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Romantic Cartographies with Visiting Speaker Asko Nivala

By Laura Johnson

In October, NULab/DSG Visiting Speaker Asko Nivala presented on his ongoing project, Romantic Cartographies: Lived and Imagined Space in English and German Romantic Texts, 1790–1840. In this project, Nivala maps the spatial networks of place in English and German Romantic texts using the Stanford Named Entity Recognizer (NER) and historic maps to carefully georeference locations across his corpus. Nivala uses a large variety of methods in Romantic Cartographies to understand locations, texts, authors, and routes, including topic modeling, text mining, and georeferencing. With this combined methodology, Nivala aims to enable mining locational data from large textual corpora.

In the presentation, Nivala introduced his project by locating his work in the larger field of Historical GIS, including such projects as “Mapping the Lakes” by a team at Lancaster University. To create his geolocation data, Nivala used the Stanford NER to identify and mark instances of locations across his corpus of English and German Romantic texts. Nivala noted that one limitation of this methodology is that the process requires hand corrections to match all mention of locations in a text. The resulting geographic data is a record of all locations found by Stanford NER across this corpus and is additionally organized by the frequency of the total mentions of each location by text. Overlaying this data on a historic map with Leaflet, Nivala uses a number of layers to highlight key historic features: the German Confederation (1820), state borders (1815), major cities (1800), Europe (1800), and coastlines. Nivala pairs these interactive layers with the ability to filter places in the database by genre and language, displaying additional information about authors, texts, and topic models.

For Nivala, Romantic Cartographies asks new questions about time and space. For example, defining “romanticism” is a major question for the field, and one that Nivala wants to expand beyond thinking about genre and time period to consider how texts relate to each other by space and location. A facet of the project that Nivala is currently undertaking is mapping routes in Romantic fiction; correlating the geographic information for locations in a text with chronology, Nivala creates a route that spans the events of that text. In looking at location ‘locally’ in individual novels and more broadly across his entire corpus, Nivala asks: where are these texts set? And, how does the relationship between setting and content impact our understandings of Romanticism? After his presentation, Nivala answered questions about methodology and the next steps of his project, considering ways to further study: population density in historic locations, travel in imaginary places or settings, and the role of outliers.

Asko Nivala is a visiting scholar hosted by the NULab and the Digital Scholarship Group. He is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Academy of Finland and an Adjunct Professor of Cultural History at the University of Turku, Finland. His research focuses on early nineteenth-century Romanticism in Germany and England.

An alpha version of Romantic Cartographies has been published online and can be found here.

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