves the accumulation and layering of different kinds of geo-locatable media within a geographic information systems (GIS) environment in order to facilitate investigations of the material, discursive, and imaginative geographies that inform our conception of a location’s topography and sense of place. In helping to trace the cultural afterlife of the Duddon sonnets, in particular, the prototype deep map presented here affords insights not only about Wordsworth’s reception history, but also about the sense of place communicated in his sonnet series. What is more, the deep map also enhances our understanding of how that sense of place changed and developed through creative re-appropriations during the later nineteenth century.
First published in 1820, Wordsworth’s
River Duddon sonnets have long been recognised as the first sonnet series in English to allow the course of a river to govern the entirety of its design. Wordsworth’s sonnets harness the forward-flowing momentum of the lyric sequence to carry the reader on a journey down the river, from its source on the slopes of Wrynose Pass to its estuary. The note that Wordsworth uses as a preface to the sonnets sketches out the itinerary pursued by the series:

The River Duddon rises upon Wrynose [F]ell, on the confines of Westmorland, Cumberland, and Lancashire; and, serving as a boundary to the two latter counties, for the space of about twenty-five miles, enters the Irish sea, between the isle of Walney and the lordship of Millum [sic].
Each sonnet in the
River Duddon series moves in succession through this landscape, marking a different spot beside the river and directing the reader’s attention to specific landmarks along the way. From Wrynose Pass and Cockley Beck to Seathwaite, Ulpha Kirk, and Swinside, and then finally down to the Duddon sands, Wordsworth’s sequence encourages the sense of a continuous journey that carries the reader downstream, at the poet’s side, along a single route.

The organic relationship thus developed between the sonnet series and its subject encourages the sense of a continuous journey that conducts the reader from the upland centre of the Lake District to its coastal periphery. Responding to this, readers and literary tourists across the nineteenth century sought to follow Wordsworth’s sonnets and to map them onto the landscape of the Duddon Valley. This was accomplished with varying success, for although the
River Duddon sonnets follow the course of the river (moving in a steady progression), many of the individual sonnets in the series are difficult to locate with precision.

In this paper I will use the deep map to explore these readerly and touristic efforts to locate the geographical sources of Wordsworth’s sonnets. My main focus will be to demonstrate how the multimedia GIS environment of the deep map can help us to contextualise the accounts of these readers and tourists alongside other works of literature and visual art that Wordsworth’s
River Duddon sonnets inspired. Specific examples to be featured include the essays and photographs of the Victorian Wordsworth enthusiast Herbert Rix (now held at the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere), Canon Richard Parkinson’s 1843 novel
The Old Church-Clock, and the sketches of the Duddon valley that R. S. Chattock completed for the Fine Arts Society’s illustrated edition of the Duddon sonnets in 1884.

In implementing this approach, this paper indicates the broader ambition of the “Geospatial Innovation” project: to make a major intervention in the application of geographical technologies in the study of the creation and reception of literary works of art. Building on the work and outputs produced as part of the European Research Council-funded “Spatial Humanities: Texts, GIS, Places” project, my aim is to use deep mapping as a means of addressing challenges raised by the application of geographical methods and technologies in literary studies scholarship. A critical issue the project has set out to address is the widely perceived incongruity between the methodologies of geographic information science – with their reliance on precise, quantifiable data – and the kinds of equivocal or “slippery” information with which literary scholars typically engage.
Deep mapping presents a solution to this impediment. The concept of deep mapping emerged out of the psychogeographical experiments of the early French Situationists in the 1960s. More recently, the term has garnered popular interest through the American author William Least Heat-Moon’s study
PrairyErth: A Deep Map (1991), which employs composite, multimedia methodologies to investigate the cultural and historical geographies of Chase County, Kansas. As Least Heat-Moon’s
PrairyErth suggests, deep maps are both topological and relational. Like conventional paper maps they reveal spatial networks that tie locations together. Unlike conventional maps, however, deep maps attempt to record the artefacts, narratives, and memories that underpin those locations and, therefore, shape our understanding of them as places.

Since the appearance of
PrairyErth, deep mapping has been applied to describe new, exploratory approaches to digital geospatial research. For example, David Bodenhamer and his team at the Virtual Center for Spatial Humanities, Indiana University—Purdue University Indiana, define deep maps as “visual, time-based, and structurally open.” “They are,” Bodenhamer continues:

genuinely multi-media and multi-layered. They do not seek authority or objectivity, but involve negotiation between insiders and outsiders, experts and contributors, over what is represented and how. Framed as a conversation and not a statement, deep maps are inherently unstable[.]
Shelley Fishkin, at Stanford University, advocates for a similar conception of the practice:
Deep maps are palimpsests in that they allow multiple versions of events, of texts, of phenomena (both primary and secondary) to be written over each other – with each version still visible under the layers. They involve mapping, since the form of display – the gateway [. . .] – would be a geographical map that links the text, artifact, phenomenon, or event to the location that produced it, that responded to it, or that is connected with it.
Fiskin’s notion that “deep maps are palimpsests” is very salient. There is, after all, an analogical relationship between deep maps and GIS technology: the former is a multi-layered spatial representation; the latter is a tool for integrating layers of geographical data. Exploiting this relationship, the “Geospatial Innovation” project aims to move deep maps from the printed page into a digital environment by harnessing the power and flexibility GIS to store, organise, and visualise a wealth of visual and verbal media. Focussing on the example of Wordsworth’s
River Duddon sonnets, as outlined above, this paper will report on the progress of this research.

Organising Romantic London

Dr Matthew Sangster

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, writers producing the kinds of works which we would now call literary were often very sceptical about London. Percy Shelley constructed a considerable part of his poem
Peter Bell the Third around what for the city is a very unflattering comparison:

Hell is a city much like London —
A populous and a smoky city;
There are all sorts of people undone,
And there is little or no fun done;
Small justice shown, and still less pity.
While earlier in the eighteenth century, poems such as John Gay’s
Trivia had been able to dwell entirely within the bounds of London, and had found a great deal that was positive to say about the city, late eighteenth and early nineteenth century literary works commonly only dipped into the metropolis, finding the task of systematising either too daunting or not to their tastes. The London poetry and the London poets of the earlier eighteenth century to a large extent fell away, and it was not really until the 1820s, with works like Pierce Egan’s
Life in London and new periodical forms like Charles Lamb’s Elia essays, that writers of literary prose moved to take up the nineteenth-century city as a principal subject. Frances Burney’s character Evelina circles into London twice to see two quite different sides of metropolitan life, but the city ultimately serves as a place of education through which she must pass rather than as a final destination. William Godwin’s Caleb Williams flees into the city (or, more properly, into Southwark), but finds there only temporary and melancholy succour from which he is soon dragged away. William Wordsworth spends a book of the
Prelude dealing with his residence in London, but he does so in manners which often deflect away or recoil from the city’s profusion. When Samuel Taylor Coleridge imagines ‘gentle-hearted Charles’ from his lime tree bower, he sees him as someone who has “pined | And hunger’d after Nature, many a year, | In the great City pent, winning thy way | With sad yet patient soul, through evil and pain | And strange calamity!” London here is a blockage rather than a solution, a failure of connections rather than a place of fruitful exchange, something that must be overcome rather than a community which sustains.

However, increasingly specialised literary modes of writing were not the only sorts of works which sought to deal with the metropolis. Poetic and fictional accounts wrote back against a wave of topographical and antiquarian accounts which were increasingly seeking to glorify the city. Where poems and novels saw London’s size as obstructive and its scale as almost impossible to represent, non-fictional and illustrative accounts of the city commonly perceived its vast scope to be an opportunity. The author of the advertisement to the 1804 volume
Modern London, probably its publisher Richard Phillips, claims that his book will “exhibit the very soul of the Metropolis […] Most of the busy haunts of the inhabitants, whether for the gratification of ambition, avarice, or pleasure, have been exactly pourtrayed [sic]; and these views convey at once correct ideas of places which interest from their celebrity, and of scenes which characterize the manners of the people.” While Phillips does not claim that London’s soul is by any means pure, he does contend that it is graspable – that the city can be characterised and understood, rendered down into a comprehensible and useful written form. For this reason, among others, confident sources like
Modern London can be enormously useful for accounting for and questioning the gaps left by literary disaffection.

One of the most impressive of the many textual and visual attempts at encompassing London at the end of the eighteenth century was the “PLAN of the Cities of LONDON and WESTMINSTER the Borough of SOUTHWARK, and PARTS adjoining Shewing every HOUSE” produced at considerable financial and personal expense between 1790 and 1799 by the surveyor Richard Horwood. The physical Plan consists of thirty-two printed sheets displaying an area stretching from the middle of Hyde Park in the west to Limehouse in the east and from the southern edge of Islington in the north to the southern fringes of Kennington and Walworth in the south. When assembled, the full Plan is more than thirteen feet across and over seven feet from top to bottom. In its original form, therefore, it is like the city it represents: sprawling, unwieldy and extremely difficult to parse.
The Romantic London website ( seeks to alleviate some of these difficulties through digitally transforming the Plan. The site hosts a detailed tiled version drawn from a source copy in the British Library. This is layered over Google Maps and Open Street Map and can be annotated with text and images (this is done using a straightforward Wordpress plugin). The site makes the Plan generally available, bringing it out of the archive and allowing users dynamic control over its size and scope. It also curates the plan by bringing it into conversation with other means of ordering and organising the metropolis from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

As Horwood’s Plan and the intertexts which the site pins to it both eloquently demonstrate, London was a prospect both radically and conservatively different from any other contemporary urban or rural environment in Britain. Its quantitative scale mandated qualitative differences which encompassed systems and complexities which had not yet developed, or which were deemed unnecessary, in less extensive urban environments. At the time of writing, the Romantic London website includes a number of means by which contemporary auditors sought to understand the city: plates from Rudolph Ackermann’s
Microcosm of London; plates and text from Richard Phillips’
Modern London; and text from
Fores’s New Guide for Foreigners and the 1788 edition of
Harris’s List of Covent-Garden Ladies. (I plan to add more curations in the coming months.) Making the geographies implied in these texts explicit through marking them on Horwood’s Plan allows us to see the patterns of attention and inattention which they encode. Comparing different curations can bring to light hot and cold spots within the city and can show clearly the varying priorities of different stakeholders in its identity. When put into conversation with less geographically-specific literary works, other kinds of texts can reveal the roles that generic conventions played in shaping London, with other types of writing and visual representations both filling a gap left by literature’s retreat from the city and providing key contexts for its eventual reengagement. Modern accounts of London are disproportionately shaped by privileged literary writings; neglected non-fictional accounts can therefore play key roles both in complicating negative literary views of London and recovering the occluded histories of the less fortunate.

The paper will conclude by considering the opportunities and challenges presented by digital remediation for understanding material and media histories. While a digital version of Horwood’s Plan is very convenient in many respects, its creation represents an intervention that transforms the Plan’s original form in ways that occlude some of its characteristics (size; physicality) and that provide new characteristics unavailable to its original users. Similarly, making texts and images into explicitly geographical systems has considerable implications for their meanings. The digital has the potential to conceal as well as to reveal, and in concluding, I will briefly discuss the ways in which informed curation can serve both to minimise the losses inherent in digital transformation and to maximise their potential for creating new tools and insights which can reify the deeper histories which previous media have encoded but concealed.

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