What are narrative maps?

A narrative map tells a story plotted through space. The point of a narrative map is not to display data. Rather it is to provide an explicit visual counterpart to the implicit spatial underpinnings of a narrative or argument. Narrative maps are broadly useful across the disciplines, since many texts have a spatial component. For example, a class on literature might ask the students to trace the movements of characters within James Joyce’s Dubliners, or some other work of literature. Another class might look for the movements of Augustine of Hippo around the Mediterranean. Students in a class on American religion might each take a different itinerant minister’s autobiography and trace their movements.1 An art or music class might track the development of certain kinds of painting or musical styles across space.

Narrative maps are pedagogically useful as a lightweight mapping assignment. By lightweight, I mean that the assignment demands comparatively little of students in terms of preparing spatial data or learning mapping techniques, but that the assignment does get students thinking spatially. A lightweight assignment might serve as a standalone digital assignment in a course, Or it might be a primer to get students comfortable with mapping before taking on a more difficult task.

An example narrative map in StoryMap JS

You could use any number of mapping programs to create a narrative map, including Google Maps or Google Earth. We will use the Knight Foundation’s StoryMap JS, created for journalists but also useful for teaching. StoryMap JS offers a slide-show-like interface where the user can connect text and images to places in a sequential narrative. Students will likely find the interface familiar if they have ever used PowerPoint or Keynote. To create such a map, students will need to find places mentioned in a text, which they can then identify on a map. Ideally, they should also find pictures of those places and quotations about them in the text.

Below is a sample StoryMap. (See the example in its own window.) I have taken the Jame Joyce’s short story “An Encounter” from Dubliners (1914) and mapped the narrative of two boys’ journey around Dublin.

Creating a Story Map

During the workshop we will create a narrative map of Augustine of Hippo (or is that Augustine of Thagaste? of Carthage? of Rome? of Milan?) in his journeys around the Mediterranean. We will need texts and images:

  • There are many online copies of Augustine’s Confessions. Here is E. B. Pusey’s translation at Project Gutenberg.
  • In 1464–65, the Italian painter Benozzo Gozzoli painted seventeen frescoes from the life of Augustine for the chapel of the church of Sant’Agostino. You can find photographs of these scenes at the Web Gallery of Art. These paintings also provide a key to figuring out the places where Augustine traveled.

Follow these steps to create a map with StoryMap:

  1. Go to the StoryMap website and click “Make a story map now.” You will need a Google account with Google Drive in order to save your map.
  2. Create a title slide. The map on the title slide will be derived from the places associated with later slides, so don’t expect it to display much at first.
  3. Create at least two slides. Each of these slides will be associated with a point in space. You can find the places by zooming the map and dragging the pointer, or by using the search box. Try uploading an image and adding text.
  4. Explore the per-slide options and the general options. For instance, which base map works best for your purposes?

An example narrative map assignment

Brian Croxall’s “Introduction to Digital Humanities” class at Emory University created narrative maps of Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway. Croxall has shared his assignment online. The project from Croxall’s class can be viewed by downloading Google Earth. A similar project is available at the Mrs. Dalloway Mapping Project website.

  1. The idea for an assignment comes from Chris Cantwell.