Looking out at seascapes and hill ranges, a castle perched on a rocky outcrop leads down through labyrinthine closes and wynds to orderly Georgian squares and gardens. Wandering in this city, suddenly you may find yourself on a street that tunnels under another street above, while buildings pass upward across the horizontal levels of the city. Such disorientating alternations of heights and depths, Coleridge on first viewing described as ‘a section of a wasp’s nest’, and as like ‘a city looked at in the polish’d back of a Brobdignag Spoon, held lengthways – so enormously stretched-up are the Houses!’ Edinburgh’s distinctive cityscape has formed over the centuries a literary panorama of equally complex and intricate layers.
What’s in a name? Waverley, the Canongate, the long-gone Tolbooth and Luckenbooths, the New Town: each place name is a portal that calls forth layers of accumulated meaning, as every further reference draws on and diverges from its established coordinates in the fictional and historical works of our literary panorama. Our project is developing methods and resources in order to geo-reference place names in literary works, such as streets or buildings, local areas, or vernacular terms (e.g. “Auld Toon”). We will then examine the contexts and associations around these place names. We will provide an interactive website that will enable other people to explore the dimensions of literary Edinburgh through geo-located extracts of literary works dating from the early modern period to the twentieth century, either while traversing the city streets or from afar via a virtual representation of the city.
Palimpsest is an AHRC-funded project, which involves a collaboration between literary scholars, computer scientists working on text mining, and information visualisation scholars. Our name for the project, Palimpsest, evokes the multi-layered poetic, remembered and imagined city that we aim to reveal. There will also be a number of guest blogs and events along the way that will call on the creative impulses of today’s inhabitants or visitors of the city, with writing and storytelling competitions on ‘The Burgh’. To follow our story of discovering the city’s literary panorama, you need only find your way back here and watch as it materializes before you.
– Miranda Anderson and James Loxley
Edenburck in Schottl map (1631) © National Library of Scotland (http://maps.nls.uk)