Mapping James Joyce’s Ulysses
Abe Parrish of the Map Department and Sam Alexander, a graduate student in English, joined us this week to discuss their digital interactive map of James Joyce’s Ulysses *. The project germinated as a component of an undergraduate seminar taught by Pericles Lewis, who approached Abe with the idea in August 2010. Once it reached beta stage, Sam brought the map to the seminar students for a test drive: part building, part analysis.
For the major work, the project needed just one primary source (a Yale-owned 1900 Dublin map) and one piece of software (ESRI’sArcGIS Viewer for Adobe Flex). Digitizing the map created a raster image, requiring subsequent conversion to a vector file for use in ArcGIS Viewer. The vectorized map was then layered over native ArcGIS topographic and street maps of contemporary Dublin and broken up into queryable blocks, allowing students to locate, mark, and annotate narrative locations in the historical image.
What sets ArcGIS Viewer apart from other programs like Google Earth is that it is browser-based, with the capacity for multiple users to view and edit geographical data at once and without downloading uncommon software or plug-ins. (Viewing the project does require the use of Adobe Flash, which effectively eliminates Apple mobile devices.) Traditional mapping software requires individuals to create discrete edits to maps and then merge the documents, rather than enabling collaborative editing.
Sam offered his students three choices for working with the map as part of the seminar. The first option–building a stable base layer of data to which future users could add–would advantage the long-term, but be less interesting to current students. The second option was to focus on the socio-political context of the novel such as locations of the famous Phoenix Park Murders. The third option, which Sam recommended against, was to actually map the narrative of Ulysses.
Though his students ultimately picked the idea he recommended against, Sam believes that the decision to use the map to trace the narrative of Ulysses was ultimately the right decision. Mapping the novel forced a new type of engagement, and is unlike any scholarship currently available. To his knowledge, there are no other large-scale, detailed maps of Ulysses.
Reframing Ulysses in terms of its geography, Sam explains, can spatialize the temporal events of the novel. By using the mapping tool, even with the story’s forward-moving plot, readers were able to imagine Dublin all at once as if it were laid out before them, an aim Joyce avowed publicly. The map provided an entry point for students into the complicated character psychology of the novel. By seeing on the map which buildings and streets were influencing a character, students could better understand what might be pulling the thoughts of the character in specific directions. Perhaps seeing a tea house makes a character think of “the East,” or proximity of disparate ethnic communities makes a character meditate on immigration. Physical context clues offered by mapping the novel provide an often clearer and certainly richer engagement with the novel. Even moments where Joyce’s narrative seems to not make geographical sense (on one occasion, a character crosses a street in the opposite direction of the stated destination), interesting questions emerge. Did Joyce get it wrong? Was Joyce attempting to show how the character changes his mind, first moving in one direction and then another? Such geographical details are occluded from readers without intimate knowledge of the setting and provide new contexts for interpretation.
After incorporating around 80 events of the novel into the map, Sam asked his students to engage in an analysis of the project, offering suggestions for future use. One of the epistemological issues that emerged related to the choice of the word “event” for the points marked on the map. This decision was problematized when, for instance, characters thought of places (do you mark the character’s location or the thought-place location?) or perceived remote occurrences (mark the site of perception or of occurrence?). Some challenges were technical: The search tool might benefit from some tweaking and the number of metadata fields for each event was overly ambitious. Not all of the addresses are extant; this cross-temporal anomaly added layers of interpretation, as students looked for landmarks like Nelson’s Pillar, only to learn that it was destroyed by former IRA volunteers in 1966.
Opportunities remain to enhance the program by tracing routes, adding additional layers, and augmenting the program for growth. Students suggested attaching the map to a wiki and making it compatible with smartphones, selling an app to tourists on Bloomsday tours. We’re eager to see the project evolve in years to come, and curious about the archival challenges its growth might present!
For full coverage of this session, please click the video below (note a slight delay upon initial playback):