By Kenton Rambsy
While African American migration remains a significant subject in literary and historical scholarship, geography itself has not been a major feature of literary analysis—especially in black short fiction. Yet geographical references have been integral to the production of narratives by black writers. In the graduate seminar I’m teaching on Edward P. Jones, I rely on cultural geo-tagging, an approach I develop to identify and explore issues related place and space in African American short stories.
Cultural geo-tagging refers to documenting and analyzing geographic characteristics related to short fiction. This process accounts for words used to describe physical environments in short fiction. By documenting the amount and variety of geographical references, including regional settings, landmarks, street names, neighborhoods, and regional dialects, we begin to understand how black writers mark and plot cultural spaces.
Digital tools—especially text mining software and data management systems—facilitate the production of visual projections. Creating data visualizations of this type of information gives us a useful view of writers presenting characters in distinct contexts.
Black writers enact cultural map-making by mentioning physical environments, streets, and locales. The identification and categorization of those places correspond to our contemporary age of GIS. Taking account of the many instances of writers marking and referencing locations throughout their works illuminates the centrality of geography in African American artistic compositions.
• Lost in the City: A graduate-level literature course on Edward P. Jones