Ben Jonson’s Walk: mapping and recreating historical walks

An account of a digital humanities project at the University of Edinburgh’s Digital Scholarship Day of Ideas set me off down an unexpected route…

in 1618 Ben Jonson walked from London to Edinburgh on the Great North Road. An account by an anonymous companion (5ft 5!) gives primary evidence on what happened, and with modern tools that world can be recreated using digital resources.

Sources such as archives, biographical information and, literary texts give information on the social spaces and practices of the time, adding colour to the anonymous account. Unlike Boswell’s account of his and Samuel Johnson’s walk the account is made up of small data – lists of places,people, food, times, distances, speed etc. It does not offer the classical dimensions of a literary scholar but is a ‘quantifiable’ text, for example it is possible to work out how fast Ben walked.

The performative aspect – a virtual recreation of the journey, using a combination of blog posts, geomapping and Ben tweeting in real time, runs from 8 July to 5 October – see the blog | Twitter | Facebook.

How do these recreations of historical journeys compare to modern walks, not least all the walking projects undertaken in the name of art or charity? How do different models of the walk undertaken ‘for the sake of it’ compare?

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