Imaginary Landscapes and Literary Maps

Did you ever wonder which of your favorite literary characters lived in the same street or were actually neighbors? Now you can find it out.

Visit the Literary Map of Manhattan to see where some 100 imaginary New Yorkers “lived, worked, played, drank, walked and looked at ducks.” In my opinion this is the best combination of maps and literature so far.

Looking at ducks (c) www.nytimes.com

Across the Atlantic you can find a similar project called Books in London marking the location of more than 400 books either set in, or about, London.

Mapping the books. (c) www.getlondonreading.co.uk

The creators of Books in London also provide a free iPhone app of their literary map.

Augmented reality by bike.

Still another way to explore maps and literature is Gutenkarte. The so called “geographic text browser” is intended to help readers explore the spatial component of classic works of literature. Gutenkarte downloads public domain texts from Project Gutenberg, and stores all the geographic locations it can find locations in a database, along with citations into the text itself.

Tagging the world of War and Peace. (c) www.gutenkarte.org

You can also browse historical literary maps at the Library of Congress. This collection of maps was part of an exhibition entitled “Language of the Land“, a breathtaking journey through the literary heritage of the US.

The historical point of view. (c) www.loc.gov

Augmented reality is reality. And I am eager to see what is coming next.

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Storytelling for Digital Natives

Smorytellers - www.smories.com
Smorytellers - www.smories.com

Smories are free original stories for kids, read by kids. 50 smories are added every month. Two London-based illustrator/writers Lisa Swerling and Ralph Lazar got the idea for smories.com during a long journey in a dirty Land Rover from the Kalahari desert in Botswana to Cape Town in South Africa.

Their daughter (8) had the idea to film herself with an ipod reading short stories, and then play them back to her younger sister (6). This kept the kids entertained for hours and inspired their parents to create smories. Thank you for this great idea!

Smories is a free online resource for kids and a nice and simple alternative to sites like youtube where young viewers can easily click away to unknown destinations. But smories is also a new platform for children’s story writers, where they are freed from the usual constraints of having to illustrate their story to have a shot at publication. At Smories.com writers can get their work published online, retaining all rights.

Storytelling when coffee-house and Starbucks weren't synonyms
Storytelling when the coffee-house wasn't Starbucks yet.

(Thank you swissmiss and smories)

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Flip Text – Mirror Writing 2.0

The notes on Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man image are in mirror writing.

Leonardo da Vinci is famous for having written most of his personal notes in mirror.

There are two popular theories on why he did this. Either da Vinci was left-handed, causing the ink to smudge easily if he wrote in standard writing. Or he wanted to protect his ideas from theft or hide them from the Roman Catholic Church with whom his research practices sometimes collided. However, the latter idea is highly unlikely. Even at da Vinci’s time, the text in question could be easily read “backwards” either directly or through its reflection in a mirror. The true purpose of this practice thus remains unknown.

Which tool would he use today? It would probably be fliptext. Although it is not exactly mirror writing, it transforms the text in a similar way, using symmetry and similarities of different letters. For example s, x, z and o are rotationally symmetrical, while pairs such as b/q, d/p and n/u are rotations of each other. The rest of the letters are encoded into the Unicode International Phonetic Alphabet, creating a full set of upside-down lowercase letters.

I am quite impressed each time I try it, that it’s possible to read the transformed text, even without a mirror, or even without turning your screen upside down.

You can use fliptext to write upside down on Facebook, Twitter, Myspace or your Blog or even typing Emails, Presentations or Documents. It should work in all modern browsers and applications because it is Unicode.
Try it out!

?u?op ?p?sdn u????s ?no? bu?u?n? ?no???? u??? ?o ‘?o???? ? ?no???? u??? ‘?x?? p???o?su??? ??? p??? o? ??q?ssod s,?? ???? ‘?? ??? ? ???? ???? p?ss??d?? ???nb ?? ?

?s?????? ?s?????o? u?op-?p?sdn ?o ??s ??n? ? bu?????? ‘??q??d?? ????uo?d ??uo???u???u? ?po??un ??? o?u? p?po?u? ??? s?????? ??? ?o ?s?? ??? ?????o ???? ?o suo????o? ??? n/u pu? d/p ‘b/q s? ??ns s???d ????? ‘??????????s ????uo????o? ??? o pu? z ‘x ‘s ??d??x? ?o? ?s?????? ?u??????p ?o s??????????s pu? ???????s bu?sn ‘??? ??????s ? u? ?x?? ??? s??o?su??? ?? ‘bu????? ?o???? ?????x? ?ou s? ?? ?bno???? ??x??d??? ?q ??q?qo?d p?no? ?? ¿??po? ?sn ?? p?no? ?oo? ?????

?u?ou?un su????? sn?? ???????d s??? ?o ?sod?nd ?n?? ??? ??o???? ? u? uo???????? s?? ?bno??? ?o ???????p ?????? “sp??????q” p??? ???s?? ?q p?no? uo??s?nb u? ?x?? ??? ‘???? s,??u?? ?p ?? u??? ???????un ???b?? s? ??p? ?????? ??? ‘?????o? ?p?p???o? s??????os s???????d ?????s?? s?? ?o?? ???? ???n?? ???o???? u??o? ??? ?o?? ???? ?p?? ?o ????? ?o?? s??p? s?? ????o?d o? p??u?? ?? ?o ?bu????? p??pu??s u? ??o?? ?? ?? ???s?? ?bpn?s o? ?u? ??? bu?sn?? ‘p?pu??-???? s?? ??u?? ?p ?????? ?s??? p?p ?? ??? uo s???o??? ???ndod o?? ??? ?????

??o???? u? s??ou ??uos??d s?? ?o ?so? u?????? bu???? ?o? sno??? s? ??u?? ?p op??uo??

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With new technology, literacy evolves

It was Louis Braille, a student at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, who modified the French Army’s “night writing”  in 1821 and came up with what is known as Braille today. For the first time in history, blind people had access to a reliable method of written communication, resulting in a signifant rise in social status. Louis Braille was embraced as a liberator.

Braille code where the word “premier” (French for “first”) can be read.

Nowadays, with more and more written words digitized, MP3 players, audio books and screen-reading software are a real alternative for blind people to access and communicate in the written language, without even knowing Braille. A report by the National Federation of the Blind found that less than 10 percent of legally blind Americans learn to read and write Braille today. Back in the 1950s it was roughly half of all blind children.

There has been a big debate whether this affects cognitive development. Moving from the written to the spoken language may have more cultural consequences rather than cognitive ones. It is about losing your own way of communication, and discussing that issue may be as passionate as the debate about cochlear implants and their imoact on the use of sign language, or the decreasing of language variety in general.

But I would rather like to link the developments of Braille and new technology to the learning of reading and writing in schools today. Although for sighted people the transition from written and printed texts to digital representations has been more subtle, it is still remarkable and has important impacts, too. It will probably affect our general view of literacy. With new technology, literacy has become harder to define.

That's how text messaging looked like in 1912. (c) Underwood & Underwood
That’s how text messaging looked like in 1912. (c) Underwood & Underwood

Take penmanship for example: While handwriting was still necessary in the last century for documents, reports, etc., this is no longer the case today. The majority of formal documents are expected to be typed and most people use handwriting, if at all, only for informal notes and reminders. One could question the relevance of learning penmanship at all. A few decades ago, experts even predicted that the electronic age would create a postliterate generation as new forms of media eclipsed the written word. Marshall McLuhan, Canadian philosopher and scholar best known for his expression “global village”, claimed in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964) that Western culture would return to the “tribal and oral pattern.”

Do we really need to learn penmanship to be literate people today? The architecture of our brain is flexible. Blind people for instance consistently surpass sighted ones on tests of verbal memory, according to a 2003 study in Nature Neuroscience. Instead of teaching handwriting, it would be more appropriate to teach digital literacy, not least because even standardized tests are employing the new technologies. For example, in 2011, the writing test of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) will require 8th and 11th graders to compose on computers, with 4th graders following in 2019.

Although one could argue that the question of teaching and testing is only another form of asking: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”, I would argue, that even without testing future education will be much more about digital literacy rather than calligraphy. And new technology will not only affect the way we teach reading and writing, but also the way we teach art, music, mathematics, science, foreign languages and literature. I am curious about the new approaches and very happy to live in a global village.

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