ACH@MLA2024: Digitally Mapping Literary Space and Place (Updated)

For our session at the 2024 MLA Convention, ACH featured presentations related to the use of spatial technologies as they broadly pertain to research and teaching related to language, literature, and related fields. At their most basic, spatial technologies offer a way to bring in useful context when researching or teaching literature. But to what end? What does it mean to digitally map a text? How might the map–a fiction itself–intersect with the study of fictional worlds? How might we countermap, using digital methods to contest dominant narratives, structures, or politics? Is the digital map a tool? A metaphor? Both? Presentation information follows.

From Charlotte Smith to Chloramphenicol: Antibiotic Origins and Digital Mapping Across Disciplines, Gillian Andrews (Lehigh U)

Antibiotic resistance is a growing public health crisis, with some reports predicting that by 2050, “today’s already large 700,000 deaths every year would become an extremely disturbing 10 million every year, more people than currently die from cancer” (O’Neill et al 1). To tackle this, we need widespread change in attitudes towards antibiotics and increased antibiotic conservation. This presentation showcases an in-progress ArcGIS digital mapping project that traces origins of antibiotics, many of which originate from soil samples gathered from around the world. Framing this project as a descendant of my previous collaborative work on The Charlotte Smith Story Map, I argue that in combination with creative efforts like literature that imagine the future, mapping the past can be a tool to challenge temporal blindness around antibiotics which can incorrectly seem as if they have ‘always’ been here, causing us to take for granted that they always will be. Literature such as the Nesta- commissioned 2015 sci-fi anthology Infectious Futures has challenged this temporal blindness by confronting readers with stories of what a post-antibiotic society could look like in the near future. Building on this work, I suggest that public-facing digital mapping can also contribute to fighting antibiotic resistance by visualizing the past instead of the future; showcasing the surprisingly recent material and geographical history of antibiotic discovery helps us to see that they are not an immutable part of medicine but a dwindling resource that was first used less than a century ago. I ultimately suggest that literature and mapping can work together to explore the temporality of antibiotics and enhance public engagement with healthcare ethics, promoting antibiotic stewardship and informed patient decision-making about antibiotic use. Mapping antibiotic history can allow us to look to the past to illuminate the precariousness of the present; and consequently, to ethically consider the future.

Works Cited
O’Neill, Jim et al. Tackling Drug-Resistant Infections Globally: Final Report and Recommendations. Review on Antimicrobial Resistance. 2016.

Ryan-Saha, Joshua, and Lydia Nicholas, eds. Infectious Futures: Stories of the Post- Antibiotic Apocalypse. Nesta, 2015. 

Place, Memory, Poetry, and the James A. Emanuel Papers at the Library of Congress, Tyechia Thompson (Virginia Tech)

My presentation focuses on mapping the materials of author/scholar James A. Emanuel that are archived in the Library of Congress. Emanuel was an innovator of the jazz haiku, author of over ten books of poetry, and trendsetter of African American Literature. Central to my project is Emanuel’s system of documentation, which is a record of the date, place, and time that Emanuel drafts his manuscripts. I will explain my digital publication design highlighting my mapping decisions that will emphasize a cultural matrix of Emanuel’s life, creative process, and creative work.

An Exploratory Data Analysis of Space in Spanish-Language Literature, Jennifer Isasi (Penn State U, University Park) and Joshua Ortiz Baco (U of Tennessee, Knoxville) 

The use of Spanish-language data in digital humanities research presents practical and epistemological complications, ranging from the erasure of languages other than English in the digital cultural record (Whose Knowledge?) to canonical literary and spatial work. This project presents our approaches to a bibliographic dataset of travel literature, which we constructed from metadata of over 350 texts cataloged by the Tübingen University Library (Germany). Using named-entity recognition, we identified real, historical, and fictional locales within this corpus to explore narratological and print history theories in Spanish-language literary studies. Our work builds on a growing body of projects focused on spatial data from English and Spanish- language sources, such as Global Du Bois (Risam), “The Emotions of London” (Heuser et al.), and the Historical Gazetteer for Latin America and the Caribbean (Pelagios Commons). Our goal is to introduce novel ways of interrogating the construction of narratives through representations of place and space, using exploratory data analysis. We discuss the challenges we encountered in performing research on Spanish-language sources with spatial technologies and offer possible interventions that modern languages offer in the broader fields of digital humanities and humanidades digitales. By presenting our work in progress, we hope to contribute to ongoing efforts addressing complexities of Spanish-language data in digital humanities research.

Works Cited

Heuser, Ryan, et al. The Emotions of London. Pamphlet 13, 2016.

Lehmann, Jörg, and Konstantin Krechting. Bibliography of electronically available Spanish-language travel literature. Accessed 19 Nov. 2020.

Pelagios. “Final Report on LatAm: A Historical Gazetteer of Colonial Latin America and the Caribbean.” Pelagios, 14 June 2019.

Risam, Roopika. Global-Du-Bois. 2019. 9 Mar. 2023. GitHub, Z, X.

Whose Knowledge?State of the Internet’s Languages Report. 2022, pp. 1–42.

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