Monthly Archives: July 2013

Placing Literature Reaches Far and Wide

You know how when you go on vacation and you come back to an email box so full you are stunned that so many people love you enough to keep sending you stuff?  Well, that’s a little bit of how I feel after taking a little Placing Literature break.  After our website launched at the New Haven Festival of Arts and Ideas, the best kind of chaos has ensued!  In just over a month, Placing Literature has been featured on CNET, Media Bistro and Huffington Post.  We’ve been mentioned in The New Yorker (scroll down a little) and by New York Times columnist, Carl Zimmer.  Andrew was interviewed on Literature for the Halibut on 88.1 KDHX in St. Louis, Missouri.

The really amazing thing to me, as a geographer, is how far, wide and fast Placing Literature has spread.  The CNET article was reposted by several news outlets and translated into at least Dutch and Russian.  After the articles were translated, you could see more spots on the map in the Netherlands, Russia and other places in Europe.  About 4% of our page visits have come from the Netherlands.  4%!

So, in just over a month, we’ve had 12,200 visits and over 10,000 unique visitors.  Readers have mapped more than 530 places.  We have over 500 “likes” on Facebook.  Fans of particular books and series have mapped their favorite places.  A few authors have mapped places from their own books.  As more people read about our project, more people have contacted us.

One of my favorite recognitions is that The Great Lakes Commons has called Placing Literature one of their member artists.  The Community of Artists in the Great Lakes is raising awareness of the Great Lakes through artistic works – working to connect those who live in the basin to experience and love their Great Lakes.  This is a topic that will be explored more in future blog posts.

That’s the goal of Placing Literature, to use literature as a tool to identify the elements of and give people a way to describe the places they know and love.  Now people on the other side of the world will know about your favorite places when you add them to our (everyone’s) map.

Place vs. Setting

There’s a great message thread on Goodreads right now among some of its most active users about whether the site should add a feature similar to Placing Literature (

Most people are saying that they would appreciate being able to plot and track literary places, but a minority are saying that it wouldn’t be useful or that Goodreads should focus on its existing capabilities around setting. One example that a user brought up was that Placing Literature was too specific and too rooted in the present. The user thought that a generic place and time stamp would be more useful, such as 1870s London.

Reading the thread (I’m unable to post due to the board being invitation only), I can’t help but think that some Goodreaders are confusing place with setting. And that’s understandable. Readers are approaching place from a literary perspective, and scholars have always talked about setting in this way. But to geographers there is a difference between place and setting. Hopefully, I can help clarify what that difference is, and in doing so, talk about why place is so important.

 Katie has spent several postings on this blog talking about place and the goal of this project as it relates to place, so I’ll let her take over here:

 “We started this project because we wanted to be able to understand how place is created by authors. Place is many things.  For this project, we are interested in place because of the emotional connections people have to place – places they know and love.

“Our hope for this project was that we would help create a tool that could be used – as a pedagogy or as a data source – where people could look at their communities, either real or literary, and see a place that was living and breathing.  By stopping to identify the critical elements and describing a scene, the place would go from background to foreground and become a more visible element.”


-Why We Study Place, June 18, 2013

Setting, on the other hand, is a place in the context of a particular place in time. Piccadilly Circus is a place. 1870s London is a setting. The distinction is important because you can’t visit a setting. Only imagination can take you to Sherlock Holmes’s London. But anyone can walk around Piccadilly Circus, eating roasted chestnuts while people watching.

That is why Placing Literature is important. We want to connect readers to the places they are reading about in hopes of both enhancing the reading experience and creating community around those places.

I don’t know if Goodreads will add place to its long list of features. I hope it does, and when it’s ready, we’ll be happy to share our rich database of literary places that is being created, edited and accessed by the community.