Technology

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The Mapping St Petersburg pilot is not only an investigation into the possibilities of mapping a text; it is also intended to research the technologies available for literary cartography. There are many different ways of deploying maps; an abundance of approaches, programs, mapping libraries and geo data. Choice is circumscribed by the qualities of these projects, such as stability of the code and calibre of the documentation, as well as the resources and expertise we have at our disposal.

But beyond technical bounds, of resources and expertise available, our choices were deeply affected by humanistic considerations. What technology is suitable to this kind of project, to our source material and theoretical approach alike, and what criteria are there for judging it? How can we abstract from literature and make the results humanly readable?

For this pilot, we used Google Maps. Since its appearance, it has sparked a veritable revolution in digital cartography, for its technological prowess and – even more importantly – its ease of use. The main drawback is that it is not possible to edit the actual map, only overlay data on top of it. This leads to the anachronistic presence of Metro stations on a map detailing a novel from the 1860s. However, instead of using Google’s own API – application programming interface, means by which one communicates with the maps – we used Mapstraction, which provides a single API for a whole range of online mapping services. This mean we can easily change the map provider, to Yahoo or Bing for example, but more importantly, we have the option of using Open Street Map. OSM is the ‘crowdsourced’ internet map, that being free and open source allows one to change the look and content of the map tiles. This is not possible with commercial providers; we envisage using OSM in the next stage of development.

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