Our Project

The goal of “Mapping the Literary Railway” (MLR) is to demonstrate the idea that visualization is interpretation. To this end, we have taken the traditional humanities research conducted by Professor Youngman for his monograph Black Devil and Iron Angel: The Railway in 19th-Century German Literature (Washington, DC: Catholic UP 2005) and applied spatial humanities techniques to his conclusions.

MLR follows the lead of Franco Moretti’s Atlas of the European Novel: 1800-1900 (London: Verso 1997) – an early call for this type of interpretation. In this work, Moretti calls for a move from maps as mere decoration or ancillary material to “analytical tools: that dissect the text in an unusual way, bringing to light relations that would otherwise remain hidden” (3). He urges us to “select a textual feature. . . find the data, put them on paper and then. . . look at the map.” The great hope is “that the visual construct will more than the sum of its parts: that it will show a shape , a pattern” (13). MLR findings show that this hope is at times borne out and at times not illustrative of much.

Beyond Moretti, MLR follows the theoretical lead of the developers of “A Literary Atlas of Europe” who point out the challenges of our approach. The critic must guard against presenting the map in a “pseudo-precise manner” as that could have the effect of working “against the intention of the text” (Piatti, et. al. “Mapping Literature: Towards a Geography of Fiction” in Cartography and Art, Springer 2008. 188). This is clearly the case when it comes to German poetic realism where the author’s intent is twofold: one, to use the “real” railway as a truth claim for his text, and two, to transfigure the “real” with aspects that likely have “no reference to the geospace” (Piatti 188). A lack of reference, of course, is the most challenging aspect of mapping the literary railway.

To deal with mapping ambiguity we are using the geo-temporal exhibit builders Neatline, StoryMap JS, and Omeka.


We would like to thank the following people for their help and sponsorship in our research: