Lancaster University

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A virtual tour of the literary Lakes

08/05/2008 12:27:48

A host of golden daffodils may be the first image that springs to mind when thinking about the literature of the Lake District. But a team of researchers at Lancaster University has been using the latest in digital technology to shed new light on writing about the landscape of the Lakes.

Funded by the British Academy, academics in the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences have been exploring whether the use of digital maps, and Google Earth, may open up new ways of thinking about written accounts of travelling through Cumbria.

Visitors to their website can take a virtual tour of the Lakes following in the footsteps of two of English literature’s most famous writers: Thomas Gray, the author of ‘Elegy written in a country church-yard’, and the Romantic poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

In his celebrated Journal, Gray records his experiences of touring the Lake District in the autumn of 1769. In August 1802, Coleridge embarked on a nine-day walking tour of the region; and, in his Notebooks and letters, he offers what is generally acknowledged to be the first written account of a rock-climb, as he describes dropping down the face of Broad Stand on Scafell.

The project - led by Dr Ian Gregory (Senior Lecturer in Digital Humanities) and Dr David Cooper (postdoctoral researcher in the Department of English & Creative Writing) – has drawn upon used the latest in digital mapping techniques to chart the movement of these two celebrated writers through the landscape. The website also explores whether the creation of these maps can lead to new interpretations of two key texts within the history of Lake District writing.

Dr Cooper said: “Maps are central to the way in which we think about landscape and situate ourselves in the world. Many writers have drawn upon maps when writing about experiences of particular places and spaces; and, as readers, we are also often pulled towards maps, either in our imaginations or in the form of maps printed alongside texts. Our basic question was whether the development of exciting new digital technologies may facilitate new understandings of these famous accounts of moving through the Lake District.”

In addressing this question, the researchers have drawn upon Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology and have made use of the astonishing new maps provided by Google Earth.

Dr Cooper said: “We seem to be living in an age where maps are becoming increasingly sophisticated by the week; and, in turn, each new kind of map invites us to think about the experience of space in new, and sometimes surprising, ways. It seems to make perfect sense to begin using this technology to reflect upon the literature of the past.”

The Lancaster team hopes the launch of Mapping the Lakes site will lead to further projects exploring the complex relationships between writers, places, texts, maps and readers in the North West. In particular, they are keen to use GPS (Global Positioning Systems) technology to map out the routes that writers have taken through the region; and they believe that the use of hand-held devices will allow readers to enjoy a new connection between landscape and literature.