Engaging with Lit Long: Edinburgh

lit long screen shot‘Lit Long: Edinburgh’ is a database of literature set in Edinburgh and the complementary suite of visualisation tools that emerged from The Palimpsest: Literary Edinburgh project. The project was funded by the AHRC’s Digital Transformations in the Arts and Humanities – Big Data scheme, and was a collaborative effort between literature and informatics scholars at the University of Edinburgh, researchers in Human-Computer interaction at the University of St Andrews, and the team at EDINA. The ‘Lit Long: Edinburgh’ site and tools launched in 2015, and includes an interactive map through which to explore literary imaginings of various locations around the city, dedicated maps highlighting Edinburgh in the works of Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, a mobile application to guide users through the city’s literature in situ, and a database search interface.

Edinburgh has a well known literary history, which is visible to us every day through books, maps, monuments, walking tours, and the many sites that commemorate the lives of the city’s famous authors. Our research team wanted to expand our understanding of this history by digging into the literature itself, exploring how representations of the city have helped shape our imaginative view of Edinburgh, and how both well known and lesser known authors have themselves imagined Edinburgh over time.

Using machine-reading tools developed by our informatics team, we searched tens of thousands of books contained in the world’s largest digital databases of literature in English for mentions of Edinburgh and Edinburgh place names. Drawing on the results, we created a database of about 550 books published across three centuries that use Edinburgh as a setting. We have also included one original piece of short fiction – the winner of a writing competition we held, asking local authors to engage with Edinburgh’s literary history and re-imagine the city. Within the books in our database, there are over 47,000 mentions of Edinburgh locations, all of which we have placed on an interactive map of the city.

During the Cultural Engagement phase of the project (2016), we have undertaken a number of activities to encourage further public engagement with ‘Lit Long: Edinburgh’, including a Writers’ Workshop, a writing competition, several schools workshops, and an art competition. We have also been researching potential for further development of our desktop and mobile applications, and have been working together with the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust and a team of PhD students in Information Visualisation to explore potential for installing the Lit Long maps and tools at key locations throughout the city.

Where is Edinburgh Modernism?

Duncan Milne, Edinburgh Napier University

The Scottish Literary Renaissance was a movement among key writers in the early twentieth-century to at once revive a submerged Scottish tradition and to ‘make it new’ by inflecting it with the new techniques and awareness of European Modernism. It is perhaps surprising, then, that this movement was begun from a small town on the east coast of Scotland. The Modernist Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid valorised the homogenous, incorporated society of Montrose and other north-east towns like it, as much as he did the language in which they spoke. This favouring of a semi-rural, ‘peripheral’ Scotland as being somehow more authentic was a theme which would be repeated throughout the movement, in the writing of Edwin Muir, Lewis Spence and Violet Jacob.

In contrast, at the same period, there was a developing literature of industrial experience centred on the Clyde, as seen in the fiction of George Blake and the range of vernacular poetry which arose in the shipyards and factories of Glasgow. Here was a competing notion of Scottish modernity, focused on the experience of the urban labouring classes, a demographic hitherto absent from Scotland’s representations of itself.

brodie muralBut in this, where was the capital? The supposed cultural heart of the nation, a city which had been for a time the intellectual heart of Europe? Edinburgh is a conspicuous absence in Scottish Modernism. Aside from MacDiarmid’s estimation of the city as ‘a mad god’s dream’, the closest Edinburgh comes to appearing in the context of the Scottish modernist period is in Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Here we have a book which resurrects the Edinburgh of a past in which Edinburgh did not represent itself. In its description we can perhaps see why the capital had no voice in the Scottish renaissance: Brodie’s Edinburgh is contradictory, disunited, alien to itself and still more to the rest of Scotland. Edinburgh at the time of the Scottish Renaissance lay twelve miles to the east of Scotland, unassimilable into a broader narrative of Scottishness.

Photo credit: Angus Sutherland

Launch Event for Lit Long: Edinburgh

lit long launch leaflet image

We cordially invite you to join us on 30th March 2015 at the launch of Lit Long: Edinburgh, an interactive resource of Edinburgh literature emerging from the Palimpsest project.

Lit Long: Edinburgh features a range of maps and accessible visualisations, which enable users to interact with Edinburgh’s literature in a variety of ways, exploring the spatial relations of the literary city at particular times in its history, in the works of particular authors, or across different eras, genres and writers. Lit Long: Edinburgh makes a major contribution to our knowledge of the Edinburgh literary cityscape, with potential to shape the experience and understanding of critics and editors, residents and visitors, readers and writers.

The event will feature:

  • The unveiling and demo of Lit Long: Edinburgh interactive online resources and mobile application
  • Readings by and discussion with Edinburgh authors featured in Lit Long, including Doug Johnstone
  • Announcement of the Palimpsest writing competition winner
  • A casual wine reception, with an opportunity to play with the project resources, and chat with the Palimpsest team and featured authors

Date: 30th March 2015
Time: 6:30 – 9:30 pm
Location: 50 George Square, Project Room (rm 1.06), Edinburgh, EH8 9JX

Lit Long: Edinburgh is the visual, interactive component of Palimpsest, an AHRC-funded collaborative project between the University of Edinburgh’s School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures; the School of Informatics; the University of St Andrews’ SACHI research group; and EDINA. The team includes literary scholars, computer scientists specialising in textmining, and information visualisation scholars.

Download the leaflet here: Lit Long launch

Launch Event for Lit Long: Edinburgh

We cordially invite you to join us on 30th March 2015 at the launch of Lit Long: Edinburgh, an interactive resource of Edinburgh literature emerging from the Palimpsest project. Lit Long: Edinburgh features a range of maps and accessible visualisations, which enable users to interact with Edinburgh’s literature in a variety of ways, exploring the […]

Writing Edinburgh competition

edinburgh Writing Edinburgh

From the Old Town, with its dark, winding closes and looming gothic spires, watched over by the castle perched on craggy cliffs, to the New Town with its elegant rows of Georgian houses, public gardens and dramatic vistas out over the Forth, Edinburgh has inspired countless writers.

We invite you to respond to this rich literary history and/or to Edinburgh’s geography and urban development, taking as your starting point either a map or a text. The style and genre of the piece are up to you, but submissions should be prose fiction up to a maximum of 3000 words.

The contest will be judged by a team of literary critics and published authors, led by Edinburgh-based novelist Doug Johnstone. The results will be announced at public reception in March and shortlisted authors will be invited to read at the reception. There will be one winner, who will receive a cash prize of £250. The winning entry will be incorporated into Palimpsest’s literary history of Edinburgh through publication on our website.

Doug Johnstone is the author of six novels, most recently The Dead Beat which was published by Faber & Faber in May 2014.

Doug Johnstone is the author of six novels, most recently The Dead Beat which was published by Faber & Faber in May 2014. Photo credit: Chris Scott.

The competition deadline is midnight on Friday 30th January 2015.

The competition is open to anyone over 16 years of age.

Entry is free but all entries must be accompanied by a completed entry form.

You can download an entry form here: Palimpsest Writing Competition – Entry Form.




Full Terms and Conditions


  • Entries are restricted to one entry per person and all entries must be accompanied by an entry form including contact details. Submissions will be acknowledged within seven days.
  • All work submitted for consideration can be on any subject, and written in any style or form, but must be fiction and the entrant’s own original writing, and should not have appeared in print or appear on a website (including blogs and social networking sites) or have been broadcast, or be submitted for publication or consideration elsewhere,
  • Entries must clearly address the brief, responding to historical or contemporary mappings of Edinburgh and/or to the city’s geography.  A collection of historical maps digitised by the National Library of Scotland is available here.
  • All work must be typed or word processed, clearly legible and written in English. Presentation (e.g. font) is at the entrant’s discretion.
  • The maximum word count for each entry is 3000 words (titles, pager numbers and blank spaces/lines are not to be included in the word count) and entries longer than 3000 words will be automatically disqualified.
  • Entries received after the deadline (given in UK time) will not be considered.
  • Entries will be accepted only by post or online via the competition email.
  • Amendments cannot be made to entries after they have been submitted; stories cannot be amended, corrected or substituted.
  • The organisers reserve the right to disqualify any entry if it has reasonable grounds to believe that the entrant has breached any of these terms and conditions.


  • Judging will be fair and unbiased: judges will declare any potential conflict of interest e.g. family relationship with entrants. All entries will be assigned a number and made anonymous upon receipt. Judges will not have entrants’ names during the reading and judging processes. Names will be reattributed to entries only after the short list and winners have been decided.
  • The judges’ decision is final and no individual correspondence can be entered into.
  • Judges are unable to comment on individual entries
  • Short-listed entrants will be invited to attend a prize-giving event in mid-March 2015. The winners will be announced at this event. Short-listed entrants will be notified by email or telephone before the end of February 2015, and asked to confirm attendance at the event. In cases where short-listed entrants are unable to attend the event, an extract of their entry will be read and they will be asked to submit a short written statement to be read out at the ceremony should they win.


  • Selected pieces may be printed in publications and journals in relation to the Palimpsest project and may appear in electronic format on the project website, or in other electronic forms. For this reason, entrants are deemed to grant to Palimpsest a non-exclusive, worldwide licence over each entry. The copyright in each story submitted remains with the author and authors are free to submit stories for consideration elsewhere after the competition has concluded.