The aim of this part of the project is to use the spatial techniques we are developing to make a major applied contribution to knowledge using qualitative sources. The English Lake District is a relatively small area of north-west England with a rich literary history of which William Wordsworth and the Lake Poets are the best known exponents. In 2007-8 along with Dr Sally Bushell (English & Creative Writing) part of the team obtained a small grant to investigate whether the use of GIS could offer new contributions to our understanding of writings on the Lake District. This work explored two early accounts of tours around the Lakes, by Thomas Gray and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (see the Mapping the Lakes website). From this experience we will combine the lessons learned from the pilot project and the new techniques developed, as well as a much larger corpus of writings. We will conduct a study of how representations of the Lakes changed from the late seventeenth century, through the Picturesque and Romantic periods, to the age of mass tourism in the second half of the nineteenth century, and then explore how these writings relate to the way that the Lake District is viewed today. The intellectual issues for this lie in two areas: the first is the extent to which was can use text-based GIS material to implement a ‘distant reading’ approach whereby we want to understand a corpus that is too large to be read in its entirety. The second is to understand what GIS has to offer to our understanding of Lake District writing. We have the following research questions:
- How have the different writers responded to different parts of the Lake District? Which areas have they given the most attention to and which have they ignored? Which areas have they had the most positive emotional response to and which have they been negative about?
- Has there been a clear development over time? Do different genres respond to different places differently? For example, are poets interested in different places to guidebook writers, or do some writers seem to follow the patterns of the early Picturesque writers while others have moved away from this?
- How does the way that people photograph the Lake District today as represented by the images on the website Flickr, relate to the literature of the past?
Doing this requires us to enhance our existing digital collection of early literature, poetry and guidebooks for the Lake District by digitising and geo-referencing additional material. We will apply then the textual analytic techniques we are currently developing to these to explore the writers’ emotional responses to the landscapes they are describing and the themes that they discuss in relation to different places. We will then compare the spatial patterns for different writers from different genres and different times. We will also add modern photographs from Flickr that are geo-tagged to locations in the Lake District. These can be compared with the literary representations from the past to ask the extent to which modern visitors, as represented on Flickr, visit and respond to places in the same ways as earlier writers and to explore the extent to which the places they visit seem to reflect the patterns of the different writers and genres.