Category Archives: franco_moretti

mapping books

Gutenkarte is an effort to map books by MetaCarta. The website takes text from books in Project Gutenberg, searches them for the appearance of place names, and plots them on a map of the world using their own GeoParser API, creating an astonishing visualization of the world described in a text. Here, for example, is a map of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:


(Click on the picture to view the live map.) It’s not perfect yet: note that “china” is in the Ivory Coast, and “Asia” seems to be located just off the coast of Cameroon. But the map does give an immediate sense of the range of Gibbon’s book: in this case, the extent of the Roman world. The project is still in its infancy: eventually, users will be able to correct mistakes.

Gutenkarte suggests ways of looking at texts not dissimilar from that of Franco Moretti, who in last year’s Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History (discussed by The Valve here) discussed how making maps of places represented in literature could afford a new way of discussing texts. Here, for example, is a map he constructed of Parisian love affairs in the novel, demonstrating that lovers were usually separated by the Seine:

(from the “Maps” chapter, online here if you have university access to the New Left Review.) Moretti constructed his maps by hand, with the help of grad student labor; it will be interesting to see if Gutenkarte will make this sort of visualization accessible to all.