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[Detail] Bird's eye view of Anniston, Ala. 1888.

Literary Landscapes

Whether Mark Twain's colorful telling of life on the Mississippi River or Emily Dickinson's recounting of nature's wonders in Massachusetts, these authors have described the American landscape to evoke a strong sense of place. The online exhibition "Language of the Land: Journey into Literary America," contains literary maps that present pictures of the U.S. literary heritage. The emphasis of these maps is not on geographical detail and accuracy so much as on depicting the history of literature in the United States. For example, one literary map of the United States associates certain authors and titles with different states through the use of words and images. Use examples from this exhibit as well as panoramic maps to create your own literary maps.

Being a Literary Map of the United States Frederic Dornseif, Cartographer G.P. Putnam's Sons,1942

Being a Literary Map of the United States Frederic Dornseif, Cartographer G.P. Putnam's Sons,1942. "Language of the Land: Journey into Literary America."

Chattanooga, Tenn. as seen from Bragg Hill, Missionary Ridge. Copyrighted for J. C. Anderson, trustee.

Chattanooga, Tennessee, Seen from Bragg Hill, 1871.

Portrait of Bessie Smith

Portrait of Bessie Smith,1936, Born in Chattanooga, 1894. Van Vechten Collction

You may create maps that convey the literary history of a particular state, region, or city. Search Panoramic Maps, 1847-1929 for a map of your location. Print and trace the important part of the map and then overlay icons that convey the literary history of the area. Expand the exercise by representing the cultural history of a place, including its writers, musicians, visual artists, and their work. It may be easier to map the cultural history of a more focused location, such as a city. Search American Memory on the name of a city or state to find items that pertain to that location's literary or cultural history. You may choose to represent some of these items on your map.

On the way to Chattanooga I had telegraphed back to Nashville for a good supply of vegetables and small rations, which the troops had been so long deprived of. . . . The men were soon reclothed and also well fed, an abundance of ammunition was brought up, and a cheerfulness prevailed not before enjoyed in many weeks. Neither officers nor men looked upon themselves any longer as doomed. . . . I do not know what the effect was on the other side, but assume it must have been correspondingly depressing.

Chapter 40,
U.S. Grant, Personal Memoirs.

  • Try making a panoramic literary map of your home town or city. What would you note on your map? Where are local poetry readings and literary events held? Would you include movie theaters, local recording studios, dance clubs or cyber-cafes?