Experiments in Visualizing 18th-century Literature

English 803.3: Topics in Literary & Cultural History
The Geography of London's Imaginary Spaces in the 18th Century (Winter 2009)

For as long as we have made maps, they have represented a compromise between visualizing accurate topographical information and the cultural diversities associated with those spaces. Similarly, literature is rich in imaginative detail about the cityscape, but it is easy, for example, to lose one's place in the notoriously confusing array of London streets. This course examines the ways in which digital cartography can be a powerful tool to help us understand the dynamics of urban life in eighteenth-century literature. The urban landscape of eighteenth-century London was complex, multi-faceted, and layered by differences such as poverty, wealth, and class; areas of trade, of public discourse, of private family life, and of crime and gentility. In this class we will consider London's historical, geographical and textual representations. We will examine a variety of texts (novels, essays, poetry, prints), seeking to establish a sense of the topography of 18th-century London and to locate its cultural presence in the physical space of the city. To do this, we will conduct close readings of the texts and we will map these spaces in a digital atlas of London.

Student Projects: Exemplary mappings

Joel Salt:

Heather Touet:

Jessica Patrucco:

Kurt Krueger:

Meshon Cantrill:


Syllabus January–May 2009

Jan 8


Jan 15

Rethinking Textuality

  • N. Katherine Hayles, “Translating Media: Why We Should Rethink Textuality” (2003)
  • Martyn Jessop, “Digital Visualization as A Scholarly Activity” (2008)

An Introduction to London

  • from Cynthia Wall, The Literary and Cultural Spaces of Restoration London (1998), Chapter 1, “The Great Fire and the Rhetoric of Loss” (3–38); Chapter 4, “The Art of Writing the Streets of London” (115–47)

Visualizing London

  • William Hogarth, “Rakes Progress: Tavern Scene”; “Rake’s Progress: Arrested for Debt: St. James’s”; “Industry and Idleness: The Idle ’Prentice Executed”; “Industry and Idleness: The Industrious ’Prentice, Lord Mayor”; “Beer Street”; “Gin Lane”; “Southwark Fair”; “The Distressed Poet”; “Morning”; “Noon”; “Evening”; “Night”
Jan 22

Theorizing the Topography and Geography of Literary History

  • Michel Foucault, “Heterotopias” (1967)
  • Martyn Jessop, “The Visualization of Spatial Data in the Humanities” (2004)
  • from Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, Trees: Introduction, “Towards a Geography of Literature” (3–10); Chapter 2, “A Tale of Two Cities” (77–140)

Walking the Streets of London with Swift

  • Jonathan Swift, “A Description of the Morning” (1709) and “A Description of a City Shower” (1710)
Jan 29 Introduction to basic Digital Humanities Techniques: Mapping, Markup, File Transfer
Feb 5

Walking the Streets of London with Gay

  • John Gay, Trivia, or the Art of Walking the Streets of London (1714)
  • Clare Brant and Susan E. Whyman, “Introduction” to Walking the Streets of Eighteenth-Century London: John Gay’s Trivia (Oxford)
  • Alison Stenton, “Spatial Stories: Movement in the City and Cultural Geography” (in Brant and Whyman)
Feb 12

Walking the Streets of London with Gay

  • John Gay, Trivia, or the Art of Walking the Streets of London
Feb 26

A Walk in the Park with the Earl of Rochester

  • John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, “A Ramble in St. James’s Park” (1680)
  • Mona Narain, “Libertine Spaces and the Female Body in the Poetry of Rochester and Ned Ward”
Mar 5

The Topography of Literary London

  • from Pat Rogers, Hacks and Dunces: Pope, Swift and Grub Street: Introduction, “The Topography of Dulness” (1–17); Chapter 1, “The Suburban Muse” (18–93)
  • Brean S. Hammond, “The Dunciad and the City: Pope and Heterotopia”
  • Valerie Rumbold, introduction to Alexander Pope, The Dunciad in Four Books (1743)
Mar 12 The Dunciad Book I
Mar 19 The Dunciad Book II
Mar 26

London, the “Dropsical Head”: Luxury and Corruption in the Body Politic

  • Tobias Smollett, excerpts from The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771)
Apr 2 Conclusion & Catch-up