I'm also grateful to David for introducing me to the concept of a 'deep map'. This is a fairly recent label for a style of intensive historical-topographical study of a location that goes beyond standard historical-topographical accounts both in breadth and eclecticity of topic, and in a strong focus on exploring the 'meaning' and 'spirit' of a place (and that not from a claim to any single authoritative position). This could involve a departure from standard narrative to include more subjective material, such as the narrator's own involvement with the topic. The Introduction quotes Mike Pearson's description ...
"Reflecting eighteenth century antiquarian approaches to place, which included history, folklore, natural history and hearsay, the deep map attempts to record and represent the grain and patina of place through juxtapositions and interpenetrations of the historical and the contemporary, the political and the poetic, the discursive and the sensual; the conflation of oral testimony, anthology, memoir, biography, natural history and everything you might ever want to say about a place …"... and cites the examples of Wallace Stegner's Wolf Willow (an autobiographical portrait of Cypress Hills, Saskatchewan), William Least Heat Moons' PrairyErth (focused on the Flint Hills of Kansas), and Mike Pearson's 'In Comes I': Performance, Memory and Landscape (a multimedia exploration of the landscape and culture of English villages).
- Mike Pearson and Michael Shanks, Theatre/Archaeology (Routledge, 2001)
|click to enlarge|
The book begins, then, with a sampler of contemporary images and accounts of the region, such as George Alexander Cooke's 1800 Topographical and statistical description of the County of Wilts and Thomas Davis's 1811 General View of the Agriculture of Wiltshire, before moving on to specific prehistoric locations in Hardy novels: the 1878 edition of The Return of the Native, with its sketch map of Egdon Heath (Prehistoric Wessex references here Charles Knight's beautiful Old England books); "Mai-Dun" (Maiden Castle) and other sites mentioned in The Mayor of Casterbridge; and, naturally, Stonehenge, the climactic location where justice catches up with the protagonist of Tess of the d'Urbervilles.
|Scanned image by Philip V. Allingham. - the Victorian Web.|
|James Barry - King Lear Weeping over the Dead Body of Cordelia|
|from Stukeley's Stonehenge, A Temple Restor'd to the British Druids|
I apologise for such an extensive travelogue of Prehistoric Wessex: Towards a Deep Map, but I wanted to convey its flavour as a book that can be pleasantly read over an hour or so (it's only 95 pages, some of them plates) yet is so rich in references and conceptual 'hyperlinks' that nearly any page could take you off on day excursions of further reading. And what's remarkable, even though the physical originals are scarce, is that much of this material can be explored by the reader through easily findable sources such as the Internet Archive. Reading it has been a fascinating and inspiring experience.* I don't know how many copies were printed, but so far it's still available via the Penn Libraries online bookstore - Prehistoric Wessex: Towards a Deep Map - Exhibition catalog - and there's a Flickr photoset documenting the exhibition here.
* To elaborate on the "inspiring" part: it gave me a lot of ideas. I've been a trifle at a loose end since finishing A Wren-like Note, and have been looking for a new project. The idea of the 'deep map' approach strikes a chord for me; in an unfocused way, this is what JSBlog has been doing for a long time - for instance, in its repeated return to Isle of Wight topics from different directions, such as topographic, historical and literary. I've been thinking for a while about trying my hand at some historical-topographic accounts of some Devon locations (I was discussing this with Felix Grant in connection with our Wren Notes partnership). What seemed a great idea at first had cooled off a little on my realisation of just how many "me-too" titles there are on such topics, not differing much in their style. A deep map format looks a powerfully fresh approach.