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The geography of Irish-American lit

Posted by Christopher Shea  July 30, 2008 01:07 PM

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Matthew L. Jockers, a "digital humanities" expert at Stanford and a specialist in Irish-American literature, argues that scholars have been too East-coast-centric in their analysis of Irish-American writing. Yes, they talk too much about Boston.

Here's visual evidence, from a paper of his titled "Beyond Boston: Georeferencing Irish-American Literature." Using Google Earth, Jockers mapped the geographic setting, explicit or implicit, of novels by Irish-American authors from 1800 to 2000. As you can see, Chicago and, perhaps more surprisingly, California, trump the supposedly ur-Irish American city..

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On his website, Jockers recently posted a few more graphs -- albeit less flashy ones. He has found, for example, that, per capita, Irish-American literati West of the Mississippi were more prolific than their Eastern counterparts:

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And another graph counters an argument made by Jockers's Ph.D. adviser, Charles Fanning, author of "The Irish Voice in America." Fanning had argued that the output of self-consciously Irish-American novelists dipped from 1900 to 1920 (perhaps because discrimination led them to downplay their ethnic identity). True in the East, Jockers says, but not in the West:

Click to enlarge

And for a sweet animated version of the Google Earth map posted above, go here.

Via Jennifer Howard at the Chronicle of Higher Education, who profiled Jockers (and another digital humanist) this week.

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