Mapping the Past

I regularly use Google Maps or Waze for directions. Even when I know exactly where I’m going, I’ll turn it on because it directs me around traffic. And somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that there was more you could do with Google Maps, like plotting a road trip. I just never knew exactly how to do it.

After watching Kathryn Shaughnessy’s Seminar, viewing the campus guides, and doing some of my own research, I began my attempt to plot each of the four trips that Jack Kerouac, as Sal Paradise, takes around the United States and Mexico in On the Road. Here’s what I ended up with:

The cool thing about Google Maps is that I was able to create each of his four trips as a different layer, so you can click each one and on off. I also color-coded each trip and was able to present the stops as numbers, rather than just as points. (Click on the button with the arrow on the top left to see each point individually and to turn layers on and off.)

I initially wanted to connect each point with a line, and I completed the entire first trip before I realized that as you zoom in or out, the lines disconnect from the points. As was pointed out in the video, the draw line function is pretty finicky and doesn’t seem to work properly. I tried to search around to find an automatic way to connect the points, but there doesn’t seem to be one.

The possibilities for this map are pretty intriguing. You can create one for a wedding website or out-of-town guests who are interesting in sight-seeing, you can plot out scenes from a book or play, or you can note the best restaurants or parks in an area. Google Maps also allows you to include photos, metadata, descriptions, and more, so one plot can lead viewers in many different directions. On my map, I simply included the city, and when you click on each one, photos of that city from Google Maps pop up, which is pretty cool.

Often what is missing in the digital humanities is a connection to the real, outside world, and I think Google Maps is a great opportunity to merge those realms.


11 thoughts on “Mapping the Past

  1. You had a lot better luck with the layering than I did! I really think the way you color-coded each of the paths illuminates the individual routes wonderfully. I also think the numbering was a great idea. Like you, I also got frustrated by the finickiness of the lines tool. I was thinking to use this application for a study of James Joyce’s Ulysses; the characters are constantly crossing each other’s paths, but I couldn’t get the lines to stick either.

    It seems like all of us (of the blogs I’ve read) see more personal applications than educational ones, but I think with time, the learning benefits will present themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is so visually appealing and interesting! I think this would be especially useful for teaching the novel to undergraduate students so that they can get a sense of its geographical scope. They could also zero in on each point as they read the corresponding section of the novel and see what Kerouac tries to convey in text. So neat!

    P.S. I have not had success embedding iframes in my WordPress posts, so I appreciate any tips you have!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m so impressed by this map, holy cow! You really went to town and got into all the functionalities, and I love that you plotted out all the different books and routes in different colors to distinguish them. I’ve only used google maps a handful of times in the past for planning trips and exploring specific regions, but this is a whole new ballgame, and I’m now thinking about how I could map other literary works (even though I have no idea what I’d do with them – maybe just for the fun of it!).



  4. Great job! This is one of those instances where mapping for novels is great for visual learning. This would be great in a classroom as well to show students pathways of character movements. I was thinking also thinking about how a line function would add a layer of connectedness to the plotted points. I will admit, I have a lot of trouble with attempting to scroll when my cursor is on the map. I can’t tell you how many times I had to zoom back in or out on your map. #thestruggle

    On an end note, I really like the idea of using it on a wedding website for out of town travelers. No visiting of websites, just clicking on google maps and you’re on your way.


  5. Cristen,

    HOLY COW you mapped a lot of places!! I am very impressed. (Also, kind of excited that Jack Kerouac made a stop in Houston, my hometown).

    I also wish there was a better way of connecting the dots on Google maps, but I think your numbering technique worked out quite well. I couldn’t necessarily do that on my map (a family tree of sorts), but I do wish I could somehow show movement over time…it’s something maybe we’ll all figure out together this semester.

    I actually love trip-planning, especially for other people, so I’m glad that you pointed out how you can use Google maps for this purpose. Next time someone asks me, “How should I spend my two days in Paris?” I can just map it out for them and be good to go!


    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! Kerouac has a whirlwind of a time in Houston:

      “In the empty Houston streets of four o’clock in the morning a motorcycle kid suddenly roared through, all bespangled and bedecked with glittering buttons, visor, slick black jacket, a Texas poet of the night, girl gripped on his back like a papoose, hair flying, onward-going, singing, «Houston, Austin, Fort Worth, Dallas – and sometimes Kansas City – and sometimes old Antone, ah-haaaaa!»”



  6. Ahh, I wonder how you embedded the map in WordPress! I must have spent 30 minutes trying to figure it out and then gave up promptly!

    I also visually loved seeing the different routes and clicked on quite a few. I can see that your locations definitely have pictures, even when you just click on a city. Did you upload these photos or were they just available via googlemaps? I realized in doing my map that I wasn’t getting any particular locations with photos which was odd but also communicated a lot to me.

    Liked by 1 person

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