Engaging with Lit Long: Edinburgh

lit long screen shot‘Lit Long: Edinburgh’ is a database of literature set in Edinburgh and the complementary suite of visualisation tools that emerged from The Palimpsest: Literary Edinburgh project. The project was funded by the AHRC’s Digital Transformations in the Arts and Humanities – Big Data scheme, and was a collaborative effort between literature and informatics scholars at the University of Edinburgh, researchers in Human-Computer interaction at the University of St Andrews, and the team at EDINA. The ‘Lit Long: Edinburgh’ site and tools launched in 2015, and includes an interactive map through which to explore literary imaginings of various locations around the city, dedicated maps highlighting Edinburgh in the works of Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, a mobile application to guide users through the city’s literature in situ, and a database search interface.

Edinburgh has a well known literary history, which is visible to us every day through books, maps, monuments, walking tours, and the many sites that commemorate the lives of the city’s famous authors. Our research team wanted to expand our understanding of this history by digging into the literature itself, exploring how representations of the city have helped shape our imaginative view of Edinburgh, and how both well known and lesser known authors have themselves imagined Edinburgh over time.

Using machine-reading tools developed by our informatics team, we searched tens of thousands of books contained in the world’s largest digital databases of literature in English for mentions of Edinburgh and Edinburgh place names. Drawing on the results, we created a database of about 550 books published across three centuries that use Edinburgh as a setting. We have also included one original piece of short fiction – the winner of a writing competition we held, asking local authors to engage with Edinburgh’s literary history and re-imagine the city. Within the books in our database, there are over 47,000 mentions of Edinburgh locations, all of which we have placed on an interactive map of the city.

During the Cultural Engagement phase of the project (2016), we have undertaken a number of activities to encourage further public engagement with ‘Lit Long: Edinburgh’, including a Writers’ Workshop, a writing competition, several schools workshops, and an art competition. We have also been researching potential for further development of our desktop and mobile applications, and have been working together with the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust and a team of PhD students in Information Visualisation to explore potential for installing the Lit Long maps and tools at key locations throughout the city.

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