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Mapping Literary London Event Recap

On November 6th, 2023, the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks hosted a hybrid event located at the University College London’s European Institute entitled “Mapping Literary London with Memory Mapper,” with presenters Dr. Tim Beasley-Murray and Duncan Hay. Dr. Tim Beasley-Murray is an Associate Professor in European Thought and Culture at UCL and Duncan Hay is a Technical Developer at UCL. Beasley-Murray and Hay discussed the “The Memory Map Toolkit” within the context of their specific project, “Lost and Found: Mapping European Literary London,” and its potential applications for other research projects and for teaching. The Memory Map Toolkit is an open-source web application for creating interactive maps for heritage, history, and tourism; it can serve any project or research goal that aims to combine rich media content with an interactive map. The Toolkit was built and is maintained by the Barlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London, and is developed in collaboration with the Survey of London, and the Space Syntax Laboratory, and the writer and artist is Rachel Lichtenstein.

Beasley-Murray and Hay characterized this toolkit as “the gift that keeps on giving.” Their interactive “Lost and Found” map dually serves as a source for public outreach and academic engagement, boasting 70+ entries of specific texts and over 20 European languages. The initial goal of the project was to “trace European literary encounters with London” throughout its varied roles as a place of refuge, a hub of culture, a center for tourism, a site of economic migration, and an empire—with all the past and present complexities attached to these many roles. Overall, the map seeks to engage spatially with history, and to do so without recognizing the “British coordinates of power” by including many different perspectives, not limited to British literary London. In pursuing this project, Beasley-Murray and Hay sought to excavate the literary traces that European writers have left throughout the city, across time periods, cultures, and imaginations.

Each textual entry within the Lost and Found Map offers a tab with an option for a different language, an “about the text” tab with some history, and a “further info” tab that details the contributors. Sometimes these texts are already translated, and sometimes the “Lost and Found” team translates them directly. As you explore the map, there are filters to hone your search, including options for language, genre, historical period, free keywords, and authors. There are also themes that you can select to frame your search, including: noise & nature; familiar & other; fantasy & banality; and freedom & constraint. You can also combine more than one filter within a single search if what you’re looking for spans multiple subjects. Though the far-reaching nature of the Memory Mapper provides treasures of insight and data, an issue that Beasley-Murray and Hay have described in developing this map is: “when there’s such a large amount of material, how do you find the material you’re most interested in?” For example, there can occasionally be challenges in categorizing texts. If the author is Italian, but he writes in French, which category does that text fit into?

This project found its inspiration in the “Survey of London: Histories of Whitechapel” initiative by the Arts and Humanities Research Council at UCL, an online map that collaboratively combines photographs, stories, research, film clips, and audio recordings on every building in Whitechapel, in which the contributors comprise historians and locals. Projects like “Histories of Whitechapel” and “Lost and Found” both seek to engage with the tension between official and unofficial histories. The “Memory Map of the Jewish East End” (developed by Dr. Duncan Hay, Peter Guillery, Rachel Lichtenstein, and Prof. Laura Vaughan) also served as a model, as it showcases Rachel Lichtenstein’s collection of oral history interviews with the Jewish community in East London. The team has also been able to adapt the software used for the Memory Map Toolkit for other high-profile projects, like the “City of Women London,” a remixed Tube map in which every Tube station is named after a woman who contributed to the city of London (a project led by Emma Watson).

The Memory Map Toolkit can also be used as a teaching application. For example, the Newham Youth Map (2020), funded by the UCL Engagement through the Listen and Respond grant, was created by the young people from Newham Youth Empowerment Services, HeadStart, Fight for Peace, and researchers from The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis using the Memory Mapper. Similarly, the Memory Mapper was used during a Turing-funded UCL Summer School in Barcelona, as students used the toolkit to “explore the constructions and contestations, districts and divisions, spectacle and speculation” of the city. One possible challenge that instructors may encounter in integrating this tool is that it requires technical knowledge to set up. However, a pedagogical draw of the Memory Mapper is that it can also allow people who don’t consider themselves “digital specialists” to “unlock” spatial research. Similarly, it offers opportunities for links between different projects. Looking ahead, Beasley-Murray and Hay envision wide-ranging possibilities for this tool, such as a multiuser service (“Tumblr but for maps?”), or even a federated graph database (“Mastodon but for maps?”).

For those interested in attending future DH events at Northeastern University, please follow this link to the NULab events page

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