Thursday, August 27, 2015

Muriel Spark's real world Edinburgh
Muriel Spark's real world Edinburgh

Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has published "Living Literary Edinburgh", a blog post reviewing the LitLong app.

The interactive LitLong website and smartphone app draws upon 550 publications to map 1,600 place names across the city of Edinburgh, along with 47,000 literary extracts. Drawing mostly upon literary works, LitLong allows you to use your phone to browse writerly locations near you, or to follow in the footsteps of anyone from Daniel Defoe to Alexander McCall Smith, reading as you go.

Released in July, the app is the culmination of the 15-month Palimpsest project (subsequently renamed "LitLong"), an AHRC-funded EDINA project in collaboration with literary scholars, computer scientists specializing in text mining, and information visualisation scholars at the Universities of Edinburgh and St Andrews.

The AHRC blog post gives a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes at the methodology and motivation behind the project, using Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie as an example of mapping literary extracts to geolocations around Edinburgh. Chief Investigator James Loxley adds, "We also have Muriel Spark's autobiography, which is mainly about her early years. It is great to see those locations in relation to the spaces that she imagines in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Her own story is in the neighbourhood in which she lived, whereas the fiction moves across the city."

Developing and using the app also changed the way Research Fellow Tara Thompson sees Edinburgh: "The tendency of living in the city is to think of places as they are. But this offers so many different ways of thinking and different routes through the city that I never would have expected. There are places that move too, which is an interesting problem. You realise that something used to be somewhere else and imagine what places were like before buildings were ever there."

The project team hopes that the LitLong project will inspire new work about Edinburgh, and make people look at older works with fresh eyes.