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Google Mapping Travel Narratives: Lolita

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Students use Google mapping software to track the characters' journey jo
Image Credit: 

Screen shot of narrative Google map

Brief Assignment Overview: 

This assignment asks students to engage in an uncommon form of literary analysis, where the goal is to determine the significance of location and travel in the novel. The entire class collaborates in creating a Google map of all of the places that Humbert Humbert travels to in Lolita.

Type of Assignment: 
Assignment Length: 
Pedagogical Goals - Writing: 
Pedagogical Goals - Digital Literacy: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 

The goal is to offer students a new way to consider the process and products of literary analysis. This assignment also encourages students to consider a novel both visually and spatially, and to determine the usefulness of gaining such a perspective on the novel. In addition, it introduces them to a new technology (surprisingly, most are unaware that you can create your own maps using Google). In addition, it’s meant to be a collaborative experience that illustrated the importance of organization, as what can be accomplished by a group.

Required Materials: 

A Google account (this allows students to create, edit, and share their own personal maps. Without this account students will not be able to edit the map). A course wiki, or some other online location for organizing who maps which parts of the novel, questions or problems that come up during the mapping process, and so on.

Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

In one sense, I see this assignment as an alternative form of formal analysis. It is basically asking students to take a very close look at the movements and locations of the novel and visually represent them in a map. In this sense, it broadens the concept of literary analysis for students and will give them at least one example of how digital media can be used for literary analysis. They gain technological skills simply through having to use Google Maps, and they gain collaborative skills as we determine as a class how to organize the creation of the map and make decisions about the map’s content.

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

Prep: In Google maps, create a map entitled “Nabokov’s Lolita.” Put in place markers and descriptions of the first few places mentioned in the novel to give the students an idea of what the map will look like in the end.

On your course wiki or website, create a table to organize the map. Add columns to the table with the following titles: Place, Page Number, Found by, Added to Map by, Problems. This allows you to keep track to who found what, who added what to the map, and gives the students a place to note any problems that they run into. The students need to be able to edit this table themselves. Here’s a link to the table I created on my course wiki.

In-class: Have the students create Google accounts. Have them send you an email from that account. Using that email, invite them as collaborators to the map.

Explain the basics of mapping a novel (I showed students maps of The Devil’s Highway and Ulysses, and there are many more on the Google Lit Trips website.

Show them the Lolita map that you have created and explain that they will receive and invitation to the map that will allow them to edit it.

Show the students the basics of how to create and edit a map. Have them create a map of their own, add a few places, edit them, etc. You want them to get a feel for the Google maps interface.

Show them the table you’ve created to organize the map creation. Tell them to add locations to the table as they read the novel.

I didn’t have students begin adding locations to the map until we had finished the novel. At that point we had a long list of places. In class we had a discussion of how we wanted to deal with places that didn’t exist, places where the chronology of HH and Lolita’s travels becomes unclear in the novel, etc. We created a key for the map and there were some issues of representation that we decided to deal with after the map had begun to take form. At this point I also reminded them of the “Problems” column in our organizational table on the wiki and that if they ran into any problems with the map, they should note them there.

I visited the map in class every day to encourage them to keep adding and set a soft deadline for adding locations. I also monitored the “Problems” column on the organizational table and dealt with problems in class as they arose. When the map seemed to be completed, I checked through it and brought up any concerns that I had in class.

Once the map has been completed, it deserves a day’s discussion in terms of how it relates to reading the novel. The students will not automatically see the usefulness of the map.

Instructions For Students: 

Lolita  Mapping Project

In some respects Lolita is a travel novel. Many of the locations mentioned in the novel are real. Because of this, the text lends itself to mapping.  

Mapping a piece of Literature is a new method of literary analysis. It has gained popularity with the advent of tools like google maps that allow anyone to create map.

Although not every place mentioned in Lolita is mappable, we will do our best to create what a geographic model of Nabokov's masterpiece.  The purpose here is to consider the novel from a completely different perspecive and to see if the map reveals anything of interest to us about the novel.  The may also serve as a reading aid or guide to those of you who later choose to write your essay on Lolita

Map Key

  • Exists - Icon with Dot
  • Doesn't Exist - Icon without Dot
  • With Lolita - Pink Lines & Icons
  • Without Lolita - Blue Lines & Icons

Content of the placemarkers:

  • Page number and chapter
  • Basic description of the significance of the location
Evaluation Suggestions: 

I use the learning record, so the map was not graded. They will be graded on what they took from the experience of mapping the novel. That learning could be related to using this mapping tool, collaboration, literary analysis, completing a complex project, and so on. I do not expect all of them to come to significant realizations about the novel from this project.

Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

I think the students were initially surprisingly enthusiastic about it. I didn’t make this a mandatory assignment, but they created the list of places and the map itself with little encouragement from me. At this point they seem to be a bit confused about the purpose of what they’ve created. I anticipated that reaction, so in the next week we’ll be taking some time in class to look carefully at the map to consider what implications it has for our reading of Lolita.

Additional Resources: 

Here is a list of sources that discuss mapping as a literary analysis technique. They helped me to consider what the purpose of such an assignment was and how it related to my larger course objectives.

Gordon, Eric. “MAPPING DIGITAL NETWORKS From cyberspace to Google.” Information, Communication & Society 10.6 (2007): 885-901. Web.

Moretti, Franco. Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History. London: Verso, 2005. Print.

Ramsay, Stephen. “Special Section: Reconceiving Text Analysis: Toward an Algorithmic Criticism.” Lit Linguist Computing 18.2 (2003): 167-174. Web.

Samuels, Lisa., and Jerome J. McGann. “Deformance and Interpretation.” New Literary History 30.1 (1999): 25-56. Print.

Tullock, David L. “Many, many maps: Empowerment and online participatory mapping.” First Monday 12.2 (2007): n. pag. Print.

Course Description: 

This assignment was used in an introductory literature course, E314K Banned Books

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