June 26, 2013

Where real places meet fiction


Placing Literature, a shared mapping project, launched last week with 1,500 locations already pinned. An initiative of Reintegrate New Haven, which encourages collaboration between the arts and sciences, Placing Literature is “an effort to combine the art of literature and the science of geography, and create a database of places from scenes in literature—sourced and plotted by readers.”

It includes real and fictional places, ranging from Samuel L. Clemens’s favorite writing spaces to Infinite Jest‘s Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House. Users can annotate new places, or check into the ones that are already listed; the creators plan to add a photo-sharing feature soon.

The site was launched by Kathleen Colin Williams, a PhD student candidate in the Department of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and her brother-in-law Andrew Bardin Williams, an author and copywriter in New Haven, CT. Software engineer and former Google employee Steven Young took on the programming work.

“I use a lot of real-world locations in my novels. We decided there was this great intersection between geography and literature that hadn’t been explored before,” Andrew Bardin Williams said in an interview with C-NET.

Any site that relies this heavily on crowd-sourcing will end up with some inconsistencies, and many titles that have been noted on the map thus far don’t provide context in the “description” section yet. But this site opens up real possibilities for walking tours of authors we’ve discussed here before, such as Lorca and Virginia Woolf.

San Francisco, Boston, and Duluth seem to be the cities with the most notations so far. We’ll see what clusters will appear in other locations as the site grows, and whether dynamic relationships between texts will develop as these stories begin to cross paths.


Kirsten Reach was an editor at Melville House.