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, weâ€™ve naturally been thinking about the relationships between places and names.
One particular issue weâ€™ve discussed is how to describe a specific, rather special quality weâ€™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, weâ€™re looking for texts that have a suitable density of spatial location names. For want of a better term, weâ€™ve been calling this property â€œEdinburghinessâ€�. But while this mouthful might work so long as we only want to apply our methods to the City of Edinburgh, it doesnâ€™t generalise (to Dublin, or San Francisco, or wherever).
After some discussion, weâ€™ve decided to go with the term â€œlocospecificâ€�, to denote the quality of a text which seems to be â€œaboutâ€� a specific place, and so â€œlocospecificityâ€� is the property we aim to measure in candidate texts in the collections weâ€™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 â€œContemporary British Poetry and the Cityâ€�.
While on the subject of names, weâ€™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 â€œLat Long Lit Lingâ€� – latitude and longitude for literary linguistics. And our favourite name for an app is â€œBiblioscopeâ€� – a device for seeing books in a new way. But maybe â€œLitLongâ€� would link it back to the paper. Either way, we welcome alternative suggestions from all our readers. Because names do matter.
– Jon Oberlander