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A DH Double Whammy- Part 2

4 Feb

The promised follow-up! Rejoice!

When considering Janelle Jenstad’s ambitious and ongoing online project, The Map of Early Modern London, it is tempting to get carried away by the novelty. To re-create a certain place of a certain time, to play time-traveler as it were, has an inevitably romantic flavor, and that flavor can be all the more potent when the time and place in question is the culturally and historically rich landscape of Early Modern London.

Have a look.

The Map of Early Modern London

One should not succumb to the novelty though, as Jenstad’s work serves a very practical scholarly purpose. As she outlines in her essay “Using Early Modern Maps in Literary Studies” gaining a thorough understanding of the landscape of early modern London can enable a student to better comprehend references to location, and the dramatic significance of location, in contemporaneous literary texts. When a comic character in an Elizabethan drama, for example, describes a series of unconnected city landmarks as if they were adjacent to one another to a foreigner as part of a practical joke, an uniformed reader may not understand what, if anything, is supposed to be funny. A handy map clarifies everything. In a more abstract sense, such a tool encourages students to embrace a unique sort of intertextuality- a consideration of the relationship between complex literary texts and more ‘practical’, utilitarian texts like maps. For make no mistake, Jenstad conceptualize the map, correctly I think, as a kind of text. She writes,

“The map has served well as the platform for a library and digital encyclopedia of London, but it is also a text in its own right. To a scholar trained to read for fissures, inconsitencies, representational strategies, agendas, and imbrication of early modern literature in culture, the Agas map [A map of London produced in the 1560’s that served as the baseline for Jenstad’s online map] demands analysis and interpretation. Early maps are what Jess Edwards has called ‘a noisily rhetorical art,’ with multiple signifying strategies that serve various ideological functions.”

The textuality of maps is not something I was inclined to consider before I read about Jenstad’s project. Thinking of maps as texts has caused me to reconsider the underlying assumptions I have been making about textuality itself. I was, and still somewhat am, tempted to think of texts principally in terms of language, and I think of language as a form of representation. I understand maps as a form of representation as well, but I think the lack of an overt linguistic element made me place them in a somewhat separate category as that of literary texts. To perceive them in a more literary fashion and to draw connections to literary texts is, for me, to focus attention on the role played by physical space in both formats, since setting is the most obvious feature a map and a story share in common. The rhetorical strategies that govern space would obviously manifest themselves in notably different ways in the hands of a dramatist and in the hands of a cartographer. Comparing how the two parties manage space, and manage their environment for themselves and their ‘readers,’ is a potentially fruitful route of inquiry that I had not previously considered.