Digitally Mapping Literature–what good can it do?

What is the advantage of a literary work that is digitally mapped?

This year for my DH project, I’m thinking about completing my mapping project I started exactly a year ago. I will be keeping my old data and add some new features as it can intersect with my research interest–i.e. age studies. Most of the work will involve transforming and exporting my data into a publishable data set. I will be using excel, ArcGIS, and mostly storymap tool. Storymap is an opensource tool, an interactive map sharing program. As I have engaged in ArcGIS tool before, I know it is an incredibly rich program–meaning that it involves learning complicated and oftentimes time-consuming techniques.

In addition to the technical honing and creating an aesthetically/functionally-pleasing storymap, I want to take time to think about what I can do with this opportunity. Last time I admit I was too concerned with the limitations of such project that I did not think of the gains of digital mappings. “Distant reading” as Moretti calls it or creating a mega-data (“mega” compared to close-reading one literary text as traditional literary critics do) containing more than 30 texts to compare and contrast, find patterns, pick out an outlier itself produces a different but no less valuable result. And I also want to take time to think about some of the doubts I had about my own project.

  • Are there any other ways to “measure” monstrosity or sympathy level? Is it valuable to measure such subjective literary effect? Are there other ways than numeric scale?
  • What techniques/tools/alternatives are there to project the uncertainties about the point of locality or distance range in the map?

Going back to creating a visual map, I also will be thinking about turning literary text into a visual text.

  • What will it mean for my viewer or for my own project that I pick the color pink for female monsters and black for more monstrous characters? Should I choose between visual-grasping i.e. “can be grasped at first glance” and challenging ingrained connotations of such connections?

Environmental scan: What other projects similar to mine are out there?

On official esri site, there are less than 10 storymaps under the category of literature or novel–the small amount of which is surprising. (Maybe I should find a better tag?) About half of them pinpoints the point of a character’s appearance on a map–official or manipulated–and have a text next to the map or over them as one scrolls down or clicks the point.

As I have tables and graphs that will compare/contrast monster’s distance and monstrosity by gender, I will not only use the map (bulleted) but also the scroll-down feature (side accordion) to explain the result of the comparative data.


(Marvel Superhero Origins,


I found three mapping project that interested me in esri. The first one above is a mapping of marvel hero and heroine’s origin. It is a rather simple story map that pinpoints the location of hero’s birth and action with a side accordion that explains each character’s name,birthplace, first appearance, ability, and origin story. The map is not so detailed to street name but the map has a visually corresponding aesthetic matching to the general theme. Another project, not listed on esri but on DHcommons and that uses ArcGIS storymap tool, is “Mapping at the Mountains of Madness” by Matt Mckinley. This mapping project is similar to mine in that it is mapping the locale of real as well as fictional places on earth. It maps locations detailed in Lovecraft’s novella “At the Mountains of Madness.” The map shows two different colors of points–one fictional and one real. The author uses “buffer” effect to speculate and demonstrate that the location is speculated. This project also, however, is not so detailed in its rationale as well as argumentation why one needs such map. 


(Mapping at the Mountains of Madness


One model storymap I found is “The Two Koreas.” Though this one does not concern any literature, it contains many features I think are adaptable to my project. First, it is enable in another language, Korean, as well as English which attracts more audience and makes the project shareable to larger spectrum. What was most attractive about this storymap is how it utilizes text with the visual. It explains very well what this project is about and why (though implicitly) such visual materials are integral for understanding the theme. It involves picture, moving maps, overlapping of maps, as well as a lineal historical line (this will be helpful for my project!), and graphs. It seems incredible amount of effort, work, and creativity were invested in this project.


(The Two Koreas:


Mapping Monsters: Spatial Representations of “Monsters”

Result of data analysis for monster mapping
Example of Male monster minimal bounding

Mapping Monsters

Spatial Representations of “Monsters”: Gender Difference and Its Meaning

: This project was done as a part of a graduate course at Michigan State University. To open the map, ArcGIS is required. Web-based map can be viewed but this map does not allow any group-layer features. Screenshots of the map shows some snapshots of the map.

  • Description: This project concerns how gender affects spatial representation of so-called “monster” characters and how these representations are related to effects they produce such as levels of monstrosity and sympathy. Monsters that easily come to mind such as Dracula or the Creature from Frankenstein scare us readers not only with their evil doings and strange appearances. Part of their monstrosity lies also in their ability to escape human grasp. They move from one country to the other with the least effort and contaminate entire humanity unavailing our effort to pin them down to one place. However, there are other monsters who stay local and threaten relatively small number of people: female vampires who do not leave the castle, witches who demonize county people, ghosts bounded to houses, etc. The fear that we have for this type of monsters are quite different from wide-roving creatures. This project starts from a question whether this distinction stems from gender of the monster and looks to find a connection between distance traveled/areas of coverage and type of “monstrosity” monsters embody.

This map has largely three layers that allow above comparison analysis, each one including available points, lines, minimal bounding, and kriging: 1. Female monsters vs. male monsters 2. Female author vs. male author 3. MM vs. MF vs. FM vs. FF (gender of the monster/gender of the author (F: female, M: male), for example: MM means male monster created by male author).

  • Central Question: Does gender of the monster affect the distance traveled? How is the distance related to a level of monstrosity and level of sympathy?

Do female monsters show smaller trajectory and consequently lower level of monstrosity than male monsters? Do they have different habitation patterns than male monsters? How does spatial representation affect level of sympathy? Will the gender of the author complicate any pattern?

  • Explanation and Compromises
  • Corpus: Included in the database are eighteen texts with thirty characters in total, fairly balanced between gender of the monster and author’s sex. Texts include Gothic literature, Ghost literature, and other horror literature that features in-between humans, animals, witches, etc. mostly from nineteenth-century literature.
  • Features: Points are marked when a character is mentioned/indicated to be at such location, and lines demonstrate their travel trajectory. This line also allows the measurement of distance traveled. Minimal bounding, which is a smallest polygon that includes all the points of a character, is used to show and calculate square measure of each character’s coverage of area. Kriging analysis shows the different numeric number each character scored in that specific location and allows one to see at one glance at which point the highest numeric value exists. I used different symbols and lines to represent different category each element belongs to.
  • Uncertainties/Assumptions: Almost in every text, there are pointed locations that are based on assumptions and a range of accuracy vary from point to point. For example, in Lois the Witch, I used two historical maps of Salem to indicated sites of prison, execution place, courts, etc., but locations of character’s houses were selected randomly out of several points of residents. The difference of scale should be noticed since there are large differences in detailedness of geographic information. Whereas texts like The Succubus gives out even street names, The Vampyre or “Tomb of Sarah” sets its characters in large settings such as “Rome,” or “Greece.” Fictional spaces were also mapped within a larger context of the text. Even when ‘Dwoldling,’ a set place for “Phantom Coach” turned out to be fictional, it was mapped according to the information that it was 12 miles from ‘Wyke,’ a moorland far north of England.
  • Numeric Scale: To quantify a level of monstrosity and sympathy, I developed a monstrosity scale and sympathy scale.

Monstrosity scale measures how monstrous a character is displayed by each text. I collected every monstrous actions and appearances that is mentioned in a text and used that list to make a scale and ordered/ revised the numeric system considering the context of each. By making a corpus of monstrous action/appearance, I could overcome the difficulty of translating a subtlety of representation of literature to a numeric value. For instance, it could be said that ‘mind controlling’ is less ‘monstrous’ than ‘murder attempt’ at first glance and thus should score a high level of monstrosity. However, when it is taken within the context of the text, say, it leads to a cruel victimization of an innocent person or is described in such a detail that it leads to horrify its reader, these contexts cannot be overlooked by ‘objective’ measures. This is not to say this scale is objective. When considering the ‘context,’ cartographer’s own interpretation of the situation and emotions each display of monstrosity is eliciting are embodied. However, it can be said that it is more consistent and coherent as a whole.

Sympathy scale measures how a character is viewed by other characters and by the narrator. Having a numeric value for sympathy proved to be very challenging. Sometimes, characters differ in their view of the monster characters and the narrator describes the monster in a subtly sympathetic way even when s/he is received as not sympathy-worthy. There are also texts that evoke sympathy in readers not through other character or through narration but with plot itself. It is less uncomfortable for readers to feel sympathy toward a ‘monster’ who haunts her murderer or who hurts one who killed her baby. I included these different levels of sympathy each text arouses in readers to determine how a text depicts monstrosity.

  • Limitations

Even when there’s a difference, features that did not have enough numeric value—male monsters’ monstrosity, sympathy scale for both male and female monsters—could not be demonstrated using kriging tool.

  • Answers from the map:
    1. Distance-Monstrosity

Male monsters travel ten times more than female monsters on average even though female monsters have higher level of monstrosity. This shows that the nature of their monstrosity as well as horror monsters elicit differ by gender.


2. MM, MF, FM, FF

Although there is a stark difference between male monster and female monster, adding author’s sex in the comparison enables much further analysis. Although female monsters created by female author show longer distance traveled, minimal bounding proves that they move about the same place, thus has higher numeric value for distance but has limited roving.


Tag: #monster #gender #horror #ghost #witch #literature #sex



Male monster minimal bounding
female monster points and lines
female monster minimal bounding
MF points and lines
FM points and lines
FF points and lines
female monster krigging
female monster krigging zoomed