1: The Spatial Turn
In a recent book, The Spatial Turn, Barney Warf and Santa Arias argue that new spatial thinking related to globalization has changed the lens through which we view space. “[G]eographical imaginations have become commonplace topics in a variety of analytical fields,” they write. New ways of thinking are following broader trends in the “economy, politics, and culture of the contemporary world.” (i, 3)
Space matters, they argue, “not for the trivial and self-evident reason that everything occurs in space, but because where events unfold is integral to how they take shape… Space is not simply a passive reflection of social and cultural trends, but an active participant, i.e., geography is constitutive as well as representative.” (10)
In recent years, spatial analysis has taken root in several closely connected areas of the humanities. A growing number of literary scholars have advocated using spatial analysis “alongside traditional methods of close reading,” according to Barbara Hui, who has created a browser-based application, Litmap, for mapping literature. Hui argues that spatial reading of texts is “crucial to understanding contemporary literature and textuality at large today” and allows a new way “to critically examine narratives in terms of their geospatiality.”
Hui follows scholars like Franco Moretti, who has long emphasized “spatial reading” of literature. His 1998 study, Atlas of the European Novel, 1800-1900 offered spatial analysis on several levels. Moretti’s maps of the actual content of various works of literature (by Dickens, Balzac, Austen, and others) showed spatial representations of 19th century social phenomena in fiction. Moretti also mapped metadata, showing the geography of the actual distribution of books in order to understand the emergence of markets for novels. Moretti’s more recent Graphs, Maps, Trees (2007) makes a broader case for “distant reading” and spatial thinking. While Moretti’s early work was presented on paper in published books, he now directs (alongside Matthew Jockers) the Stanford Literary Lab, which uses a variety of digital tools to analyze texts.
Many historians have also taken what some have called the “spatial turn.” HyperCities, a collaboration between UCLA and USC, allows users the opportunity to view historical maps that have been georectified or stretched to fit current maps. The program runs on Google Maps and Google Earth and allows users to see historical representations of a particular space (from maps, to media representations, to written sources, to 3D reconstructions). Content is currently being developed for Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Rome, Lima, Ollantaytambo, Berlin, Tel Aviv, Tehran, Saigon, Toyko, Shanghai, Seoul, with the hope of expanding to other cities.