Maps, Bus Tours, Subject Headings

When I started on the Maps chapter of Moretti’s book, I immediately thought of my recent search for a literary map. I am a fan of Sara Paretsky’s series of V.I. Warshawski novels, which are hard-boiled detective fiction. There are 16 books (and two short stories) and they are rooted very strongly in Chicago. Throughout the series there are descriptions of not only the places V.I. goes, but also how she gets there—the route she drives, the trains she takes. Some of the places are fictional, but many are real.

As I was planning a recent trip to Chicago, I wanted to see a map of V.I.’s places overlaid on an actual map of Chicago. I did find one, although it only has 15 points on it, chosen seemingly at random from a handful of books. It was interesting, but not nearly as thorough as I wanted it to be.

Unlike Moretti’s diagram maps, I was originally looking for a cartographic map. On p. 56, Moretti says he did not want to “superimpose” his diagrams on geographic maps because “geometry ‘signifies’ more than geography.” I started thinking about what my (imagined) V.I. Chicago map would look like as a diagram, and what it might show.

Paretsky deals explicitly with issues of class, race and gender in the series. V.I. grew up in a tough working class neighborhood and then ‘escaped’ the neighborhood by going to the private University of Chicago on scholarship. She is an abortion-rights activist, and many of her cases revolve around white collar crime. She often investigates on behalf of out of work factory and construction workers, undocumented immigrants, and prisoners. How (if at all) would these issues reveal themselves on a geometric map?

In his maps, Moretti sees the way industrialization and state formation have changed the shape of literary idylls (p.64). Would a geometric map or diagram of V.I.’s locations show or mirror Chicago’s change from a manufacturing city to a financial services city? What would the geometry of each book look like, and what would the geometry of the entire series taken as a whole look like?

ETA: The publication dates are between 1982-2013. V.I. (& presumably Chicago) age in ‘real time’, so the landscape of 1982 Chicago in the series is different from the 2013 landscape.

Thinking of literary maps where imagined and real places coexist got me to thinking about eversion and bus tours. Sex and the City location tours take you to actual locations the fictional characters visited—Magnolia Bakery, ABC Carpet & Home. A similar Girls tour is being planned, and there are plenty of others–Twilight tour anyone? The way in which people meld fiction and reality in their own lives isn’t specific to the internet/cyberspace realm.

In Macroanalysis, Matthew Jockers says that Library of Congress subject headings (LCSH) are a rich source of data to be mined. I agree! He is referring to the bibliographic metadata assigned to titles as a way to explore literary history (p. 35), but the subject headings on their own are also a source of data for librarians. Subject headings as data to be studied is near and dear to my heart—I wrote my library school thesis on LCSH and gender bias.

The LCSH scheme is the largest general indexing vocabulary in English, and has become the most widely used controlled vocabulary for subject cataloging in the United States. LCSH aims to be objective and use neutral language, but has been criticized for displaying bias on a wide variety of topics. There is a rich history of examining subject headings and their ostensible objectivity, starting with Sanford Berman in 1971. Hope Olson (who is one of my big research crushes) argues that LCSH “enunciates the authority of the dominant patriarchal, Euro-settler culture” (2000, p. 54).

At the time of my thesis (2011—not that long ago!) I wasn’t aware of the availability of computational analysis tools. At the time I did a basic textual analysis of a fairly small set of headings. Had I known about computational tools, I might have chosen a different/larger/more diverse data set to start with. What, if any, different conclusions might I have drawn from a computational approach?

As always, more questions than answers!



Olson, H. A. (2000). Difference, culture and change: The untapped potential of LCSH. Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, 29(1), 53-71.

10 thoughts on “Maps, Bus Tours, Subject Headings

  1. Mary Catherine Kinniburgh


    I loved reading about your mix of topics–from subject heads as metadata to the benefits and limits of geographic literary approaches.

    I found myself drawn to the latter topic (as much as I love metadata!) because of your observation on the literary map you discovered–you mentioned that you found it “interesting, but not nearly as thorough” as you had been hoping. By citing the implications of “race, class, and gender” that permeate geographic spaces in the V.I. Warshawski novels, I think you rightly demonstrate how traditional cartographic approaches seem inadequate in representing the various attributes that influence our experience and perception of place. I also feel that it isn’t just enough to place a point on a map–we must attempt to explain why its location matters and what that signifies in order to represent its complexity.

    While Moretti’s solution is diagrams–to the above question of depicting novels in a way that acknowledges their inherent spatiality, while not confining these attributes to geographic grids by means of overlay or GIS mapping–this also seems to raise difficulties in representation. After all, aren’t the specific locations in the V.I. Warshawski novels important in their geographic context? Chicago is of course an idea–we haven’t all been there, but can usually imagine what “Chicago” might mean–but it is also a place that exists in space and time, and this material knowledge is essential to understanding “Chicago” the idea.

    Yet this raises yet another question: in literature, are we required to treat all depictions of space as fictional and imaginative, or can we acknowledge their potential historical or material presences? And yet another: is this a form of analogue eversion, too–blending real and textual worlds? The answers to these questions (chime in, colleagues! I’m still deciding!) are important, since they determine the very subjects that we can “map” geographically as opposed to “diagram” conceptually, and to privilege one form over the other may elide or ghost essential data and create an incomplete depiction.

    Another way to frame this question is to consider what attributes can be rendered visible or invisible in various mapping and representational techniques–and Sarah, maybe your topics of metadata and geographic mapping are not too different! Perhaps it’s not about privileging geographic mapping or diagrammatic approaches, but rather ensuring that both systems contain greater degrees of granularity in their data–thus, more metadata.

    It seems that the next step in mapping, particularly of the literary sort, we need to discover ways of depicting “deep” geography (I am sure someone has articulately used that term before, and I don’t think I invented it but cannot find it cited elsewhere–let me know if you can help with a citation here!). That is, what are the components–affective, spatial, cultural (sorry, anthropologists), imaginative, and otherwise–at play in specific geographic locations? Can we map the point geographically (or diagrammatically), but also include metadata on its various other attributes?

    No answers yet, but as ever, looking forward to discussion.

  2. Sarah Cohn Post author

    (apologies if it double posts)

    Mary Catherine–

    Have you looked at Hypercities? They use the term ‘thick mapping’. While not a literary map, they make use of many of the components you list. “A HyperCity is a real city overlaid with a rich array of geo-temporal information, ranging from urban cartographies and media representations to family genealogies and the stories of the people and diverse communities who live and lived there.” ( Many different kinds of data/metadata/information is available through the map itself.

    What you call ‘analogue eversion’ is what I was getting at with my thought about tours of fictional places—‘blending real and textual worlds’ is more eloquently put! In the class discussion with Steven Jones, Disneyland was mentioned in a similar way, a mix of real and fantasy. Certainly in literature we are not required to treat depictions of space as fictional—historic fiction as a genre is based on our interest in having a fictional story unfold in an actual place & time, or with people with whom we might be familiar with from another context.

  3. Jojo Karlin (she/her/hers)

    I really enjoyed your post. A map-lover raised with an antiquated National Geographic map of the world on the stairs to my bedroom (pre dissolution of the USSR), I wonder how thick-mapping will get me from one point to another? How do we balance the data-enrichment with function. Trusting maps blindly may mislead us, but what ambient information gives us the clearest pathways?
    As Facebook always seems to be a step ahead of me (or ten steps back at the most appropriate times), I just came across this Jan 2012 article about the winner of the best map of America (for that year)
    (This year’s winner was Cougar Comeback
    Curious what you think.
    I also appreciated your use of eversion for the purposes of television turning inside-out. I attempted the Bloomsday walk about in 2004; even had I cared more about getting to the “right” places in the course of the day, who is to say what/where those are?
    Looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow,

  4. Sarah Cohn Post author


    Your comment ‘I wonder how thick-mapping will get me from one point to another? ‘ made me immediately think of the scene in Minority Report (the movie) where John Anderton walks through the mall and the retinal scanners identify him and show ads targeted toward him. I can imagine a similar, although perhaps less sinister, situation where we walk through a space and as we move, layers of information would come up for us to read or view. Like a real-time museum display as you walk through life. I suppose in some sense we already have this, via phones with access to a map and the internet. See an interesting building, stop and google the address, read about its history. It requires more action on your part, to take the time to look up the information, but the capability is there.

  5. sydnee wagner

    Great blog post, Sarah! I’ve often searched for different literary tours for various trips where I know i’m going to be in a location where some of my favorite books are set, but generally only find the maps/tours allocated to the more obsessive randoms (like Joyceans and Dickens fans).

    Your point about deep geography reminded me of my art historian friend’s current research on emotional geography (which is kind of a slightly tentative field I don’t know too much about but wish I did) and 18th century mapping of Molly houses. I definitely would like to see more exploration on what you termed “deep” geography (And unfortunately I can’t help you with a citation but it seems like a cool idea if I’m completely understanding it correctly) and ways to tangibly/digitally map it.


    Really interesting exchange of ideas here. As someone who is starting to get into the postcolonial digital humanities (, I’m intrigued by Sarah’s point of demonstrating class, race and gender and their intersections on a geometric map. Particularly, how are we able to do this while operating under the notion that these identities are not fixed like a coordinate on a map?

    Using data in this way to pretty new to me, so I have to step back and ask some questions. What is DH doing to protect itself from using data to see what it wants to see? How do we address data integrity or manipulation? I may be completely off base here, but it appears to me that the heavy focus (dare I say, fetishization) on data and methods can also put application of critical theories in the backseat.

    Sarah, your Minority Report example made me think of the Burberry Regent Street store, which attempts to bring the digital shopping experience to its physical store. They have RFID chips in their clothes, so when you are in front of a mirror, the mirror will change into a screen and show you more product info. ( Their marketing campaign is one big eversion.

  7. (Martha) Joy Rose

    Great responses from so many people.
    Yes, applying Moretti’s ideas to a number of practical ways we see, map, and interpret the world is exactly what I got from the reading. So, I loved your “Sex in the City” tours reference!

  8. Kelly Blanchat

    So this thread is quite active about maps, and I want to take a moment to discuss SUBJECT HEADINGS!! I really think you’d be interested in this book that’s coming out from Library Juice Press that touches on the gender/social bias you referenced in regards to LCSH: The Queer Joy of Cataloging ( From my understanding, it came about from much of the same instances you cited, along with those discussed within The Joy of Cataloging, and the recent updates from RDA (& how it defines various people or groups).
    I’m also of the set that believes subject headings are only really useful for super-researchers & librarians (this is hard to admit because I’m a cataloguer at heart), but 100% searchable full-text has its issues, too (i.e.: Google Books! I’m surprised how easily it’s referenced in our readings, when it seems so controversial, and often only provides a percentage of content).


  9. Sarah Cohn Post author


    Cataloging was my first library love (and one of the few things I miss from my time as a solo librarian) so I’ll definitely put that book on my list. I actually have 2 Library Juice Press books on my desk right now. I tend to like their world-view.

    I disagree that subject headings are only for librarians and super-researchers. I teach undergraduate first year students about the many wonders and uses of controlled vocabularies (without the jargon) and find they take to the concept and practices pretty well. Segueing smoothly into this week’s readings, I thought there was a noticeable exclusion of libraries as partners in DH pedagogy & information literacies. I quite liked the Clement ‘Multiliteracies’ piece and thought there were a lot of applicable concepts for library instruction. The Mahony & Pierazzo ‘Teaching Skills’ piece also mirrored my own thoughts and observations about student research skills & digital literacies, particularly the last paragraph of pg 217 that starts “Students who have grown up not knowing life without the web…” I’m constantly explaining the difference between sources that are online (like library databases, catalogs etc) and sources that are on the open web.

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