BLOG Daniel Snipe

NWR Issue r35

Literary Atlas: Plotting English Novels in Wales

On 5 February, the zoology lecture rooms of Swansea University played host to a talk on literature by Dr Kieron Smith. He is a lecturer at Swansea University, having earned his PhD in Media History/Welsh Writing in English. The talk was an hour-long and gave detail on a project that Dr Smith had been involved with over the last few years. Having got there early, I sat towards the back of the room and gazed around at the many mounted stag skulls that were on display. Eventually, I was joined by many academics from the Geography department from the University. At first, I was slightly confused as I knew the project was a literary one, but as it would transpire, Dr Smith had assembled the geography academics purposely to seek their guidance.

Dr Smith began the talk when the room had been filled, presenting us with the project entitled Literary Atlas: Plotting English Novels in Wales. According to the website’s front page synopsis, the Literary Atlas is an interactive online atlas that offers a range of maps which locate English-language novels set in Wales.

The homepage has a dropdown section with a list of maps that the viewer is allowed to explore, including a link to a ‘globe’. This shows the world with pinpoints attached to it spanning several different countries, but mainly focusing on Wales. The globe is interactive, allowing the viewer to click and drag to navigate their way around it. Clicking on the pinpoints will bring up relevant information regarding a novel’s relation to that particular place. For example, one of the novels used in the Literary Atlas is The Rebecca Rioter by Amy Dillwyn, which tells the fictionalised story of a ‘Rebecca Rioter’. One of those red pinpoints is located in an area I have visited many times: Langland Bay. Clicking will reveal information on the event from the novel and how place and text are connected, for example, ‘Evan and Tom pass Langland bay on their way to Mumbles bay’. A fairly simple and unimportant description from the novel, but the fact that it was Langland Bay, a place I knew so well, allowed me to connect with this particular novel and encourage me to seek out more information about it.

Dr Smith suggested that one of the aims of the Literary Atlas was to help readers explore the connection between literature and location. He used Dylan Thomas’ collection of short writings, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog as an example, claiming that the locally born writer aided Dr Smith himself in better understanding the city of Swansea.

Dr Smith also introduced us to the idea that this tool could be used by members of the public to interact with the history of the country. Another aspect of the project I admired was the variety of authors from different backgrounds and with a range of ideas that they pursued in their books, suggesting the diversity of our nation’s authors.

I highly recommend this website, especially to readers with an interest in Welsh literature and history. The captions are clear, expansive and informative, although navigation around the map itself can be a bit clunky, requiring reloading. At the time of writing, there are only twelve novels represented by the Literary Atlas, all in English language, as this was the project remit. However, Smith alluded to the fact that the atlas temporarily lacks funding, which has caused development to slow down.

On a personal level, this project connected me with and the city I was born in, and I look forward to exploring more locations and fictional titles.

Daniel G A Snipe is this season’s Swansea Digital Correspondent in a partnership project with Swansea University’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities


previous blog: Connecting the Dragons
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