Apr 242014

The Palimpsest project aims to put literature on the map. To do that, it has to find the places in text where places are named – the textual locations of spatial locations. So, in addressing the challenges, we’ve naturally been thinking about the relationships between places and names.

One particular issue we’ve discussed is how to describe a specific, rather special quality we’re looking for in literary books and chapters. For example, we want to find all and only the passages of text that are obviously about Edinburgh, and places within it. Effectively, we’re looking for texts that have a suitable density of spatial location names. For want of a better term, we’ve been calling this property “Edinburghiness”. But while this mouthful might work so long as we only want to apply our methods to the City of Edinburgh, it doesn’t generalise (to Dublin, or San Francisco, or wherever).

After some discussion, we’ve decided to go with the term “locospecific”, to denote the quality of a text which seems to be “about” a specific place, and so “locospecificity” is the property we aim to measure in candidate texts in the collections we’re analysing. In case you think this is a neologism, the term has actually been used before, with the meaning we want, by Peter Barry in his 2000 book “Contemporary British Poetry and the City”.

While on the subject of names, we’ve also been thinking about names for papers describing our project, and names for the app that we will release to let people explore literature on the map. So far, our favourite paper title is “Lat Long Lit Ling” – latitude and longitude for literary linguistics. And our favourite name for an app is “Biblioscope” – a device for seeing books in a new way. But maybe “LitLong” would link it back to the paper. Either way, we welcome alternative suggestions from all our readers. Because names do matter.

— Jon Oberlander