Digital Humanities and Narrative

Francesca Giannetti

April 2, 2024



  • Digital narratives, theory and pratice (15 min)
  • Narrative mapping (10 min)
  • Assembling location data (5 min)
  • Hands-on practice with ESRI’s ArcGIS StoryMaps (60 min)


“…somebody telling somebody else on some occasion and for some purposes that something happened”

Phelan, James. 2015. ‘The Chicago School,’ in Theoretical Schools and Circles in the Twentieth-Century Humanities, p. 146.


  • Entertainment
  • Explanation
  • “…a valuable representation of aspects of human experience (such as personal identity or selfhood) that cannot be given in nonnarrative forms”
Paisley Livingston, “Narrative,” in The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics, p. 342.

Digital narratives

“…the shape of the [transmission] pipe affects the kind of information that can be transmitted, alters the conditions of reception, and often leads to the creation of works tailor-made for the medium”

Ryan, Marie-Laure. 2014. “Narration in Various Media.” In Handbook of Narratology, p. 468.

Digital narratives (cont.)

"Interface is always an argument, and combines presentation (form/format), representation (contents), navigation (wayfinding), orientation (location/breadcrumbs), and connections to the network (links and social media)."

Drucker, "Interface." In The Digital Humanities Coursebook: An Introduction to Digital Methods for Research and Scholarship, p. 181.


  • Fiction, nonfiction?
  • Indirect vs. referential discourse
  • Textual/visual/aural

Features of digital narratives


Digital repositories or collections often avoid a prescribed path. That doesn’t mean they are without argument.

Collective Biographies of Women
Booth, Alison, “Collective Biographies of Women,”

Selection (cont.)

The Real Face of White Australia
Sherratt, Tim, & Bagnall, Kate. (2019). The People Inside. In Seeing the Past with Computers: Experiments with Augmented Reality and Computer Vision for History (pp. 11–31). University of Michigan Press.


  • Of events, items
  • Chronological, spatial, temporal, thematic
  • Linear/nonlinear
  • Static/interactive

Sequence/order 2

“16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds”
Abigail Corfman, “16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds,” More about Twine:

Sequence/order 3

Grid visualization of contents
“A case of hysteria,” More about Scalar:


"For colonial elites, if black women could not be used or possessed as laboring, sordid, or lecherous subjects, they received little or no mention—but black women did not disappear... Instead of pausing at empirical silence or accepting it at face value, surfacing silence in the empirical, imperial archive as having a value—a null value—imbues absence with disruption and possibility."

Johnson, Jessica Marie. Wicked Flesh: Black Women, Intimacy, and Freedom in the Atlantic World, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020.

Absence/presence 2

  • Surfacing the lives of enslaved people from a historical record that was not made for or by them
Rose petal visualization
(Un)Silencing Slavery,

Absence/presence 3

Researching locations from war letters, including censored ones, and representing them on a map

Places of correspondents, places mentioned in Ainsworth’s correspondence
Giannetti, F., Personal correspondence from the Rutgers College War Service Bureau,

Narrative maps

A comparison

An 1800 map of New Brunswick versus two G Map representations of same

Narrative map characteristics

  • Tells a story plotted through space
  • Different from a thematic or data map: the point is to provide a visual counterpart to the implicit spatial underpinnings of a narrative or argument (Mullen 2015)
  • Has applications in multiple disciplines (Guldi 2011)


  • Narrative maps are usually web-based, often interactive, and offer a method and an interface for reaching a broader audience.
  • A way of telling a story from a variety of overlapping, non-exclusive perspectives.
  • Quite possibly a method of remediation or “practical repair” (HASTAC 2013). In other words, addressing political or cultural erasure, picking up where 2D systems of geographic representation leave off, representing that which is “hidden.”

Elements of a narrative map (aka what you need)

  • A story arc: your interpretation of an area of inquiry
  • A series of spatial events, possibly composed of actors, actions, locations, and times (Yuan, McIntosh, and Delozier 2015)
  • Supporting sources, including textual ones, but also media, i.e. images, film, sound
  • A mapping platform

Data Formatting

Data maps inside of narratives

Narrative maps as implemented by ArcGIS StoryMaps have the potential to include data maps as a slide in your story. This is an option if you wish to show an overview of multiple locations (10+) at once.


Description City Country
Mozart family starts tour Salzburg Austria
They arrive in Munich Munich Germany
Then they go to Mannheim Mannheim Germany

Use a header row to describe your data; avoid special characters, spaces and numbers here. Place individual locations on rows underneath the header; 1 row = 1 location. Store each address element in its own cell.


Street City State Zip Time
35 W Fifth St Cincinnati OH 45202 2016-03-05T13:40:00z

Store address elements and dates as text fields so that your spreadsheet application does not autoformat them and introduce errors. Use a machine readable format for dates and times, i.e. ISO 8601.


old_city old_country new_city new_country
Königsberg Prussia Kaliningrad Russia

Geocoding services need contemporary geopolitical information to work well. If you’re working with historical data, add some columns to record where the location is currently.

Geocoding 2

There are lots of options for geocoding your addresses. If you use Google Sheets, Geocode by Awesome Table is an option. For 10 or fewer locations, look them up manually using


Booth, Alison. 2014. “Toward a Theory of Nonfiction Narratives in Social Networks.” Collective Biographies of Women. Drucker, Johanna. 2021. “Interface.” In The Digital Humanities Coursebook: An Introduction to Digital Methods for Research and Scholarship, 172–92. Milton, UK: Taylor & Francis. Guldi, Jo. 2011. “What Is the Spatial Turn?” Spatial Humanities: A Project of the Institute for Enabling Geospatial Scholarship (blog). 2011. HASTAC Scholars program. 2013. “Visualizing Geography: Maps, Place, and Pedagogy.” HASTAC Scholars (blog). March 11, 2013. Mullen, Lincoln. 2015. Spatial Humanities Workshop. Ryan, Marie-Laure. 2014. “Narration in Various Media.” In Handbook of Narratology, 468–88. Berlin, Germany: De Gruyter. Yuan, Mary, John McIntosh, and Grant Delozier. 2015. “GIS as a Narrative Generation Platform.” In Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives, edited by David J. Bodenhamer, John Corrigan, and Trevor M. Harris, 179–202. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.