Mapping Imagined Geographies of Revolutionary Russia

What is MAPRR?

MAPRR is a public digital research and pedagogy tool to explore Russians’ experiences of World War 1 and the Civil War based on literary texts from that period (1914-1922). At the center of the project is the idea of imagined geography—literary spatial imagery of a geographical place, conveying feelings, and judgments about that place. MAPRR examines literary texts, mainly poems but also stories and novel excerpts, as well as a few essays.

What value does MAPRR add?

The purpose of MAPRR is to build bridges between concepts of physical space and imagined place and to understand how ordinary Russians’ perceptions of both space and place changed in this turbulent time when the Russian Empire ceased to exist and the Soviet Union had not yet been born. MAPRR starts with the database of authors’ social, political, and professional identities, of whom at least 85% are relatively unknown, and draws attention to overlapping place-based experiences and feelings among writers who might share little, if anything, else. The project uses interactive filters, maps, and graphs to visualize connections between expressions of space and place in these texts.

MAPRR draws from literary works (rather than public speeches and political writings) because they allow us to penetrate beyond the rhetoric of Russia’s leaders to the feelings of ordinary Russians.

How is MAPRR constructed?

To enter the world of imagined geography, each spatial image in each work is tagged with a “place-based concept” (PBC) and an associated “multivalent marker” (MM).

What are place-based concepts (PBC) and multivalent markers (MM)?

A PBC is a way to describe emotive attitude to place in revolution-era Russian literature. Each PBC evaluates place through five or six components: genre, type, scale, politics, feeling, and occasionally time. The full list and definitions of these components are available on the PBC component page..

An MM designates a textual spatial image associated with a PBC. It connects the PBC components with a particular place. Taken together, a PBC and MM interpret a geographical space (or physical location) as a meaningful place (space endowed with feeling and value).

How can I use MAPRR?

All roads lead to or from PBCs. Click on a subject page to see how it is related to PBCs and other information. Click on the list of PBCs to see the list of concepts expressed in actual texts.

Readers are invited to find their own paths to discovery. In addition, in our effort to find period texts and good information on unidentified authors, we welcome verifiable contributions from readers. Teaching materials and research notes are available on the Resources page.

How can users visualize their findings on MAPRR?

  1. Many pages offer bar graphs showing frequency of an MM or a PBC. Various interactive maps are available on the Locations pages. An adjustable force-directed graph appears at the bottom of the Authors index page. Choose the Analysis tab on the menu bar to open three easily constructed graphs.
  2. Several graphs are force-directed graphs (FDG). FDGs connect two elements. The FDG on the Author page connects one author to other authors through one or more shared PBCs. One of the FDGs on the Analysis page connects authors to multivalent markers (spatial images). The second FDG connects one or more multivalent markers to any PBC component.

    The advantage of an FDG is that it has a magnet-like valence. Nodes that share at least one PBC are attracted to one other, while those that share nothing are repelled from each other. This capability enables us to see similarities among authors or works, whether through shared places, PBCs, or specific PBC components.
  3. The Analysis tab also offers a tripartite or parallel-coordinates graph. It allows us to see connections between authors, PBCs, and multivalent markers (MMs, i.e. textual spatial images). If one selects all authors, MMs, and PBCs, the graph shows a confusing, rainbow-colored spaghetti of lines linking the three elements. If you select a limited group of PBCs or authors, this kind of graph has proven pivotal for visualizing shared PBCs and MMs among a smaller ensemble of authors.

How do MAPRR capabilities enhance literary and historical interpretation?

In broad strokes, studying PBCs and MMs challenges and complicates traditional Russian political and social binaries, for example, center and periphery, east and west, or city and village. They deepen and enrich our understanding of Russian imagined geography.