For the course FLSP 438/538 Contemporary Spanish Literature at Northern Illinois University, both undergraduate and graduate students collaborated to produce a digital humanities project entitled “Mapping the Marginalized in Contemporary Spanish Literature.” Students read El francotirador paciente by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, El rey del mambo by Johari Gautier Carmona, De Madrid al cielo by Ismael Grasa, and La conquista del aire by Belén Gopegui in order to examine the social, cultural, political, and economic importance of squatters, graffiti artists, and indebted individuals in contemporary Spain. With the guidance of the professor (Stephen Luis Vilaseca) and NIU’s library specialists, students developed three digital maps, two of Madrid and one of Barcelona.
The highlighted areas of this map of Madrid consist of eight urban sites frequented by Cayetano Zenón, the main character of De Madrid al cielo by Ismael Grasa, and two important routes taken by him in the novel. When you click on each of the highlighted areas, texts and videos appear consisting of historical and cultural information as well as insightful, thesis-driven commentaries.
By combining geography and textual criticism as the above screenshot visually represents, students gain two perspectives:
1) a better sense of place when reading the novels; and
2) a greater understanding of how novels make visible the lived city that is absent in maps.
what happens in the book (the content)
the artistic structure and form (the way the book is narrated)
the social relationships
the spatial relationships
the city as process (use value)
the urban sites
modern urban plans (the planned city, conceived by architects, functionaries, politicians)
the city as product, thing (used to maximize profits)
Students learn that without novels that highlight how cities are actually experienced by people, some of the ugly results of regeneration and growth – like marginalization – would remain uncontested.
My hope is that this project will grow and serve as a resource for future research on urban cultural studies. Some interesting questions would be: Are there patterns (ways of using the city) that repeat in various novels? Do these patterns change over time? In order to answer these queries, many more novels need to be added to maps spanning various centuries.
Here are what some students had to say about the project:
“This digital humanities project put the urban spaces from Madrid into a whole new perspective. Everything we learned from the okupas to the graffiti in Madrid expanded my knowledge. The talk about urban space also made me see things differently and made me think differently about the places we think are public.” – Alejandro Vizcarra
“Reading the novels in class, that were very interesting to study, and working on these projects helped me get a better understanding of things like urban spaces in Spain; graffiti and the whole concept of okupa [squatting] were clearer to imagine after producing videos and linking them up on a map.” – Miriam Chico
Click here to view the actual project.