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Using Literary Maps in the Classroom

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The following is a post by Kathleen McGuigan of the Library of Congress. It originally appeared on the Teaching with the Library of Congress blog

Have you ever considered using a literary map with your students? In the May/June 2018 issue of Social Education, the journal of the National Council for the Social Studies, our “Sources and Strategies” article features literary maps for the humanities classroom.

Literary Map of Texas, 1955

In the fall of 1955, the Texas and Local History Department of the Dallas Public Library published a literary map of Texas. From “Mother Goose on the Rio Grande” in the south to “The Great Roundup” in the north, the map highlights the variety of works about Texas. Scattered within the outline of the state are approximately 200 titles, authors’ names, and publishers, offering a 1955 view of the literary state of Texas.

What exactly is a literary map? A literary map is a map that acknowledges the contributions of authors to a specific state or region as well as those that depict the geographical locations in works of fiction. Literary maps can feature real places connected with an individual author, literary character or book, or they may show fictional landscapes.

As with all maps, literary maps should be analyzed in relation to their context. Important questions for students to consider are:

  • Who made the map?
  • What was the motive of the maker(s) of the map?
  • Who is the audience for this map?
  • What criteria do you think the map maker used in selecting these works?
  • How many titles or authors named are you familiar with? How many require more investigation?

Once students have gained a regional sense of literature, consider taking a look at a national literary map. Further students’ analysis of literature by examining any of the maps in the introduction section of the Library’s Language of the Land exhibition.

As a culminating activity, students can prepare their own present-day literary map (state or national) using online mapping platforms like Carto, Esri’s geographical information system (GIS), or the tools they use to map their everyday routes. Finding datasets for the mapping activity can become part of the research process. Students could contact their State Center for the Book to determine if there is a working list of authors provided online, or research authors using print or online reference sources.

More and more literary maps are being produced in electronic form, with users able to click on an icon representing a region, author or book and call up a detailed map, photographs, biographical information, bibliographies, and other information. Over the summer of 2018, the Library of Congress is embarking on a pilot project to visualize the fictional records of the Library of Congress catalog. We will be working with a small sample of State Centers for the Book to test the process. Whatever form literary maps may take in the future, they will still have the power that literature has on us – to entertain, inform, and gain a sense of the world around us.

Please share your thoughts about using literary maps with your students.