The area told as a story

An inquiry into the relationship between verbal and map-based expressions of geographical information

PhD project 2009–2012

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Øyvind Eide, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London

Funded by The Norwegian Research Council: Project webpage.

Supervisor: Professor Willard McCarty.

The thesis was submitted on August 30, 2012, with viva December 14, 2012. The degree was officially awarded in February 2013. Link to online version of the thesis (open).

Project abstract

In modern European societies, maps are seen as the natural way to communicate about geography. This is different in other historical periods. In the project description I show some examples of historical periods in which maps are not used very much, although they are known. In my opinion, this lack of use is not based on a lack of cartographic tools or knowledge only. I think there are other reasons why people choose to use verbal texts to communicate about geography, reasons that may be difficult to see for people living in a modern map based society. In the proposed PhD project, I will look for such reasons by trying to find examples of verbal texts being superior to maps.

The source material for the project will be a document from the 18th century: Major Schnitler's border examination protocols. The digitally available, TEI encoded textual version of this material will be used as the source for a database. This database will represent a model of the geographical information I read from the text.

This model will be a version of the geographical information in the source text, expressed in a formal language. The model will also store contradictory facts if and when they exist. Possible contradiction can be found using rules of calculation that will be developed on top of the model. The model will be used to investigate my hypothesis by trying to express the information in the model as maps.

Based on the results of this research, I will discuss the possible existence of geographical structures and features found in the model that can not be expressed on maps without significant loss of meaning. This way, I hope to gain new knowledge about how people express themselves in verbal texts about geography, as opposed to map based expressions. In the longer term, I hope this will help us understanding more about the reasons why some cultures are very map oriented, whereas others know about maps, but only use them in very limited areas.


Book chapters


Tool development

GeoModelText is a tool that will assist an operator in adding detailed geographical information to XML-TEI files, and export the model created in XML. For the time being, it is developed for my own needs in this project only, but that may change in the future. GeoModelText has its own site on Sourceforge.

Research visits

In the media

Last updated 2015-02-03
Øyvind Eide