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Mapping Travel Writing: A Critical Digital Humanities Perspective

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Digital Humanities Looking at the World


Travel writing reflects placed subjective human experience and participates in the collective processes of assembling stable, consensual, or polemical geographical entities and identities. In this chapter, we reflect on the contributions of Critical Digital Humanities to the communication of travel writing studies. Using R language, we are exploring the Anglophone Travelers in Portugal databases—which provide annotated information on almost 200 foreigner travel accounts in English published since the eighteenth century—to visualize geographical entities, analyze topics, and design visualization tools for non-expert audiences. In the process, four contributions of Critical Digital Humanities became evident. First, toponymical and semantic sources of ambiguity require us to develop a strong understanding of data as an artifact or capta (Drucker, Digital Humanities Quarterly, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 1–21, 2011) construed in the annotating process that may affect the accuracy of automatic geocoding and processing based on named entity recognition. Critical digital humanist scholars, even if aware of such issues, lack creative solutions to express ambiguity as informative per se of the liquid nature of social labeling. Second, digital humanities open doors to enhanced interactivity (for instance, web applications) but require thoughtful, parsimonious solutions to express complexity which raises issues related to minimal computing (Risam and Gil, Digital Humanities Quarterly, vol. 16, no. 2, 2022). Third, Critical Digital Humanities helped to understand that communicating foreign perspectives may impact the audiences’ understanding of the traveled territory, but also of the travelers as an exogroup, a social category built on stereotyped views. Fourth, Critical Digital Humanities allowed us to better communicate the entangled nature of traveling and socio-historical circumstances. The challenge is to use such information to promote meaningful, centrifugal travel experiences rather than centripetal, massive travel itineraries. In the future, the project aims to grow via participatory citizen science (crowdsourcing) and to extend its scope to online digital sources related to travel (for instance, blogs). These new steps will foster the need to examine web scraping and text cleaning techniques and develop suitable storytelling approaches to engage people and create narratives that reflect their inputs in a critical way.

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Financed by national funds through FCT—Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, I.P., under the project UIDB/04097/2020—CETAPS.

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Correspondence to Luciano Moreira .

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Moreira, L., Castanheira, M.Z. (2024). Mapping Travel Writing: A Critical Digital Humanities Perspective. In: Araújo, S., Aguiar, M., Ermakova, L. (eds) Digital Humanities Looking at the World . Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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