12 May Event: Presentation by ASAL Postgrad Fiannuala Morgan
Latent Geographic Associations; Theorising Mapping in Journalistic and Fictional Accounts of 19th Century Bushfires
3:30 PM – 4:30 PM AEST, Thu, 19 May 2022, Online event
Recent advances in Natural Language Processing software as well as the accessibility of digital mapping software have dramatically expanded the possibilities for spatial analysis in the humanities. The analysis of place-names in large-scale corpora has been theorised as a ‘geographic imaginary’ and an ‘imagined geography’; cartographic models that respectively reflect geographies of cultural significance, and construct and mediate the readers’ understanding of space. From the outset, this approach attracted criticism for its reductionism and abstraction of the text. For literary studies, it is argued that maps as a reduced, approximate, and symbolic representation of reality work only in the domain of space and cannot approximate the complex representations of place found in literature. What remains absent from these debates, however, is consideration of how cartographic approaches enable scholars to advance historical spatial claims based on a presumed equivalency between textual worlds and reality.
In this presentation, I draw attention to this phenomenon as a means of returning to some more fundamental questions in the spatial humanities. Namely, what do we seek to achieve when we map textual sources, and more importantly, what do we create? I draw on recent theoretical scholarship on Topic Modeling, a machine-learning technique that groups thematically related documents, to conceive of a computational cartographic approach as productive of a constellation of ‘latent geographic associations’ that ultimately facilitate diverse and non-singular interpretations. In this presentation I apply this framework to my current research mapping the locations of bushfires published in journalistic accounts and serialised fiction in 19th Century Australian newspapers as a means of exploring the affordances and limitations that digital mapping yields for historical and literary analysis.
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